Self discovery - the most interesting kind of discovery there is.
I currently have COVID. Having spent the better part of 2 years trying to keep myself safe and healthy, the inevitability of a global pandemic has finally caught up with me. I feel ill at this point, but not quite terrible anymore; my headache is persistent but painkillers seem to be able to finally dull its edge - while the rest of my body simply hurts. For the next few days, and the last few days, leaving the house is not an option - not that it was something I’ve been doing much of lately, even when it was an option. Hell, I’m sat here typing - and that’s something I couldn’t have entertained the idea of yesterday. How long I’ll be able to concentrate for is another matter entirely, and I don’t for a moment think it will be very long. I’m grateful that I have it now instead of several years ago - with the current omicron variant being generally recognised as being less nasty than some of its predecessors. I’m also glad that I’m vaccinated and booster jabbed - as I can all too easily imagine this being a lot worse.
I keep thinking that, housebound and isolated as I am… it’s a real shame that I finished Sable a couple of days ago. If ever there was a game that was perfect for my current reality, it’s that one. While I’m confined to a handful of rooms, it gave me a whole world to explore and plenty of reason to do so - without a spot of combat in sight to aggravate my headache.
Some games take a lot of time in labouring the point - explaining the game's world and mechanics at great length. Other games point you to the horizon and tell you to head off to explore. Sable is definitely one of those latter sorts of games. There's a bit of hand-holding at the start, but once you've found the pieces of your hoverbike the game rapidly establishes a habit of telling you "there's something you might find interesting in that direction" and then letting you get on with it at a pace that suits you. It tells a coming-of-age tale in a beautiful and mysterious world - and for me, it was just the right game at the right time.
Comparisons to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are inevitable - but in a lot of ways well deserved. A lot of the tricks that Sable has up its sleeves could be found in that game; from the gliding to the stamina bar limited climbing, to the ability to drop pins in the map, to its apparent non-linearity.
More than any game, the thing it reminded me of most is the opening scenes from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Rey, wandering a desert vista and exploring wreckage of massive spaceships that have fallen from orbit following some long-forgotten battle. A big part of Sable's voyage of self discovery involves searching through the wreckage of ancient space-faring vessels - all full of platform challenges and discoverable bits and pieces, and all adding to the mystery of the game that's never really answered - the question of where this planet is, and how these people arrived there all those years ago.
So, Sable's not derivative, exactly - but you can see its inspirations shining through it. Some people may argue that's a bad thing; I'm not one of them. For me, the idea of being able to walk into a new game and a new world with at least an inkling of how it works based one something I've experienced before is by no means a bad thing. It also doesn't mean that it has nothing to say or offer - quite the opposite. Sable is a game that's all about discovery - both of a world and of a character. It's a lofty ambition for a small team - and makes the fact that they've largely pulled it off all the more impressive.
The places you'll visit are rarely marked on your map, instead they're things you'll notice by virtue of them simply standing out on the landscape - angular shapes in a world of dunes that rise and fall in gentle curves. I found most of my time spent with Sable was spent simply satisfying my own sense of curiosity - and whatever I found at the end of my little self-imposed expedition always felt worth it. In a world where it feels as though there's so little left to discover, maybe it's that sense of discovery that keeps dragging us toward games like Sable.
As you discover the world, Sable discovers herself - completing loose missions for various characters earns you badges for that faction, and obtaining three badges allows you to choose a mask that will indicate Sable's place in her world. This is the bit of narrative that's set up at the very start of the game - but the mask you choose for Sable is up to you, and is a decision you can make for whatever version of her you imagine. Aside from cosmetic changes, they have no impact on the game whatsoever - other than giving you the sense of achieving an objective and helping you to step into the shoes of the young woman you're helping to make sense of her life.
All in all, I found a lot to enjoy in Sable. It wasn't without some technical hiccups - but overall, it's another example of what a small team with a really solid idea of what they want to achieve can pull together. I'll look back on my time with it fondly, and would recommend it in a heartbeat.
Have you played Sable? What did you think? Hit me up on Twitter and share your thoughts.