Figuring out who and what you want to be and do in life is one of the most difficult decisions that a teenager has to make. There’s thousands of possibilities, each with their positives and negatives, each demanding that you apply yourself to a particular path and often hope that the right opportunity presents itself.
Sable is a coming of age tale that captures this anxiety-filled part of life exceptionally well, but marries it to the wide open world of Midden that gives you the space and time to make this ever-so-difficult decision without any kind of pressure at all.
The game opens with Sable on the eve of her Gliding, the period in every young person’s life where they must leave their clan and head out into the wider world to explore, find themselves, and eventually settle on what their future profession will be. It’s a ritualistic process and as you speak to the handful of mentees that Sable grew up with, it’s one that you can approach with a zealous excitement or with uncertainty.
Helping you to trek across this desert planet, you have just a handful of things. Sable can climb up any non-metallic surface, so long as her stamina doesn’t run out, her efforts aided by an energy bubble that she can use to very gently glide down to ground or to nearby surfaces. Combined, they make all of the traversal in the game possible. For crossing the wider expanses, you build and name a new hover bike, while using a compass to follow certain mission and waypoint markers that you set.
Where the opening hour is fairly well scripted and directed, from this point on there’s just one suggestion: to visit Burnt Oak Station and speak to the Machinist there to pick up your first mission. You’ll note these echoes of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, albeit with a very different tone and without peril to your adventure.
Getting around Midden is a simplistic joy, cruising along on the back of your hover bike and kicking up long trails of dust in your wake. The bike feels like a character in its own right, able to be summoned by a little call from Sable, arriving nearby with a little horse-like clattering sound. You can customise it with parts bought from vendors that completely change its look, some offering stat boosts.
While you can acquire maps of the world’s different regions, they’re not filled with landmarks until you actually come across them, so you’ll have to keep an eye out for the telltale signs of a cartographer’s balloon, the smoke from a small settlement, the lights of a crashed space ship that invite you explore and try to discover more of this land and its people’s history.
It’s all rendered in a wonderfully minimalist style, taking clear inspiration from comic books and classic anime. Everything has a thin black border around it and black lines for the detail, the flat colours popping off the screen during the bright sunlight of the day, before fading out of existence in the often monotone darkness of night. Each region of Midden has its own feel, whether that’s from the terrain and plant life that you encounter, or the dramatic shifts in colour tone. What’s sure to be the most polarising is the stylistic choice to have Sable herself animate at a lower frame rate than the game. Personally, I love it for the callback to anime films of the 80s, but I’m sure many will hate it.
The ultimate goal of the game is to decide on Sable’s future profession, but to do that she must first acquire three badges of a given role and then visit the Mask Caster and claim that’ profession’s mask. There’s several choices before you, whether it’s to become a Guard in the one larger city on the map, a Machinist that looks after all the decaying tech people rely on, a bar keep, a scavenger, and so on. Some of these are easier to acquire than others, and you could spend quite a while finding every single secret in the game before making that final choice.
I love so many aspects of Sable, its world, its style, its haunting title music by Japanese Breakfast, that it pains me to play and constantly pick at its flaws and weaknesses. While much of the game’s expanse is intentionally devoid of life, there’s also a distinct lack of hustle and bustle to the little pockets of civilisation. There’s minimal or no movement from NPCs, and those that you are able to talk to often having very shallow interactions. Only a couple of characters really stand out.
On a different note, getting around is often a bit forced and awkward. As lovely as the hover bike is, it doesn’t half bounce and wobble around the place, and often gets stuck when it’s called – most games would teleport it in behind you in this case, but there’s a purist approach to this in Sable. With the stamina-based climbing restricting you and no way to increase it, you’re often reduced to what feels like hacky attempts to clamber up certain buildings, cliff faces and landmarks, even on what might be the intended path. It’s only out of sheer stubbornness that I reached some buildings atop towering buttes, doing so with minimal reward.
Theres’ also a smattering of other bugs and minor issues (including a couple of crashes on PC) that mildly inconvenience at times, and will hopefully be resolved with updates.