How Sable finds its soul in shipwrecks
There’s a whale in the desert. Only it’s not really a whale at all, but rather a colossal spacecraft, abandoned to the elements. You know it’s big – it’s hard to miss, even from a distance – but that can’t quite compare to the moment you steer your bike inside it, look up and around with a mixture of trepidation and awestruck glee, and realise where you will almost certainly be spending the entirety of the next hour.
It says good things and bad about Sable that we feel a stronger connection to technology when we leave Simoon behind. Shedworks spends some time setting up the idea of those on their Gliding forging a kind of spiritual bond with their vehicle, but for us that never quite lands. It doesn’t help that Simoon’s pathfinding leaves a lot to be desired. When we whistle for it to come to our side, it’s a toss-up whether we’ll soon hear its electronic whirr as it approaches. As often as not, we’re forced to bring up our compass and run back to it: on one occasion we find it bashing its nose repeatedly against a rock, even when we move behind it and call it once more.
Simoon feels oddly unwieldy, too, thudding against the surface of undulating dunes with such frequency that we come to wonder if this rite of passage shouldn’t be called the Bumping instead. It’s partly a victim of unfortunate timing – the titular craft in Jett: The Far Shore is simply more interesting to pilot, and has more of a personality – but there’s no escaping the fact that all you’re doing here is holding the trigger to accelerate and steering with the left stick. There is nothing else to think about.
Rather, it’s in those massive derelict ships where Sable makes technology feel like magic. In some ways that’s not a surprise, since the first seeds of the game were planted when the team saw the opening sequence of The Force Awakens, where Rey explores a Star Destroyer, hunting for scrap to pay for her next meal. Had that set-piece been parlayed into a full-length cartoon feature from a boutique animation studio, it would probably look a lot like this.
The puzzles inside them may be fairly rote, involving a lot of carrying batteries to put into slots – in doing so, activating dormant mechanisms and opening doors. Yet with nothing to guide you, even these simple challenges feel more involving. The design of these places is fascinating, too: they might have elements in common with one another, from their elevated gantries and boxes of scrap to their moving platforms ready for
Sable to cling to and leap from, but they’re different enough to stick in the mind. It’s here that the influence of the technical drawings that inspired the game’s art style shines through most brightly: the world outside is beautiful, but these are genuine architectural marvels.
It’s here, too, that Sable makes a real virtue of its scale. There is no sense of peril in a game with no enemies, and where you’re capable of conjuring a bubble to safely float down from high ground. But these places feel eerie and imposing all the same. Their size has a lot to do with it, but Martin Kvale’s evocative sound design is at its peak here: as strange noises reverberate around their enormous metal innards, it feels as if there might just be ghosts in these machines.
There is something more than scrap here, though we’ll refrain from discussing its precise nature. Suffice it to say, it begins a quest line that provides some valuable background to the world of Midden – and, more importantly, gives you further incentive to seek out more wrecks. Not that you should need it: there is enough joy in playing a surrogate Rey. In these moments, even the most ardent Abrams hater will surely be forced to concede that something good has come from the sequel trilogy.