Open-world hoverbike 'n' climbing game Sable is due to leave PC Game Pass on Sunday, and I only started playing today. I will not finish in time. That's fine. Honestly, I haven't finished half the games I've bought, and I've long since stopped thinking about 'The Backlog' as if I ever will. But I might enjoy this one week of exploring a gorgeous desert, climbing and gliding and hoverbiking, and you might too.
Released in September 2021, Sable is an open-world game about a young woman's rite of passage to pick her future career. I was impressed by the writing captures Sable's anxiety and the care, caution, and celebration of her clanfolk. So building a hoverbike, she sets out to explore the world and herself.
It's a striking world, with a look inspired by French artist Mœbius. It's a interesting world too, a desert pricked with technomagical temples, ancient devices, vast skeletons, abandoned towns, and crashed spaceships. The place has a weight of history. Sci-fantasy post-apocalyptic western? Whatever it once was, it's this now. Honestly, if you have Game Pass, I'd download Sable just to look at things. But off you go, finding places, meeting people, doing quests, and solving puzzles with a combination of switches and climbing. Oh, the climbing!
Like in Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, you can climb just about any surface. Run up to a wall or cliff and Sable will grab on, climbing as long as her stamina holds. This still feels slightly magical to me. I have climbed some large and complex geological formations and been perfectly happy to find nothing because the experience was good. Though I do wish she had a little more stamina to start with (you can upgrade it).
Unfortunately for a game which involves crossing large distances on a hoverbike, the bike is not fun to ride. It's flat and often finnicky. It can be upgraded but ugh. And the bike's ability to come to Sable when called, like a hoverhorse, is hinered by a real talent for getting stuck somewhere daft.
Reading Alice Bee's Sable review from a year ago, I can feel the root of her gripes. I suspect this discontent will only grow as I progress. While patches have fixed bugs, tweaked bits, and added a few features, it's still ultimately the same game. But hey, I'm only playing it until Sunday, so that's fine.
I find this hard end date liberating. Knowing I likely won't ever finish it, I'm happy to take my time to pootle and potter around the desert. If I were playing for the end, even knowing that I likely wouldn't see it, I'd be playing differently. I would be searching for collectible doodads to gain small advantages I might need later. I would be checking out every location and quest in case I missed a good one. As I've said before, most open-world games are composed of 70% junk yet I am compelled to try it all in case I miss the good 30%. Here, ah, I'm just happy zooming through canyons, clambering up hoodoos, and poking around crashed ships. Sometimes I advance the story or do a quest if I stumble across them but I'm not hugely trying. It is a pleasant place to exist in, a good mood to slip into.
I look forward to spending another few hours in Sable before it vanishes from Game Pass. Maybe I'll progress the story, maybe I won't. Maybe I'll one day buy it and return, maybe I won't. All software is licenses and all flesh is grass.