Sable review – equal parts Zelda, Moebius, and itself

Soft sounds from another planet

Pootling around the Deserts of Midden in our Sable review

Our Verdict

A sweetly told tale of youth, travel, and self-discovery that's not afraid to wear its inspirations on its sleeve. In turbulent, inward-looking times, Sable is a true comfort.

Sable is an ordinary girl made special by the occasion. She's about to undergo a pilgrimage of self-discovery known to her people as the Gliding. It's a time-honoured tradition among the planet's nomadic tribes that sees children untethered from the comfort of home and released into the dunes with nothing but a hoverbike and some arcane gadgetry. Some don't stray far, while others reach the corners of the world before coming home. Everyone, though, returns with a better sense of who they are.

The people you'll meet on your desert voyage come from all walks of life. They all wear masks, not to hide their face but to display their chosen profession. Machinists are enthralled by the inner workings of hoverbikes and will obsess over every scrap of tech that passes through their workshop. There are guards who live to protect others, and do so with the endearing sincerity of a hall monitor. And then there are the folks who really like beatles. Your Gliding is all about finding a mask of your own to reflect a passion you'll take into adolescence.

Given the stillness and isolation of lockdown, the post-Brexit hurdles we in the UK have to jump in order to travel, or the seeming rise of jingoism at the expense of empathy, there's something both comforting and melancholic about freely careening across the desert on a rumbling hoverbike, learning about foreign cultures, and broadening your own horizons.

It’s through talking to people – helping them with their problems and meeting their challenges – that you might figure out which mask you’ll eventually commit to. I come across a climber who goads me into scaling the remains of an abandoned spaceship, a scrapper who offers money in exchange for any junk I stumble across, and a merchant who hates me. Admittedly, I tried to convince a guard she’d been draining the town’s power so she could profit by stockpiling food, but she doesn’t know that. She’s just mean.

Talking to a merchant in our Sable review

There’s a chance that you’ll collect a token after each of these tiny adventures, which represents a testimonial from someone you’ve met that you have what it takes to walk the same path as them. Once you get three of the same type, you can exchange them for a mask. You only need to get one mask before you can return home and finish the game, but why settle for one?

Wherever I wander in Sable, I’m constantly reminded of The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild. You’re free to explore Hyrule and stumble across the four Champions and Divine Beasts in whatever order you wish. Sable’s world of Midden is just as flexible, albeit on a much smaller scale. The entirety of the map is yours to explore after the tutorial, with each short story ready to start as soon as you stumble across it.

There’s also a similar thrill to exploration as both Hyrule and Midden are littered with puzzles to solve, while a stamina bar dictates how far you can climb up cliff faces. Of course the rewards are vastly different – there’s no combat in Sable and stamina is the only stat you can buff – so the main objective of exploration is to find rarer masks and the tales that accompany them.

Exploring the beautiful world of Sable by hoverbike

Exploring the ruins of old ships and unearthing ancient artifacts through environmental puzzles eventually rewards me with a mask, outfit, and parts to modify my hoverbike. On another day I’m taking up the mantle of a vigilante detective called The Shade, following clues through a city to find an imprisoned child and return them to their guardian. At the end I’m offered the mask of The Shade, should I decide to end my Gliding there.

What I really want to talk about, though, is climbing. Both Sable and Breath of the Wild understand the thrill of reaching the peak of the tallest point on the map and daring to jump off it. While Link has a glider, Sable comes with a Gliding Stone that encases her in a red bubble, enabling her to gently float back to the ground. The whole time you’re in this protective bubble you can hear a faint heartbeat – there’s a natal comfort to it. You’re reminded during your journey that your ability to glide fades with age, emphasising that it’s something truly special to enjoy while you can.

We may never see The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild on PC, but its influence is only becoming more and more clear, with games like Genshin Impact and Immortals Fenyx Rising releasing in the last year. But while Nintendo, Ubisoft, and Mihoyo have a wealth of resources at their disposal, Sable – which you can get via Game Pass for PC, coincidentally – was crafted by two developers in a literal garden shed, buoyed by some freelance help.

Using the Gliding Stone in Sable

So, yeah, there’s no combat or cooking here, but their exclusion gives the story and exploration ample room to breathe, and Sable is all the better for it.

It’s also easy to see the influence of French artist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud in Sable’s aesthetic, but there’s plenty here for Shedworks to call its own. While Sable doesn’t break new ground, its tale of venturing out to find yourself and experience new things is a comfort. As the world continues to come out of lockdown, it’s a reminder of what joys lie away from home, and one of the most evocative coming-of-age experiences in gaming.

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