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The Pop Culture Wing of Hot Corner Harbor

Monday, April 18, 2022

Climbing the Open-World Heights of Sable

I’ve been playing a lot of cool games lately, and they’ve given me quite a few things to talk about. However, my last few games articles have gotten a little on the long side, both in word count and writing time, which can be a little daunting even when I don’t have a bit of a backlog to work through. So, I’m going to try and keep these a little shorter; maybe I’ll slip up a bit and one of them will grow in length, but keeping two out of three manageable isn’t bad.

And so, today I’ll be talking about Sable, the debut game of two-person studio Shedworks. I had seen and heard some good things about it prior to release, which got me interested. But one unusual thing that I noticed was that some of the previews I saw called it a 3D platformer (always a hot topic here), but that didn’t seem to be the case universally. “Open World”, “Adventure”, and “Exploration” showed up more frequently as genres/descriptors. And… yeah, it probably is those first and foremost, but I also don’t think I would dispute calling it a 3D platformer; it’s certainly not a traditional one, but it’s definitely more in line with that sort of level design and play style than most open world games.

But first, the general backstory: Sable takes place on an alien desert planet, beautifully rendered in a vibrant, rotoscoped* artstyle, where people live in much smaller-scale villages and societies (many even taking on nomadic lifestyles). You play as Sable, a young girl from a herding tribe known as the Ibexii, who is about to experience a coming-of-age ceremony, then set off into the world on a hoverbike to find her place in the world and decide what she’s going to do in life.

*Art criticism is not my forte, but I think that’s the term/technique I’m going for, at the very least for the animation? It looks like drawings over real figures, to give it a distinct mostly-realistic style with a few embellishments here and there, and usually colored in ways that are more striking, unique, or vibrant than real life? Either way, it makes for some amazing scenic landscape shots, and driving your bike over these dunes makes you feel like a master cinematographer with how easy it is to get beautiful and striking images of the world as you frame the in-game camera.

It’s a pretty basic story, but one that Sable sets up beautifully. You get dropped in pretty cold and build up an understanding of what’s going on naturally, talking to the rest of Sable’s clan as they mentally prepare both her and themselves for the coming separation of her going out into the world. It’s extremely relatable and well-done, and that natural discovery for the player, leading into the ceremony itself, is a huge emotional swell.