Wonderful music from Michelle Zauner of indie rock outfit Japanese Breakfast, Sable’s ambient soundscape fits Shedworks’ gently-paced adventure perfectly. There’s no spoken dialogue, but it’s the sort of game that doesn’t really need it.
Elegantly simple but incredibly effective, Sable’s flat, cel-shaded visuals are colourful, dynamic, and very pretty. It’s just a shame about the handful of visual glitches and sometimes choppy frame rate.
While your hoverbike is prone to swaying and rolling about the place when at full speed, riding across the desert is enjoyable. Climbing, jumping, and hovering as you explore Midden’s various landmarks also proves quite compelling.
You could earn three badges, claim a mask, and finish Sable’s Gliding in the space of a few hours, but ideally you’ll want to stick around to explore further quests and earn more masks. What’s here is good, but it’s slightly lacking in technical polish.
It’ll take you a while to unlock anything, but once the floodgates open, the spread of achievements is nicely pitched, rewarding time taken to go off-piste and dig up some of Sable’s secrets. Of which there are quite a lot.
September 22, 2021
In Sable, you play as a member of the desert-dwelling Ibexii tribe; a young girl, fittingly named Sable, whose coming-of-age journey involves completing a ritual known as 'The Gliding'. It all starts with the retrieval of a Gliding Stone, which, once energised at a temple shrine, enables her to float while enveloped inside an ethereal red bubble, called a 'Hover Orb'. Best of all, Sable gets treated to a spiffy new hoverbike (once she's gone and collected all of the missing components required to put it together), and, then, the sandy world of Midden is yours to explore, in a meditative adventure that rewards your curiosity.
Sometimes it's just nice to go for a ride.
Once you've departed the Ibex Camp you call home, following a few encouraging words from elderly mentor Jadi, Sable offers little in the way of hand-holding, by and large leaving you to your own devices to uncover your path to adulthood, as a so-called 'Glider'. Midden is a peaceful open world, so you'll never engage in combat; your only concern is with completing tasks for the gentle folk living out their lives in cosy settlements like Eccria or in encampments like Marrow Bone Station. Completing quests will eventually earn badges that denote differing expertise, and managing to collect three of the same badge entitles you to a mask, claimed from the mysterious 'Mask Caster', who patiently sits in a tent at Burnt Oak Station, awaiting your arrival.
Sable's masks signify a person's role and place in the world, and only by seeing The Gliding through to its end can you choose a mask and commit to a life as, say, a Machinist, a Guard, a Climber, an Entertainer, Beetle Camp owner, or whatever purpose you wish to pursue. All you know from the matriarchal Jadi is that “The Gliding is a journey that you must begin alone,” and the voyage that lies ahead for Sable involves many a fetch quest, as you venture beyond Ewer, the place you've called home for your entire life thus far. Midden is a stylised, cel-shaded realm filled with myriad wonders, many of which loom enticingly on the horizon, waiting for Sable and her hoverbike, which silently glides along, emitting a ribbon of crimson from its exhaust. After enduring a slow, spluttering sandcutter bike during the game's opening, mounting Sable's agile, floating winged cylinder feels liberating – and, should you be parted from your ride, you can call out to it. Sometimes, it might even actually come to you when beckoned, assuming it's not stuck on a rock or something.
You can customise Sable's bike by purchasing or finding new parts and paint jobs, completely transforming how it looks (one resembling a beetle, for instance) and performs, while Sable herself can be dressed up in clothing befitting a variety of job titles, which can be mixed or matched with the masks you've earned. Hoarding currency, called 'cuts', you can also acquire maps from cartographers, stationed high above the arid plains on their balloons. Climbing to get to them is a mere drop in the ocean relative to the climbing you'll be doing elsewhere in Sable – like Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you can scale almost any surface like Spider-Man, providing you have the requisite stamina – as denoted by a draining diamond-shaped gauge - to make it to the summit. Indeed, Sable even moves like Miles Morales in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, frames deliberately missing from her purposeful walk and sprint, which initially looks quite jarring.
Sable will draw you in with its scattered secrets, some buried in the sand, others piercing the sky, tempting you to ride into the distance to discover what's there – her unusual animation takes a little getting used to, but soon melts into insignificance. Puzzle ships take you off the beaten path, promising hidden collectibles or little mysteries to unravel, the former taking the guise of strange 'Chum Eggs' that can be delivered to the Queen Chum's hive and exchanged for stamina upgrades. Buried 'Hicaric Temples' can be raised from the sand, revealing a chamber containing strange ringed artefacts, the nature of which forms another of Sable's many enigmas you'll want to get to the bottom of.
Exploration in Sable proves hugely rewarding, while the game's bold art style is akin to a living comic book, the world's colours and shadows dynamically shifting with the time of day. In the light of the sun, burnished hues grow increasingly vivid, whereas the fall of night sees colour gradually seep away, rendering the desert expanses a single shade of lavender or purple. From the burnt oranges and earthy reds of the Badlands to the chalky white flats of The Wash, Sable looks beautiful, although an occasionally choppy frame rate or visual glitch can immediately pull you out of the almost dreamlike stupor you might have found yourself slipping into.
Sable does enjoy a good climb.
It's easy to overlook such relatively minor technical shortcomings, given the enjoyably hypnotic exploration on offer, balancing questing, puzzles, and a voyage of hoverbike-fuelled discovery to great effect. There's an air of the magical about Sable, every new region, looming silhouette on the horizon, and unearthed secret grounding you in a world brimming with ancient lore, all yours to navigate at your own pace, clambering hither and thither across towering bridges, spires of striated rock, and crumbling, forgotten structures – Sable's Midden is a place in which you'll happily while away the hours from the seat of your hoverbike, more than satiating any dormant, existential wanderlust you might have.