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Lair

Platform(s): PlayStation 3
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: SCEI
Developer: Factor 5

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PS3 Preview - 'Lair'

by Alicia on Oct. 21, 2006 @ 9:20 a.m. PDT

It’s the world of human being and beats exists… The lands are ruined, conflicts, and pains… There’s a man who holds the destiny of 2 continents testing the faith of your courage. LAIR is fully compatible to the controller sensors exposing totally new experience of flight action adventures. Collaborated with some of the film makers, its story, background, and even the beats designs will meet the quality you’d asked for next generation.

Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Factor 5
Release Date: Spring 2007

Factor 5 has an impressive long record as a developer, but their focus has always been surprisingly narrow. Through the 16-bit generation they focused on Turrican, with its sequels and spin-offs; and modern gamers know them primarily for the Rogue Squadron series of Star Wars vehicle-based action games for the N64 and GameCube. Lair is their first attempt at pushing an original IP in six years, and their first time working with both Sony hardware and Sony as a publisher. If Lair is anything to judge by, though, Sony's confidence in Factor 5's ability to entice gamers into dropping $599 for a PS3 is not misplaced. Lair towers over all the other PS3 titles currently playable in terms of innovation, gameplay, and sheer "wow" factor, while adding the luster of an exclusive title to the system's burgeoning library.

Lair is set in an epic fantasy world, where two nations are locked in a bitter war. Their foremost fighters are elite knights who use fire-breathing dragons as their steeds. The dragons aren't invincible, but tough enough that the knights use heavy maces as their riding crops when urging them on. A dragon can easily decimate war engines or a squadron of soldiers on foot, so the only real way to deal with a dragon knight harassing your forces is to send another dragon knight to harass them back. This forms the basis for the most spectacular action in Lair, the dragon versus dragon battles. Progression through the game is objective-based, so keeping an eye on the overall status of your army is as important as making sure you maul through your own targets.

The current demo has two levels playable. First off is a simple tutorial level, where you mount your dragon and engage in the time-honored flight sim practice of honing your skills by flying through rings. Lair asks you to adjust both to an unusual new control scheme while getting a feeling for your dragon's movement. Lair makes heavy use of the DualShock 3's SixAxis feature, allowing you to control your dragon's movements with gestures. Tilting the controller forward makes your dragon ascend, and vice-versa. A tilt to the left or right makes your dragon start to wheel around in the sky. More abrupt motions like hard turns or 180-degree direction-changes are accomplished with a hard jerk on the controller.

It would be easy to accuse Lair, as well as the SixAxis itself, of being little more than a Wii wanna-be. The catch is that Lair's gameplay makes far too much use of the DualShock 3's traditionally placed face and shoulder buttons. If you want your dragon to breathe fire or your knight to dive into a dragon battle, you tap appropriate face buttons at the right time to do it. The result is a gameplay experience that is more traditional than your average Wii title, while still feeling far more intuitive than purely traditional controls would be in a game of this sort. The gesture control frees you to position your hands in a way optimal for reaching the face buttons you actually need, rather than asking you to adopt an uncomfortable stance that lets you hit every button on the controller quickly.

The second demo level drives this point home by sending you through a brief, but truly spectacular sequence where your army attempts to seize control of a bridge. The enemy fields countless foot soldiers and a good dozen dragons against you, and you need to use all of the abilities your dragon knight has at his disposal to win. The beginning of the level has you mounting your dragon's back with the triangle button, which suggests that levels where you can use your knight on foot exist somewhere in the game. You begin with hammering your dragon's neck with your mace to try and get it to speed up (the dragons barely seem to feel it). Then you need to rapidly take out enemy dragons before their flames can burn down the bridge before you seize it. This is best accomplished by picking dragons to target by holding down the L1 and L2 buttons simultaneously, until the white reticule turns red. Close in on your target and then you can use quick jerks of the controller to make your dragon ram into the enemy as it tries to fly away.

This gets the enemy's attention and makes the rival dragon close to melee combat with your dragon. Once at melee range, you can use combinations of the four face buttons to have your dragon claw and bite at its rival. Once you've dealt enough damage this way, then you'll be able to execute your Killing Move, which lets your knight do something spectacular to killing the rival dragon's knight and send it plummeting from the skies. The demo version showed off two killing moves, both spectacular. In the first, your knight leaps onto the rival dragon with the aid of a grappling hook. When the rival knight turns to face him, your dragon then swoops along and snatches him off his mount's back. Then your knight is free to move up to the rival dragon's head and dispatch it with an expert stab in the neck. The other killing move involved grappling the rival knight with your knight's grappling hook, and pulling him off his mount as your dragon flew past. Then your knight would smash his rival with his mace as his body hurtled through the air toward him. This makes your enemy bounce like a heavy-armor ping-pong ball from the blow, then plummet toward the distant ground below. After you've killed enough enemy knights, then you could return to the bridge and have your dragon rampage through the enemy forces waiting there, trying to take out enough to finish off their army quickly. Sadly, after this level, the demo ended.

Because Lair is a PS3 instead of a Wii title, it can offer one feature the Wii never could: truly beautiful high-polygon, high-definition graphics. On HDTVs, the difference between the PS3's 1080i and even the 360's 720p is astonishing, and Lair uses that to its advantage in every way possible. Knights wear realistic full-body armor and move with extremely convincing, lifelike movements, as ambient lights play off their armor stunningly with every move. Dragons are incredibly detailed, enormous beasts covered in startlingly life-like textures, from the heavy scales along their sides to the fine tracery of vein-filled skin that comprised your dragon's wings.

Backgrounds are gorgeous vistas, the second demo level containing sun playing off of a river below you while lava boiled down craggy black mountains in the distance. The bridge itself was stark white stone, incredibly detailed and projecting light from its towers. The hundreds of soldiers standing upon it didn't simply fade into nothingness as you went to battle the dragons swooping around, instead shrinking into countless tiny armored figures swarming on the ground below you. When you dived into them to wreak havoc with your dragon, their arrows would uselessly dangle from your dragon's hide. The pattern wasn't some pre-determined "hit by arrows" skin; the arrows stuck out wherever they'd been fired before breaking off and falling away. Likewise, your dragon genuinely interacted with the enemy soldiers as he tossed them around, stomping on some while throwing others around. Their bodies remained on the ground as a reminder of your power. Just how impressive this game is might not be properly conveyed simply by viewing screencaps on your computer, so get some video footage if you can and run it at the 1080i resolution the game will run in. Imagine playing that on a full-size HDTV. There is no visual spectacle available for current gaming consoles that can rival it.

Even if the PS3 becomes remembered as a spectacular failure of a system, Lair would remain as its Panzer Dragoon, an incredible title that the truly hardcore will pay any price to play. Lair isn't part of the PS3's launch line-up, and more's the pity; more than any other PS3 title that's playable right now, it shows off what kind of games and gameplay you can have on the PS3 that no other next-gen console can deliver. If Sony's stepped up PS3 production by the time this game drops in Spring 2007, though, they may find that suddenly they don't have to work quite so hard to sell people on their pricey new console. Is Lair a good enough game to justify dropping upwards of $600 on new hardware? If the finished product is as good all the way through as the demo build, then the answer to that question is a resounding yes.


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