(Pocket-lint) - Games might be part of a relaxation routine for many of us, part of the way we unwind after work or take advantage of a free weekend, but that doesn't stop so very many of them from being frankly the opposite of relaxing to play.
Stressful shooters and high-risk competition have their place, but Sable instead offers a beautiful slice of genuinely chilled-out time if you give it a go on Xbox Games Pass. It's a must if you're feeling a little worn out, albeit with some technical hitches that hold it back.
Time to fly
Sable isn't just this game's aptly sandy name - it's also the name of the protagonist, a young girl that you control on a sand-blasted planet apparently long after human civilisation has faded into remnants.
The arid world is actually a bit like that of Mad Max, but with all of that universe's adrenaline and conflict stripped away in favour of a society that favours small encampments, nomadic wandering and scavenging to survive.
You're part of a small tribe, and it's time to undergo your coming of age - a ceremony called the Gliding - which involves you going out into the big wide world, hoverbike in tow, to see what you make of it, and what it makes of you.
The goal, if there is one, is to help people and accumulate badges of merit in different fields.
Once you have acquired a mask - through completing quests or purchasing them - you can freely end the game by confirming that as your identity. But the real fun lies in exploring the map and seeing just how many different masks you can gather.
You might help a weary guard figure out who's stolen a power source, or find some beetle larvae for a curious innkeeper. You could investigate the mysterious ancient ships half-buried around the place for clues about how anyone ended up on such a world, or climb to the highest peaks to see what's up there.
The freedom of approach is refreshing and genuine, after some hand-holding in the opening hour, and your ability to do what you like in whatever order is not only laudable but thematically appropriate. As you go you'll get pearls of advice from all quarters, leaving you with a tapestry of reasons to pick a variety of masks.
While you explore the world, meanwhile, you'll be treated to some of the most beautiful visuals we've seen in any game. Art styles just don't get better than this - Sable's line-drawn landscapes are straight out of the playbook of seminal sci-fi artist Moebius, but with some of the zaniness trimmed away.
If you took a snapshot of the whole game world at noon in the day-night cycle, you'd be treated to brilliant gold desert dunes, the parched white skeletons of long-dead behemoths, foggy valleys full of decaying trees, and dusty settlements populated by a gallery of individuals.
Add in the way each location's colour and look can change drastically based on the time of day or night, and you'll want to see basically every major area at every time of day, just for the pleasure of having soaked it all in.
Whether we were climbing the carcass of a huge spaceship, figuring out how to cross a yawning gap in a land of canyons, or riding the explosive geysers in the barren north, we got used to stopping and just looking at everything around us.
While the world isn't endlessly large, each time you come across a new monument or shrine or tower you'll likely feel the same sense of calm wonder. We never tired of it. For a small indie team to have produced visuals of this class beggars belief.
That said, even playing on the all-powerful Xbox Series X, Sable's performance leaves a lot to be desired. We had periods in which it ran fine, but most of the time you'll be dealing with frame-rate drops that occasionally become a playability issue. It's a constant irritant, and while we found it something we could easily get over, many players might be more frustrated - especially if they're playing on Series S or a less able PC.
The act of actually exploring that unbelievably pretty world comes down to about three main mechanics. Firstly, your hoverbike, obtained early on and with parts that can be swapped out for your desired cosmetic look and boosts to its performance.
This glider looks great, leaving a faint trail behind it in the dunes, and controls smoothly for the most part - until it doesn't. There's a bit of jank here when you hit a bump or the crest of a hill, although it's generally more of a visual freakout than one that'll actually stop you moving.
Next, when you're on foot you can, in the style popularised by Breath of the Wild, climb anything - subject to a stamina bar that starts off pretty small. This is how you'll explore many locations, edging between climbable gaps to ascend.
Lastly, giving the name to your Gliding ceremony is the ability to slow any fall by creating an energy bubble around you, letting you literally glide to the floor. This will allow you to traverse seemingly impossible jumps and reach new areas.
It's a simple set of options but two-person developer Shedworks makes the most of it with some challenging platforming - most of which is as optional, as is almost every objective - and simple puzzles. None of it redefines the genre by any stretch, but it cements a nice loop of exploration followed by platforming ending in rewards.
It's not tight gameplay or even its impressively well-written script that you'll remember Sable for, though - it's the visuals and the vibe.
If that's too vague, we'll clarify: Sable is as relaxing a game as we've ever played. Cruising around, seeing what was over the next hillock, is the whole point of it.
That might make it feel unfocused to some players, but in an era of open-world games like Far Cry 6 that are stuffed to the gills with direction and icons and guidance, we found it a real tonic.
Sable's presence on Xbox Game Pass means trying it out is a no-brainer if you're in need of some digital TLC.