It’s been a little while since we checked in on Sable, the sci-fi desert game being made by a dev team based in a North London shed, but this week I was able to go hands-on for the very first time – and I I’m pleased to report it’s not just a looker. Sable might be one of the most soothing games I’ve ever played, and even its opening stages are capable of producing a powerful sense of wanderlust.
For those who need a refresh, Sable is an open-world game by Shedworks that’s coming to Xbox and PC later this year. You play as a young girl who leaves her clan as part of a rite-of-passage ceremony. This takes the form of a solo adventure across the desert, during which Sable must find a mask that represents her identity and role in society. The focus is very much on exploration and parkour, with no combat and a lot of bike-riding.
Before you’re unleashed into the wide world, however, you must first learn the basics from your tribe inside an enclosed (but fairly roomy) area. Preparations must be made for the journey – it’s not simply a matter of packing a suitcase and sailing away. There are several small tasks and quests that need to be completed before Sable can set off, but they never feel like annoying chores, and there’s always some purpose behind them. The game emphasizes the bond between a tribe member and their bike, for instance, so retrieving parts to construct Sable’s bike feels like you’re piecing together something important to her identity. It adds weight to the quest, making the tutorial stages feel meaningful.
The quests push you out into the surrounding areas, but they want you to explore on your own terms – at one point I was encouraged to listen to an NPC’s directions then place my own markers on the map. So the game doesn’t always direct you straight towards an objective – you’re encouraged to poke around instead of zooming between objectives. And that’s a great thing, because Sable’s world is something special. There are mysterious and unexplained ruins everywhere – it’s a real mixture of ancient temples and crashed spaceships. The day and night cycle means that colors shift and blur as you voyage around the world on your bike. The landscapes become dazzlingly vibrant at sunset, and fade to desaturated grays at night. Looking out into the distance will give you glimpses of unexplored monuments: even the smoke that lazily billows up from the camp is an invitation to venture closer.
And while you’re exploring all that, Sable boasts a lovely soundtrack of tinkling wind chimes, hushed synths and acoustic guitar. Sometimes it’s otherworldly, sometimes it feels like you’re at a campout under the stars, but either way it’s capable of lulling you into a peaceful state.
As for how Sable plays, the movement and mechanics all feel like they were designed to be smooth – it has an almost weightless, dreamy feel to it. Although there’s an occasional bit of jank around some ledges, the climbing mechanics are generous, allowing Sable to practically become a mountain goat when exploring. As part of the tribe’s traditions, you’re given the ability to “glide”, which basically means floating downwards inside a glowing ball of light. It’s a useful mechanic for parkour puzzles, yes, but it also feels comforting – like you’re being protected from harm by the bubble. Gliding also provides another way to observe the landscape as you jump from vast heights and float down towards the sandy floor.
Traversing the terrain by bike similarly conveys this sense of weightlessness, allowing you to drift through the dunes towards your destination. And ok, I’ll admit the first bike loaned out to you by a tribe member doesn’t have the best handling, but it does provide some serious motivation for the player to create a proper bike for Sable.
An hour into Sable’s demo, I found myself hungry to venture out into the world: I’d prepared my bike, I had my gliding technique down, and I was ready to head through Sable’s very own Gates of argonath into the wide unknown. But alas, the demo ended there – so I guess I’m going to have to wait until the game releases in September to walk through those enormous doors. The fact I was eager to do so is testament to Sable’s beautiful worldbuilding, which just makes me just want to poke around vast wrecked spaceships all day. And above all else, I’m eager to find the right mask for Sable: to know more about her identity, and the world in which she resides. Somehow, after a year of wearing masks all day, Sable has made me keen to find more.