'Sable' Is Not A Good Game (And It's Okay To Admit That)
If you read a review that described a game as "one of the buggiest games … in years," with a "mostly empty" landscape and puzzles that the reviewer "wished were … more involved," you'd probably expect a middling or below-average score. Maybe this is another forgettable game made for a movie franchise or just some more shovelware to get a game studio through the end of the year. Definitely, nothing to get excited about.
Well, rather than getting a "meh" out of 10 and a pat on the back, Sable, the game in question, has been put up for Game of the Year awards, widely lauded as the best indie game of 2021, and was even one of the first games ever nominated for a Tribeca award. But … How?
Almost every review agrees that the game is “just teeming with” bugs and glitches, doesn't have enough content, and struggles to achieve even 30fps on the one console it was designed for. Why does it deserve any praise, let alone nominations for some of the most prestigious awards gaming has? Does it have industry connections? Is it bribing journalists? Maybe Sable's dad is Mr. Nintendo himself?
The truth is Sable has been riding a hype train since it was first revealed at E3 2018. The game's art style is truly breathtaking, and audiences fell in love with the idea of an open-world game that looked like a Moebius cartoon with music from Japanese Breakfast:
Who wouldn't love that? And since the project was literally built by just two guys in a shed, it had a perfect indie game story; A small budget labor of love with lofty ambitions set to revitalize the open-world game. It had puzzles, and it was non-violent. My god, the game had it all within reach.
Between 2018 and its release in 2021, Sable's hype continued to grow, and in the way that these things often happen, it became a lot more than a good-looking game about chill podracing. Suddenly it was Breath of the Wild but without all the combat. And was it in the style of Moebius? Or was it actually, basically, a Ghibli movie that you could play? As the game's release date approached, the hype continued to build; even I was swept up in it.
Often when hype trains reach the station, they're met by a mob of disappointed fans with unbelievable expectations, who'll turn on developers who promised a lot more than they gave. Except that Sable's hype train is still going strong even months after release, despite even its proponents saying that it has all the problems we've gone over. But even a quick read through most Sable reviews will show you why -- they're not about the game, they're about the reviewer. By couching itself in comfort gaming culture and relying on its atmosphere, Sable was allowed to get away with making almost no game at all, and its adherents will still defend it. It's not that it's boring; it just "could do with a few more player verbs." It's not empty; it's that "the world just isn't made for your enjoyment, man!"
Watching the reviews roll in in late September was absolutely mind-boggling. I played the entire game, got every mask, solved every puzzle (it only has six), and I cannot believe that the reviewers that called the demo the Game of the Year stuck to their guns when their darling met its disastrous release. But in case you've been harboring a similar need to see an accurate review of Sable, here it is:
Sable is a game that woke up on the beautiful side of the bed and then fell out of said bed and landed right on its face.
Top Image: Shedworks