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Thinking of a Place – Sable

Every part of Sable tells a story. Its characters, its locales, its music, its art direction. There’s nothing in this game that is separate from its narrative.

I first saw gameplay of Sable years ago and was immediately captivated by its Mœbius inspired art direction. Developers Shedworks kept relatively quiet in the years leading up to the game’s release; only showing small bits of gameplay here and there. I knew that I wanted to play Sable, but I had no idea just how much I would fall in love with this game.

Sable’s harsh, contrasting lines and minimal, pastel colors give it an unmistakably gorgeous and unique aesthetic.

Sable falls within the realm of sensory exploration games like Journey and Abzu and I personally think that it is the current apex of the genre. It’s one of those games in the vein of Breath of the Wild that allows you to climb anything around you and there is an irresistible appeal to games that do this well.

There’s a specific satisfaction that comes from climbing onto an edifice that you may or may not have been intended to ascend. Combine that with a slight level of jank and the hand-crafted world and you get a self-oriented exploratory experience that makes you feel like you’re constantly solving your own puzzles.

And the self-oriented nature of the exploration is important because narratively Sable is a game about self-discovery. The titular character is thrown out into the world for her culture’s rite-of-passage journey called their “Gliding” and there is little direction given to the player. Sable is now a glider, donning a glider’s mask and in Sable’s world, every person wears a mask that identifies what their profession is—be it guard, scrapper, merchant, etc. Individuals are expected to choose their mask after this journey where they are sent out to experience life outside of their bubble.

As color’s bleed out while the sun fades, the game takes on an entirely different vibe at night time.

Sable is given her hoverbike named Simoon, which is presented to the player as being a semi-sentient machine, and sent out into the world.

Meeting and helping characters in this world is where Sable’s strong writing manifests itself. Their dialog is minimal but what dialog there is in the game is substantive. It’s just understated enough to be enigmatic and leave the player wondering but also expressive enough to give context to Sable’s experience and by extension, the player.

The world design itself doesn’t give the player specific objectives other than some of the side content after it’s been organically discovered. Progressing the game’s narrative involves finding points of interest in the world and riding to them on Sable’s hoverbike wherein Sable will complete tasks or make discoveries that will lead to her obtaining masks. Along the way, Sable will find the ancient ruins and desolate spaceships that allude to one or perhaps multiple ancient civilizations.

Of course, the art style of Sable is going to be what will stand out to most people at first glance. Minimal with a composition of contrasting solid colors and harsh lines, there really is nothing like Sable visually in any medium. Its stark colors cause sunlight to expose architectural marvels in the daytime. The colors will slowly bleed out while the sun sets, leaving a monochromatic palette in its place. It creates a wonderful juxtaposition that allows you to experience this world bereft of its color and enhances the appreciation for its daytime vistas. There were many times when I came across an interesting location at night and used the game’s dedicated “sit” button to wait for the sun to rise so that I could soak it all in.

Sable will be shaped by the many people she meets during her journey.

And then there’s the music. Composed entirely by Japanese Breakfast, it is just as important to the experience as the climbing system or the art style. It’s quiet and meditative and compliments the lonely nature of Sable’s journey.

And lonely it is. While you come across and help many people in their lives, doing things such as freeing a child thief from zealous guards, deducing who sabotaged the largest city’s power supply, or collecting beetles for an insect obsessed villager, you will always move on to the next town. There’s always another town; another structure. The life of a glider is one of impermanence and the people around Sable are aware of the fleeting nature of their relationships.

I spent about 25 hours in Sable’s world. Enraptured as I was by its people, its landscapes, and its history. I obtained every mask in the game and when I returned to Sable’s village to pick a mask that would dictate my role in life, I was also given the option to remain a glider. Similar to Sable, I had also developed a fondness for Simoon. It/They were the only constant companion tagging along for this excursion and the quiet hum from Simoon’s engine was always a comfort.

There’s always something of intrigue inviting you in the distance.

But I was also able to pick the Ibexi mask, the mask of Sable’s tribe. At the end of it all, I decided that the only appropriate choice for Sable and for me was to return to the people we loved.

After you make your decision, you are told that your time with Simoon is over and that Simoon will accompany the next glider on their quest. I cannot help but think that Sable would reminisce over her time spent with her temporary companion and the trek they shared just as much as I have spent thinking about my time with the game since playing it.

It’s easy to get used to a place, and stop seeing the joy in it. Or to imagine that you’ve been somehow cast in a life so boring it can’t possibly be worth exploring further. But going into the world beyond made me better love the small one I have here.

Sable is a game unlike anything else I have ever played and it taught me a valuable lesson.

Carving out your own path in this life is hard and while it can be beautiful and fulfilling, the journey can often be lonely.

Sometimes, you just want to go back home.

By Hagen McMenemy

Hey there,

I’m Hagen McMenemy, a lover of the video game media that is setting out to be one of the voices providing in-depth analyses and critiques of video games that eschews the hype and inflation from major media outlets.

To me, video games are a form of art and should be approached as such. I believe that like any art form, video games deserve to be analyzed and enjoyed with a thoughtful approach. While typical video games reviews that look to judge a video game on objective metrics as a product are useful, that is not my goal.

I’m a native of Alabama currently living in Detroit with my cat Dusty.

When not playing or writing about video games, I work as a technical writer for an SEO Firm.

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