There are at least two successful ways to pull off an 'Anniversary' game. You could do a Tomb Raider, and completely reinvent the levels in a form that's mostly homage to the tone of the game. This works best when the game has dated so badly, and the genre moved forward so far, that the old game would seem unplayably feature-free. Then there's the Halo approach: just polish up the graphics, and let the original game sing. Fable attempts to follow this path.
Unfortunately, it's quite an ugly song. The framerates are slightly choppy, and the grotesque character design and shrill voices of the opening mission made my twee-sensitive teeth clench. After that, all the basic threads that run through to Fable 3 are here: sword, ranged and magic combat, and binary moral decisions that transform you physically into a demonic sod or a glowing prince of hearts. Among the new bits is a SmartGlass feature - this shifts the map onto your second screen, revealing chests and demon doors.
The tutorial is tortuously slow-burning to those familiar with the original concepts, but it does give a decent sense of the Hero of Oakvale's process of bereavement and adoption by the Guild. It's all terribly acted, and the animations are unconvincing, but to enjoy the first Fable, you've got to think of it as a pantomime.
Only when you remember that this take on morality is more built around comedy than it is philosophy, can you enjoy Fable for its considerable strengths. Few games let you carry out a secret gay relationship across towns, and let you pie yourself into obesity. It's Skyrim set in Coronation Street. It's a provincial am-dram Cinderella. The emphasis on side quests reminds you that the symbolic pathway in Fable 3 was a betrayal of Fable's biggest strength: it's at its absolute best when you're not focused on the boss battle that is your ultimate destination.
I've said a lot of negative things in this review. It was just preparation. The fact that Fable was so shrouded in Molyneux-flavoured promises when it first came out, meant it couldn't help but be something of a disappointment. Now, it's totally free of that.
Even your first Achievement, 'From The Smallest Acorn', feels like a pleasing mea culpa to one of Peter's undelivered promises. So now, fully prepared for a game with flaws, you're free to enjoy it for the whimsical, eager to please personal story-maker that it is. Or, you know, just jump straight to Fable 2. It's pretty much the best game of the trilogy.
Get past the faintly patronising tutorial, and resist the slightly disappointing final battle, and stay in the brilliant, rich middle. This is an adventure that rewards the curious and the explorers.
- There's no hype to rail against now
- Feels more challenging than recent Fables
- It really does feel like a ten-year-old game