The concept was great from the outset. I mean, it's a fantasy world setting and you get to fly around on a dragon. It didn't contain the poppy and flashy design of Panzer Dragoon whatsoever; instead it opted for a gritty, no hope for salvation look. From early screenshots the game looked sinister and I mean that in a very good way. I practically foamed at the mouth when I knew the release date was just around the corner but once I actually dove into the title I realized my hopes were shattered.
Before I get into the reasons behind Lair's nosedive I suppose I should fill you in on what exactly is going on here. Essentially, there is this world where volcanoes have ripped the land into two areas. On one side you have the Mokai who are basically the bad guys of the story, or so we're led to believe. On the greener side of the fence are the holy Asylian who are basically fighting for God and country. As the two forces collide you find yourself smack dab in the middle of the fray as a lonely little Asylian dragon rider.
As Rohn, it's your job to ride around atop a savage beast and kill as many of the Mokai as possible. Through the course of the story your mission objectives change and there are some twists in the story but you basically get the idea. Through some glorious cut scenes, the somewhat interesting story unfolds before you but it's the trip that it takes to get there that makes the journey questionably worth taking.
Ok, I may not be the world's biggest PlayStation 3 supporter but I do have a special place in my gamer's heart for Sony. The PlayStation 1 and 2 have been my most played consoles but due to a lack of "killer apps" for the PS3 I have found my loyalty dwindling. One thing about the system that I do like is the motion sensing capabilities of the SIXAXIS controller. Sure it's not quite as extensive as the Wii's sensitivity and there hasn't been a game that has utilized it to its fullest extend. Lair attempts to do both.
In so many ways Lair's gameplay was designed with the SIXAXIS controller in mind. Factor 5 went above and beyond to incorporate the motion sensitivity into the game and they attempted to make it work as well as they could. Unfortunately the end result is an experiment gone horribly wrong. Imagine if you will a game that requires your entire experience with it to be used by the SIXAXIS motion. Now, I don't know about you but I haven't had a very good time with games that utilize this. Sadly the same problems shine through in Lair.
As things start out and you're given the basics of control, you may find them to be kind of cool. I personally had flashbacks to when I was a kid and I'd play with a toy plane in my hand or something along those lines. While holding the controller if you tilt down your dragon will dive, if you pull back he'll climb, and likewise for turning left and right. Some of the more involved and necessary maneuvers take a lot of getting used to and before long you'll be jerking the controller this way and that. After a few battles and missions had passed I had become comfortable with the control system but still found that the game didn't respond well at all. As my dragon continued to fly a straight path while I furiously tilted the controller and half mused that Sony released this game to get gamers to buy another SIXAXIS after they smashed their current one in frustration.
Things get even worse for Lair once you throw the combat into consideration. The lock-on system is abysmally insufficient and more often than not the game will dictate what exactly it is that you're aiming at rather than let you do it. No matter how good you think you are as a gamer, you'll find yourself failing missions, taking damage, or simply huffing in annoyance as you are forced to take another pass hoping that the game allows you to target what you want. This all flows back into the control scheme and the fact that you'll just never feel like your actions actually matter in the big picture.
Despite this frustrating lack of control, I do have to admit that there are some shining moments in Lair that rise above the mediocrity. Clashing with another dragon rider either by jumping on board their beast or simply going at it claw to fang is thrilling. Equally so is watching successfully targeted enemies blow up or get eaten. There's a raw sense of power that stems from riding atop a dragon and in many ways this game capitalizes on that. No amount of unresponsive control can take that away.
In the end, it's just unfortunate that Lair is as flawed a game as it is. The concept was great, the action is intense, and the controls are innovative if nothing else; but that's where the problems lie. When a game you're playing simply doesn't do what you want it to do, attack you want it to attack, or clearly define its guidelines there's not a lot of point. If we had the option to use analog OR motion control I suppose my score would have been different but as it stands Lair is a frustrating trip that isn't really worth taking.
While the gameplay may be clunky and unresponsive, the game looks pretty amazing regardless. The aforementioned snippets of action are fantastic to gaze upon and watching your giant behemoth tear into the flesh of another is a gore-lovers delight. Character and enemy models are decent and animation is mostly natural despite some stiff movements from time to time. Cut scenes stand out in this game and if you're fortunate enough to make it through a mission you're rewarded with a treat for the eyes. Sadly once the action does heat up, you'll notice the framerate dips a little bit and it's not surprising to watch as the game chugs along.
With 1080p, 1080i, and 720p output this is a game that looks great in high definition. On a standard definition television the action still looks phenomenal but there is a noticeable sheen missing from everything. Some of the minor details become blurry and you'll miss out on some of the textural nuances.
A small step up from the visual department is the audio. Lair features a phenomenal soundtrack that is epic from beginning to end. Seriously, this is stuff fantasy fans live for and I'm pleased to report that the voice acting follows suit. The actors in this game handle the material with an appropriate tone and the dialogue never becomes so outrageous that it's campy. I do have to say that the sound effects, while good, are not quite as good as the rest of the audio package. Overall this is a fine sounding game and if you have a sound system you'd better turn that volume and bass up.
I wanted to enjoy Lair; truly I did. This was one of the reasons I wanted the console in the first place apart from my appreciation of Sony's past hardware. Unfortunately a game lives and dies through its gameplay and while I appreciate the ingenuity behind the SIXAXIS control it simply doesn't respond. Your time with Lair will become an exercise in frustration as you destroy everything but what you wanted to and flail your arms about like a drunken orangutan. Don't bother unless you really had your hopes up for the game and want to see what it's like for yourself. Even then I wouldn't suggest more than a rental.