Sable | The Matrix Revolutions | Dragon Age: Origins, "The Golems of Amgarrak"
A desert, a digital dystopia and a dwarven dungeon.
GAME REVIEW /// Sable
Game summary: Embark on a unique and unforgettable journey and guide Sable through her Gliding; a rite of passage that will take her across vast deserts and mesmerising landscapes, capped by the remains of spaceships and ancient wonders. (Xbox.com)
It was definitely the art style that first got me interested in playing Sable and I'm happy to report that it does look as good as I hoped it would - when not on foot at least. Then again, you're going to have to really like the art style to stick with Sable or have a lot of spare time (which I don't) to put up with criss-crossing the pretty, if empty, scenery.
The traversal on your jetbike is probably my favourite part of the game, smoothly sailing across the sands heading to various destinations, but it does have issues too with the camera seemingly locked to your vehicle. This means that if you hit a bump or do anything that sets the thing wobbling or juddering, then the camera will repeat this movement, which is incredibly nausea-inducing - if you suffer from motion sickness, it might be best to have a route to a bathroom clear just in case.
One of the odd things about the visuals is the switch from smooth movement on the jetbike to the odd animations of characters on-foot. It's a deliberate effect that somewhat reminds me of the differing frame rates of characters in Into the Spider-Verse, but Sable makes it feel more like animations are missing than anything else - considering a lot of exploration can be on-foot, it's an odd artistic choice to make.
And there is a lot to explore too, although much of it isn't very interesting. I get that this is an indie game, so didn't have the budget to fill in the world - and it is mostly desert, which I accept should be relatively empty anyway - but the locations you travel to just weren't engaging enough to make me want to keep exploring them. There are some very cool, intriguing pieces of world-building to be found, but they're too far and few between for me.
I was reminded a lot of Abzu while playing Sable, except I think the former did a better, more consistent job when it came to traversal, with a far wider colour palette, more interesting things to see between locations and also did a far better job of world-building. There's also the fact that it was linear, which is what I think hampers this game the most.
If you're going to make an open-world game, then the world has to be interesting in addition to being visually appealing, and that's where I think Sable falls down. Each location feels like it should have more story to it, even if only a side story or something unique to that location, but most places you visit feel almost soulless, as if the developers knew they had to put something in for the player to do, but didn't give the matter much thought beyond that.
I've seen a fair amount of praise for Sable being a 'zen' experience and, while traversing the desert on the jetbike, I would agree. It can be very peaceful and pleasing to make your way across the world, but - again - it's when you have to spend time off the bike that it breaks down. It's difficult to put into words, especially as my next criticism is kind of the point of what little plot there is.
You see, Sable is the name of the main character and they've reached an age when they have to leave their community and travel the world to find their purpose in life. Therefore, you could say that the lack of direction given to the player is an effort to put them in the same shoes as the title character. The problem with that is the character has been living in this world for their whole life and we haven't.
It would've been perfectly possible to give Sable her own goals that she wants to pursue in an effort to find out who she wants to be, then allowing the player to control her in achieving those goals. As it is, the entire experience feels completely aimless and there's no reason for you to grow attached to anything - after all, if the character doesn't care about the places she visits, why should the player?
As far as the gameplay goes, Sable is perfectly fine to play whether on-foot or on the jetbike. You're given all the tools you need to get around the environments well enough and any mistakes made felt like I messed up rather than the game, which is better than a lot of other, more expensive titles can manage. The basics are all there and work well - there's just no reason given as to why you should give a shit.
Sable is an ambitious game that proves underwhelming thanks to never coming close to realising those ambitions other than the art direction. It feels like the developers were trying to reach a little too far in some aspects, but didn't scale things back down when they couldn't be fulfilled, leaving an experience that isn't all that satisfying an experience, even if the gameplay itself works just fine.
[5/10 - Average]
MOVIE REVIEW /// The Matrix Revolutions
Movie summary: The human city of Zion defends itself against the massive invasion of the machines as Neo fights to end the war at another front while also opposing the rogue Agent Smith. (IMDb)
Despite the differing scores I've given them, I wouldn't say that The Matrix Revolutions is any worse than the previous movie, Reloaded, but there's a certain context which affects this movie in that it's supposed to be the part of the trilogy that ends the story - something Reloaded didn't have to deal with. While this movie certainly finishes off the ongoing plots, it doesn't do so in an entirely satisfying manner.
Much like Reloaded, it's the action and the score that carries the movie to higher highs than it might otherwise have reached, with the battle in the real world human city of Zion looking spectacular while also still giving us some great fights to enjoy, even if there's nothing quite as memorable as in the first two movies in the series.
As far said battle in Zion, it's one hell of an example how much the CGI improved since Reloaded. Yes, it's mainly to create the enormous Sentinel forces sent by the machines to exterminate humanity again rather than human beings this time, but that doesn't make it any less impressive. There are plenty of blockbusters since that have CGI-filled sequences that don't look as good as some of those battle scenes.
I will say that I don't really want to re-hash the Reloaded review, as many of the same strengths and weaknesses of that movie could be repeated almost verbatim here and it would be a waste of my time to simply type out the same praise and criticism when that review is sitting there, ready to read. The only extra issues here are those that come with being the final entry in a trilogy (before Resurrections turned it into a quadrilogy obviously).
While many of the storylines do get wrapped up, with some major characters dying in the process, The Matrix Revolutions never quite lands the emotional punch that you'd expect. That's not to say you won't feel anything at all, but I think it'll be surprising how little you feel when people we've followed for three films are killed and... the movie just keeps going as if those deaths are just regular plot points to be hit.
Failing to land those final emotional beats is what knocks Revolutions down a peg from Reloaded - the middle part of a trilogy is always going to be more connective material than anything final or conclusive - but it really does feel like the plot was important to the Wachowskis than the characters, which is a shame thanks to the plot not being anything particularly special.
So many characters - including Laurence Fisburne's Morpheus of all people - are relegated to supporting roles because the story has run out of space for them to be included in any meaningful manner, which almost makes the previous movies feel worse as a result when you realise how unimportant they become in the end. It's a shame considering how many of them could've proven to be great if given more to do.
Despite all the criticisms, I still enjoyed The Matrix Revolutions enough that I'd still recommend watching it to complete the story and it won't feel too much like you've had your time wasted (looking at you, Rise of Skywalker!). It's certainly the weakest of the bunch, but it still looks so good and has so many pieces that you just wouldn't see in a major movie today, making it an interesting blockbuster, if not a very good one.
The Matrix Revolutions doesn't exactly end the trilogy with a whimper, but certainly doesn't finish things with a bang either. It continues to exhibit the same strengths and weakness as Reloaded, which lets down its role as the final piece of the on-going story. To its credit (and the Wachowskis, obviously), the movie isn't afraid to take wild swings that modern blockbusters wouldn't dare to include, some of which may surprise first-time watchers.
[6/10 - Decent]
GAME PLAY /// Dragon Age: Origins, "The Golems of Amgarrak"
Following on from Awakening is another piece of DLC for Dragon Age: Origins, this time a solo mission for the Warden-Commander, with only a couple of mission-specific companions joining for the duration. There's not really that much to say about them or this particular chunk of the story as it seems more like an experiment for future instalments than something worthwhile on its own.
Pretty much the entire thing takes place in a ruined dwarven thaig, whose occupants were massacred well before you arrive and who you get to see live out their last days as spirits. It's a pretty neat way of showing a flashback without needing to resort to a cutscene and fits with how magic works, so credit to the developers there.
The confidence of the team behind the game exhibited in Awakening continues in "The Golems of Amgarrak", with Elissa and her new friends - who admittedly provide the flimsiest of reasons possible for this short adventure to exist - making use of a bizarre form of magical technology to shift between phases and encounter new enemies and explore new areas depending on which phase they currently exist in.
It all leads to a fight with one of the titular golems (a creature that will return in a future Dragon Age game, further cementing how much of a test experience this DLC is), that I have to admit does hit like a truck and would be a difficult challenge without a strong tank to take the hits. Fortunately, Elissa is so strong at this point that she could take a hit to the face from a completed Infinity Gauntlet and still be standing, so it was a more a matter of patience and slowly wearing it down.
There's not really a great deal else to say about "The Golems of Amgarrak" as there isn't a great deal to it, but I quite like the idea of this smaller side story involving a now legendary hero fighting off incredible monsters as a matter of course. It's not framed in any particular way, but it does feel like the kind of story you could imagine the regular population telling each other about how amazing a hero the Warden-Commander is, with each telling growing more exaggerated.
Hmm, there's an idea - an anthology of shorter adventures set in the same world and sharing the same central character, seeing them grow from their humble (okay, not so much with noblewoman Elissa) origins to perceived saviour of the world. Now that's a game I'd like to see and all it took was a random experimental piece of DLC to make me wish for something like to be made! That's pretty good story-telling...