Developer: Factor 5
Release Date: August 30, 2007
As one of the inaugural titles announced for the PlayStation 3, Lair has received a lot of attention because of its unique setting and outstanding presentation over the past year. Developed by Factor 5, the team behind the successful arcade flight-action Star Wars: Rogue Squadron franchise for the Nintendo GameCube, Lair is currently one of the PS3's few exclusive titles. After the significant hype and multiple delays that preceded it, many frustrated PS3 owners were more than anxious to get their hands on the game. Was it worth the drawn-out wait?
The first aspect of Lair that will whip you in the face faster than a dragon's tail is the fact that you do not, and cannot, control the game with the analog sticks. Factor 5 wanted to utilize the PS3's SixAxis tilt control abilities, so all of your dragon's aerial movements are handled by tilting your controller in different directions. A few other games have used SixAxis tilt controls as the default control scheme, but they've also allowed you to switch to the more comfortable dual analog stick configuration, if you so desired. Lair does not offer this option, however, and, at first, simple handling can be extremely off-putting.
You tilt the controller forward to dive downward, tilt backwards to climb upward and tilt the controller side to side to fly left or right. The rest of the buttons still retain function, but they're used in an unorthodox manner. You tap the X button to flap your wings and accelerate your speed, and you can slow down and hover by holding down the left or right trigger. Then you use L1 or R1 to target and lock onto your enemies, and the Square button will shoot fireballs, while holding it down will cause you to breathe a cone of continuous fire.
Getting used to the game's awkward controls is already tough from the start, but even worse is that the analog sticks control the camera view, and out of habit, you'll catch yourself tugging at them now and again. When this happens, you'll completely lose track of all direction, as the camera will spin out of control and you'll have no clue which direction you're flying, frustration will kick in, and you'll start throwing the controller around like a wild man as your dragon takes off like a bat out of hell. Sadly, the problems don't stop there. You have to be very careful with your movements either way, because if you elevate or lower the controller, even by accident, you'll either mistakenly make a 180-degree turn, or you'll dash forward and shoot right past a target for which you were aiming.
You're able to land and engage in combat on the ground, and only then does your dragon's control move to the analog sticks. This can be very confusing because you'll go from tilt controls in the air to analog control on the ground in an instant. Sadly, the ease of controlling yourself on the ground with the sticks only compounds the problem that is the wonky SixAxis flight control. While you're on the ground, everything feels tight and responsive, but once you take flight, all bets are off. The tilt controls tend to lag slightly, and it becomes more than obvious when you go from the ground to the air.
Unfortunately, the controls aren't the only issues that Lair has. The game progresses from one mission to the next by way of a detailed, animated menu screen, and in between missions, you'll be presented with some fairly competent cut scenes. However, the missions themselves aren't that exciting, nor are they very well structured. A lot of the mission objectives are randomly thrown together and can become more of a test of patience and luck than skill. If you only have one thing to worry about, there's no reason for concern, but once the list of objectives starts to pile up, you can easily become overwhelmed.
Although you're given three lives to complete each mission, on some stages you'll be tasked with destroying certain environmental targets while protecting friendly units and seeking out specific enemy targets. You'll have to accomplish all of this when the controls make it difficult enough to just navigate properly from point A to point B. Needless to say, some missions will require you to continually play them over and over until you manage to get them right, and a few of the missions in the later stages of the game can take you about 20 to 25 minutes to work your way through from start to finish. In these situations, even if you do manage to make a lot of forward progress, if you fail to protect a single group of friendly units all the way on the other side of the battlefield, you'll be forced to restart the entire mission, as there are no checkpoints.
The one aspect of Lair most people expect (or hope) to shine is the ability to make you feel like a badass while riding around on a dragon — killing, burning and eating all kinds of fools. Joyful glee abounds when you first hear that you can slam your dragon into other dragons in mid-air, kamikaze leap from your dragon onto an enemy's dragon and waste the opposing rider with a huge war mace and land on the ground and devour or bathe a large unit of enemy soldiers in a cloud of fire. All of that should feel completely incredible, but it does not. Every aspect of the combat feels extremely watered down and gimmicky. The combat is so simplified and the impact of your actions are so unimpressive that the only real satisfaction I found in the game was when I successfully managed to pull off a 180-degree turn when I was actually trying to accomplish one.
Despite the fact that Lair doesn't manage to do much right when it comes to the gameplay, the game itself is visually stunning. Being one of the few titles to actually support a full 1080p resolution, this game will easily blow you out of your dragon-skin boots with its magnificent presentation. While in the air, you can virtually see off into the distance for what seems like miles, and the world is beautifully detailed, with rolling, lush green hills; imposing mountain ranges full of jagged rocks; and some of the best water effects seen to date. The dragons, humans and all of the other various kinds of beasties are expertly crafted and animate with a lot of style and articulation, and the game's many cut scenes are outright gorgeous. Add to that the fully orchestrated soundtrack and a pumping, 7.1 high-definition surround sound audio package, and Lair is a game that can easily be used to show off your home theater system to some company.
At the end of the day, Lair is more of a visual and aural masterpiece than a game you'd actually want to sit down and play. The game's story about two divided nations, warring with one another over different beliefs, is fairly generic, even though it manages a few surprise twists here and there. The tilty controls make the already-difficult missions even more of a chore, and there's not enough variation in the action to keep you interested until the end. If you're looking for a game to show off your nice HD television and your surround sound stereo system, Lair won't fail to impress. However, if you're just looking for a fun game to play, look elsewhere.
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