I’ve just left the opening area of Sable, and all I can think about is my girlfriend in tears. You see, the Ibexi Camp serves as an hour-long tutorial to Shedworks’ beautiful exploration game, wherein the eponymous protagonist spends their last moments with family and friends before setting off into the wild. There, the Gliding awaits, a solo rite-of-passage-type endeavour, whereby you’ll escape the confines of your hometown on a custom-built hoverbike to discover new cultures, make new friends, and, all going to plan, transition into adulthood.
As you depart the camp, the game’s gorgeous world rolls out before you like a red carpet, and, without much direction, you’re invited to explore. In May, 2009, my girlfriend and I were not straddling hoverbikes, but were sitting on uncomfortable chairs, eating soggy W.H. Smith sandwiches in Glasgow Airport. And Jenny, my girlfriend, spent a solid 15 minutes crying her heart out. Sable brought me back to this moment.
I hailed Sable’s writing, its endearing characters and its scope for exploration in our Sable review, but that single moment when you first leave behind the Ibexi Camp is incredible. Suddenly, you’re totally alone and isolated in the vast expanse which stretches out ahead as far as the eye can see. You’ve been given tentative instructions on where to go next, but the sense of possibility as you breach the borders of your old stomping ground is overwhelming. Truthfully, I’ve not stopped thinking about it since.
Leaving home is a ubiquitous part of so many video games, but there’s something about the way Sable builds up to it which makes it unforgettable. Departing Midgar for the first time is similarly evocative in Final Fantasy 7, as is escaping Kyaro in Suikoden 2. Squinting into the low sun when you first emerge from Vault 101 in Fallout 3 treads a similar path, as does being wowed by the sheer vastness of Hyrule from atop The Great Plateau in the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The Witcher 3, Horizon Zero Dawn, Far Cry 5, Red Dead Redemption 2 – all of these games fit similar moulds, but none of them execute the moment with the same charm as Sable.
Which is all credit to how Sable plays to its strengths. Sable’s world is so beautiful, its writing is sharp, and its often hilarious characters are likeable and relatable. Without the distractions of combat, weapon crafting, and skill tree-climbing, the non-combative Sable is able to focus on its best bits, and all of that comes together after just an hour to the greatest effect. That, for me, is why its take on leaving home is so powerful – powerful enough to transport me back to a personal event that occurred over a decade ago.
On that day in the departure lounge, Jenny and I were off to Australia, where we’d live and work for the next two years. We’d spent ages saving up, clearing our debts, and getting ourselves set for the adventure of a lifetime, where we might, I dunno, discover new cultures, make new friends and, who knows, transition into adulthood at the ripe old age of 23.
That last part would see 25-year-old me return to Scotland malnourished from living off microwavable noodles and buttered toast for longer than any human being should, but that’s besides the point. The point is: Jenny had just spent her last moments in Glasgow with family and friends on the other side of security, saying her goodbyes and preparing herself for what lay ahead. And that was terrifying.
It’s a privileged experience, having the chance to live on the other side of the world, but it’s also a daunting one. My girlfriend and I worked our arses off to afford it, and then, on the cusp of getting on the plane, Jenny was filled with doubt. She wound up having a great time, for what it’s worth, but Sable nails the feeling of that moment better than any video game I’ve ever played. In Sable, you’re not a warrior, a superhero, a seasoned gunslinger, or a chiselled monster hunter. You’re just an ordinary person with a desire to expand your horizons. And that’s exactly what makes it work.