Not since Red Dead Redemption have we seen such an immaculately modelled horse arse. You spend a considerable amount of The Journey staring at the rump of Seren, your steed, but rest assured hers is a pleasingly glossy rear, with muscles that visibly tense and relax under a coat dotted with flecks of dirt. It looks so good you’ll quite reasonably wish to reach out and touch it, and thankfully you can, courtesy of occasional pit-stops on the journey, where you’ll pat her down, tend to her wounds, and feed her apples plucked from nearby trees.
Seren might be an ageing mare, but hers is the heart of a ten-year old boy. A boy named Milo, to be exact. Remnants of the technology that would have brought Peter Molyneux’s uncanny changeling to life can be found in the way she responds to the tone of your voice (just as a water-balloon chucking minigame has been transmogrified into a pair of spell-casting gauntlets). Inevitably, your interaction with Seren is limited to petting and murmuring, and on occasion gently removing arrows from her flanks, but these basic tasks coupled with the genuine sense of having travelled a great distance together do lead a something of a bond.
That bond forms the emotional core of a scripted, on-rails adventure, as Seren drags your cart on a round trip through a beautiful, Unreal-rendered take on Albion. The irony of The Journey’s resolutely linear nature is that Lionhead’s fantasy realm has never seemed more ripe to explore: crepuscular rays cut through banks of forest pines, roadside ruins beckon, and dying fires still flicker in the hearths of abandoned farmsteads. You can only dismount at predefined points, however, the rest of the time merely steering Seren (by drawing one arm in and extending the other) around obstacles in your path. You can adjust speed too, by lashing or pulling back on the reins. The road ahead is filled with collectible experience orbs that can only be picked up by passing through at the correct speed, but this is a simple diversion on what is essentially a sightseeing tour.
On foot, however, things are bit more hectic, as you blast enemies, lightgun-game style with a lightning bolt power from your dominant hand (set at the start of the game) and yank and shove them with a telekinetic attack emerging from the other. It’s diverting and pyrotechnic enough, but also rather simple, as if Kinect’s unreliability is being accounted for by a lack of challenge. And Kinect is unreliable – with magical attacks firing off at odd angles you didn’t intend. Momentary control lapses can happen on the road too, causing Seren to crash into obstacles in her path. We’re used to dealing with Kinect’s finicky behaviour by now, but submitting such a gentle beast to its whims just seems cruel.
Nonetheless, this is a game built with Kinect’s limits in mind, and one that never risks defying them. The result is a modest, mechanically simple on-rails shooter, but it’s one that offers a voyage with epic sweep for those looking to re-immerse themselves in Fable’s world.
Want to see more of The Journey’s world? Here’s a gallery of hi-res screenshots to accompany the above review.