rarity and beauty • Eurogamer.net

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Funny how the mind fills up. Art for Sable: you could say, hey, it’s Moebius, the French artist who once made the Silver Surfer such an elegant and lonely presence, a swift and glittering needle darting above the blasted canyons of Manhattan . Or you could talk about the smoothness of the line, the slow strobe pastel colors, the sparse use of shadow.

But they’re just separate pieces, and the mind fills everything anyway. It works with emptiness, giving this desert landscape with its speckled earth and Vegas carpet of exposed strata an irresistible sense of time gone by. Passing time! Centuries have sunk into the ground, whitening animal bones and dulling machines, revealing a hard, dry world cleansed of obvious context. Wide expanses of sand make you wonder what forgotten lake once formed here. Meanwhile, the thin black line that gives the game its illustrative flair works on the scattered dwellings, rendering the plaster with a powdery ossuary feel, the tattered pieces of tarp snapping like old shrouds.

Trees, which trees there are outside the forest region, may appear burnt, the outer bark torn off by the sun. Elsewhere, the huge things lying around are ancient debris, half-pipe fragments of something that was once vast and sci-fi. Smoke rises against thin clouds – any clue? A prompt? And then night falls and the sky is suddenly so dark, so blue, the earth loses its bands to the wonderful darkness, and the stars come out and make all a delight.

Sable is a game set in a science fiction desert, delivered in these French science fiction lines, both complex and, paradoxically, sparse and airy. And Sable is a person in the game, the main character, who has reached a teenage stage which means she has to take a trip away from home on her sand bike – a rite of passage that can only lead to to the adventure.

What I like about Sable – beyond the frame and the aesthetic – is that it’s pleasantly easy to describe the form this adventure takes. There is a very simple guiding principle here. Who do you want to become? Sable is looking for his place in the world, and as you play, you earn badges from quest givers for completing various tasks. The badges represent the type of task undertaken or the person who defined it. Scrap Collector? Guardian? Something foreign? Get a set and you can exchange it for a mask that represents this line of work. At the end of the game – you pick that point once you have a few masks in your possession – you pick a mask. This is not a spoiler. The game is quite open on its intention. No fight. No bosses. You find Sable a place in the world.

I made it complicated, but it basically boils down to: do the things you love to do, the things that shoot you. To me that meant mapping, and mapping in turn meant escalation. The cartographers are scattered throughout the game’s desert, still high up because they must have a view of the landscape. So you see them in the distance and then you have to figure out how to reach them – a climbing puzzle! Sable uses Breath of the Wild’s climbing system – an endurance gauge married to the fact that you stick to most surfaces. You go up, ledge to ledge as you rest and rebuild your stamina for the next step.

Moebius is the most obvious touchstone, but there is scope. This second screen has for me the look of Jules Feiffer.

At first, a cartographer will be above a low tower or a simple bluff. My favorite moments in Sable come much later, however, as I explore the far reaches of the game. A cartographer was atop a huge piece of architecture – the remains of a crushed and plundered ship. To get there, I had to find the right route, see which parts of the landscape would take me a little higher, and then see where I could continue from there. It took me about fifteen minutes. And that’s nothing compared to the cartographer hidden in the middle of nowhere, perched on a rock spire that could only be accessed by arched bridges made of ancient animal thorns, giant things, clinking like glass underfoot – that sense of balance that some old things have, alternating toughness and brittleness.

Cartographers sell you a map when you reach them, slowly filling the world in multiple parts of the game. But they also show you nearby areas of interest – areas they won’t put on the map for you. And they tell you about other parts of the world that might be nearby, prompting you to play a game with the dumb cards and the testimonials of the people you meet, who will say to you, ‘Oh, the thing you want is that. is the south-east of here in the Northern Badlands. ”Northern Badlands? Spaces and words must come together here in your head, like true exploration.

One last thing about cartographers. Some are happy. It can be a pleasure to find them up there after a long ascent, accompanied by lively cartographer music. Some are gentle, some are shy, some are cranky and almost paranoid. They are all people, all themselves. Everyone in Sable wears a mask – the mask of their calling, I guess. But the masks allow the characters to show through more strongly in the writing, which is skilful, sparse, again that word, but warm, always alluding to a fully realized world that takes shape in pieces, a scintillating mosaic of interactions, of gold hidden in a handful of sand.

It’s hard not to feel like it’s always a Sunday in Sable. In the best possible way.

I think I prefer cartographers not only because of the rock climbing, or because they let me fill in the map, but because you don’t need to be told to look for them. You just saw them on the horizon and you want to explore. It’s a kind of tension in Sable, I think: it’s what he wants you to do, that you go alone, the rite of passage thing, but he also has to give you a little framework. , a bit of a push, and so there are quests and quest givers, and can-you-me-me-three-of-those tasks.

They are doing well, and they are working towards the goals of the badges and masks. But I feel like the game still wants you to get away from them. It allows you to take a step back, choose who to ignore, what to give up. It gives you a sand bike that allows you to cover huge distances. Just point it and remove the smoke trail or send a gentle Euclidean laser beam. And it gives you that map that fills up – fills up to a certain extent, the open spaces are the real point here – with icons as you find stuff. The quests are cool – check out why the wind tower stopped spinning, I enjoyed that one. But it’s so much better to just explore, to run through a daringly empty world. To see a new shape appear in thin lines on the horizon like an image on a sketch. To get closer and find a statue, a huge bell-shaped building, a rock formation, a crashed ship. All of these things will have little challenges inside of them, but more than that, they speak of scale and age and a certain loneliness. What makes Sable great.

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It’s pretty hard to get hurt in Sable – even long drops allow you to float to safety in a chewing gum shield that I think was summoned by a pebble. (Long story.)

The challenges are often brilliant though. Take three pieces of beetle dung – well, I will. But halfway through Sable’s journey, I found a huge building in the middle of nowhere and waited almost twenty minutes for the landscape to align with the light in a way that would allow me to open up a door rigged. I can’t remember what my reward was – it probably wasn’t much: new pants or a jacket. But I remember the puzzle, and the way it fit into the environment, and the confident way it made me stop and notice things and just wait, for the sun to move, for them. shadows line up, that Sand functions as a place as well as a game – a place that is also a game.

Sand is full of them. And such is his commitment to player freedom, I finished and watched the credits roll and still know I only saw a small fraction of what this world has to offer. Its emptiness contains, in a way, multitudes. This bike of mine – I can swap parts and change its colors. These pants that I found some time ago, I can go for the full set. There are spaceships whose lone AIs tell a story that you can put together if you can get to them all. There are people to meet and artifacts to ponder.

But to experience Sable well, all you need to do is be in between these things – on your bike, lost in the organized void, wondering where to go next. Change plans, ignore quests, keep an eye on the horizon. Not bad, really.


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