Sable might be one of the most soothing games I’ve ever played •

Sable might be one of the most soothing games I've ever played •

It’s been a while since we checked out Sable, the desert sci-fi game made by a development team based in a hangar in north London, but this week I got my hands on it for the very first time – and I’m happy to report that it’s not just a spectator. Sable is perhaps one of the most calming games I’ve ever played, and even its early stages are capable of producing a powerful sense of the urge to travel.

For those in need of a refresh, Sable is an open-world game from Shedworks 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. It takes the form of a solo adventure through the desert, in which Sable must find a mask that represents his identity and role in society. The emphasis is on exploration and parkour, without a fight and a lot of cycling.

Sand trailer

Before you embark on the big world, however, you must first learn the basics of your tribe in a closed (but quite spacious) area. Preparations need to be made for the trip – it’s not just about packing a suitcase and walking away. There are several small tasks and quests that need to be completed before Sable can leave, but they never feel like boring chores, and there is always a purpose behind them. The game emphasizes the bond between a tribe member and their bike, for example, so collecting parts to build Sable’s bike feels like you’re piecing together something important to their identity. This adds weight to the quest, which gives meaning to the steps in the tutorial.

Quests push you into surrounding areas, but they want you to explore at your leisure – at one point I was encouraged to listen to instructions from an NPC and then place my own markers on the map. So the game doesn’t always point you straight to an objective – you’re encouraged to dig instead of zooming between objectives. And that’s a good thing, because the world of Sable is something special. There are mysterious and unexplained ruins everywhere – it’s a real mix of ancient temples and crashed spaceships. The day / night cycle means the colors change and fade as you travel around the world on a bicycle. The landscapes become dazzling at sunset and fade into desaturated gray at night. In the distance, unexplored monuments can be seen: even the smoke that rises lazily from the camp is an invitation to venture closer.

And as you explore it all, Sable features a lovely soundtrack of jingling wind chimes, muffled synths, and acoustic guitar. Sometimes it’s from another world, sometimes it feels like you’re in a camp under the stars, but either way, he’s able to rock you to a peaceful state.

1 When you need to check your markers and goals, Sable has a handy compass that appears like a hoop to point you in the right direction.

As far as the way Sable plays, the movement and mechanics all feel like they were designed to be fluid – it has a dreamy feel almost weightless. While there is an occasional bit of jerk around some ledges, the climbing mechanics are generous, allowing Sable to practically become a mountain goat when crawling. As part of tribal lore, you have the ability to “slide,” which basically means floating down inside a glowing ball of light. It’s a useful mechanic for parkour puzzles, yes, but it’s also heartwarming – like being protected from damage by the bubble. Gliding also offers another way to observe the scenery as you leap from vast heights and descend to the sandy ground.

Crossing the terrain on a bicycle also conveys this feeling of weightlessness, allowing you to drift through the dunes to your destination. And okay, I’ll admit that the first bike loaned 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 suitable bike for Sable.

2Sable’s movement appears to have been styled to move at a slower frame rate than the rest of the world, as if she had jumped straight out of the pages of a hand-drawn cartoon.

An hour after the start of the Sable demo, I wanted to venture out into the world: I had my bike ready, my riding technique was mastered and I was ready to cross Sable’s. Argonath Gates in the great unknown. But alas the demo ended there – so I guess I’ll have to wait until the game is released in September go through those huge doors. The fact that I was impatient to do this is a testament to the magnificent construction of the world of Sable, which just makes me want to rummage all day in vast destroyed spaceships. And most importantly, I can’t wait to find the right mask for Sable: to learn more about her identity, and the world in which she resides. Somehow, after a year of wearing masks all day, Sable made me want to find more.

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