Landscape in »Sable«: graphically brilliant, not technical
When "good graphics" are mentioned in video games, technical excellence is often meant: so many polygons, photo-realistic reflections, particle effects, ray tracing, absurd numbers of enemies, explosions, light effects.
Every now and then, however, individual titles remind us that successful aesthetics are more than expensive technology.
When the first animated GIFs of »Sable« appeared on social media four years ago, there was great enthusiasm. Instead of photorealism, it relies on the so-called cel-shading style, which looks as if it had been created by the great French comic artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud. His minimalist works, drawn with clear ink strokes and delicately colored, were clearly a model for the aesthetics of a game, the content of which is also based on the artist's sometimes quite esoteric science fiction works. The desert planet Jakku from the Star Wars universe was also an inspiration.
These big names are faced by a tiny development team: Shedworks, named after their workplace in a London garden shed, which basically consists of just two young developers.
The anticipation for »Sable«, which has grown into enormous international anticipation for years compared to this small thing, has now been confirmed by the recent publication: This desert adventure is not only exceptionally successful visually.
Coming of Age on the desert planet
As a girl named Sable, for once you are not called upon to save the world from evil, but to look for your own way into this world.
At the beginning of the game, Sable leaves her tribe with the aim of finding her destination.
But also to have fun.
"Rituals and independence are important, but it is easier in the world when you are happy," we heard this advice at the beginning.
You think you can hear its echo everywhere in this game.
Sables Hoverbike is a central element in the journey into adult life.
The futuristic floating vehicle is more than just a means of transportation: Again and again the inspired device can be improved, expanded with accessories and tuned.
In the vast wastelands between rock towers and sand dunes, you spend a lot of time driving overland; a day-night cycle immerses this landscape again and again in breathtaking light moods and, deep at night, in minimalist monochrome. The successful soundtrack by the US indie rock band "Japanese Breakfast" gives the atmosphere a melancholy weightlessness.
You get a lot to do in the process, even if there is no huge mission, no global threat, not even the fight against evil monsters or intruders in »Sable«.
In the lively settlements, the protagonist is sent off with a multitude of assignments.
Sometimes she has to find out something, almost scientifically, about the life of desert beetles, then she has to look for a missing child and help solve a crime.
This scavenger hunt will not be boring - even though »Sable« completely dispenses with fighting and classic action.
With heart …
Instead of fighting and difficult challenges, the game relies on simple, entertaining puzzles and the joy of discovering a world that has been lovingly designed down to the smallest detail. As in Nintendo's switch game "Breath of the Wild", the exploration of a large wilderness is both goal and motivation. As in this one, it is important to explore the open world right into dark caves and up to the highest mountain peaks.
Just like the link in “Breath of the Wild”, Sable also has to watch out for a dwindling stamina display while climbing and sprinting;
But you don't have to be afraid of falling, even with daring climbing tours.
You can't fall to death in "Sable", and a magical ability to glide defuses most of the jumping passages.
In the worst case, you just have to tackle a failed ascent again.
By collecting certain items, the heroine's stamina can be increased permanently.
more on the subject
Science fiction blockbuster »Dune«: The desert planet seemed scorched earth ... By Andreas Borcholte
By completing missions you can earn special masks that are not only visually different;
At the end of the ritual of growing up, which one experiences here in game form, there is the choice of the right mask and thus the role in society.
Anyone who scours the entire game world for all missions and masks is busy for around 15 hours.
... and pain
Despite all the enthusiasm for the style, atmosphere and non-violence of »Sable«, the limitations of a small development team are currently still evident in the technology: Despite several postponements of the release date, »Sable« would have done a little more fine-tuning. Graphic and game mechanics bugs now and then tarnish the joy of the game. The handling of both the bike and one or the other function is a bit shakier than you would like it to be.
Nevertheless: For a game that stands out so impressively from the rest of the medium just because of its original aesthetics, these points of criticism are not so important.
»Sable« is much more than just a pretty example of the superiority of style over technical brilliance.
It is a meditative, almost philosophical adventure in a unique game world;
a small masterpiece that will stay in the memory for a long time despite the criticisms mentioned.
"Sable" by Shedworks
"Sable" by Shedworks
, for Windows, macOS, Xbox Series X / S and Xbox One, 24.99 euros.