Reviewed: October 3, 2007
Released: August 30, 2007
First, I must apologize for the tardiness of my review for Lair, but I had to rewrite almost the entire thing after I realized my first draft spent more time bashing all the other idiot game reviewers out there who don’t deserve to even have access to a PS3…cough…IGN...cough. But honestly, anybody who faults Lair because of the SIXAXIS control probably can’t play a Wii game either, so I guess I should feel sorry for them rather than indignant that somebody might actually take their opinions to heart and miss out on this epic flight action title.
We all know Factor 5, the designers behind all those awesome Rogue Squadron games on the GameCube and countless other games on other systems. They’ve taken their expertise in flight action and created a compelling fantasy flight simulation that takes you out of the cockpit of an X-Wing and puts you on the back of a giant flying dragon for aerial and ground based combat.
The story is simple, and probably a bit familiar. A group of people split into two factions, one embracing technology powered by steam, and another group relocating to the seclusion and safety of the mountains where they built an idyllic society and majestic city to match. The Mokai became jealous of the Asylians accomplishments and launched a surprised attack on the city. It’s up to you, Rohn, a Burner, an elite dragon-riding member of the Sky Guard, to defend the city and repel the invasion then strike back against your foes, for whoever controls the skies has dominion over the land.
Make no mistake about it; Lair was designed soley for the PS3 and the SIXAXIS controller, which is probably what has most of the media’s panties all in a bunch. If you talk to any gamers who have actually played the game most of them like it, many love it, admittedly after overcoming a minimal learning curve. But with any new control scheme comes a learning curve. Just look at the Wii.
For me, it took about 10 minutes to figure out the super-intuitive control scheme of tipping the controller sideways to steer or pushing down or pulling up to change altitude. A flick of the wrists upward and you do a quick 180-degree turn, shove forward to dash forward, and squeezing both the L2 and R2 puts on the brakes so you can hover in place. There is a wonderful tutorial that teaches and tests you in flight, sky, and ground combat, and you can return to the training grounds anytime you need a refresher.
But just to verify I wasn’t some gifted individual born to fly dragons for a living I had several GCM staff members take their turn at the controls, and every one of them adapted within 10-15 minutes. So anybody who can’t play this game, especially a game reviewer who is supposed to have an open mind, is either too stupid or too inflexible to adapt to this wonderfully immersive control scheme.
A Rohn you will ride your trusty mount through numerous missions than span a large map in the chapter select screen. You can even get a feel for the steering of your dragon as you fly over the map during the mission briefings. The chapters are linear, so you can’t really branch out or explore new avenues to the ultimate conclusion. Each chapter is graded based on your performance and the amount of carnage created, earning you bronze, silver, or gold medals. You can even track your performance on leaderboards on the PS Network, which is the extent of the online features. Sorry, no online dragon dogfights.
You’ll start off by attacking a fleet of ships who are attacking the city with long-range catapults, then you must clean up the skies eliminating waves of ice dragons attacking the grain silos. The next chapter has you escorting a convoy of barges up the river, defending them from attacking catapults and aerial attacks from more dragons.
The missions vary in length and complexity. One mission has you assaulting a giant rotating stone fortress with huge carved heads that shoot beams of light from their eyes that can knock a dragon and his rider right from the sky. Another mission has you escorting a pack of giant manta ray creatures that you must defend from a huge sea serpent creature.
No matter what the mission is or where you go you will always be fighting, either in the air or on the grounds. Once you land you have several attacks at your disposal including a nasty tail whip or you can breath fire or just lunge forward and scoop up the enemy in your jaws for a tasty treat. This is the only time you get to use the analog stick to move around.
You have a lot more options when you fight in the skies. There is a handy lock-on command that selects your next target. If you are having trouble picking the enemies out from the allies you can invoke your Rage Vision that turns all the enemies red. Once you have acquired a target you can bombard them with fireballs or get in close and unleash a sustained stream of fire.
You can also initiate a physical strike that can go down in several ways. Sometimes you will leap from your dragon and onto the back of the enemy dragon where you will melee with that rider until somebody falls off, then you zip back to your dragon. You can also engage in dragon-on-dragon combat where the camera shifts behind the two of you and you line-up vertically then jerk the controller left or right to slam into the enemy. You can also engage in dragon melee. The camera will swing to the side presenting both dragons hovering in space while you claw, bite, and breath on each other until somebody wins. And finally, you have the epic Takedown moves that you can only execute when your Rage meter is full. Just follow the sequence of on-screen prompts for buttons and movements and watch the exciting results.
There are even some times when you get to do some non-combat activities. These are usually limited to picking up and dropping off certain items. Sometimes you’ll have to relocate a specific person to safety during combat and other times you can even pick up bombs and drop them on targets.
Your mission success is based on a list of objectives as well as if you survive the ordeal, and there are even times when you must rally the Morale of the ground troops below. Whenever this blue and red tug-o-war meter appears you must aid your troops by taking down the enemy and completing objectives and keep the morale on your side of the scale.
Lair is gorgeous from start to finish. Even the chapter select map is beautiful with a parchment map surrounded by glistening waves sparkling from the sunlight being cast on it from the horizon. The game opens with one of those movies you will want to show anybody who passes within ten feet of your PS3. “What’s that? You haven’t seen Lair…well let me power up the PS3.”
The opening sequence talks about the ancients and the volcanoes and the rift between the two factions, then you sweep along the coastline and up these towering stair step waterfalls to a massive domed structure circled by gargoyles…wait…they moved…those aren’t gargoyles…those are DRAGONS! And what dragons they are…you can really see how much love and attention to detail went into these mystical and magical beasts. Their skin is all rough and extremely detailed with bump-mapped textures, then you have these paper-thin leathery wings that rhythmically beat or flutter gently as you glide along. There are various species of dragons that all have wonderfully unique features as well as other creatures like the giant manta rays and deadly toros and rhinos.
Other models are less impressive, like the cookie cutter enemy soldiers, but when you are cutting through a few thousand of them with your dragon claws and scooping them up for a snack you really aren’t looking for details. Primary characters do have that added detail that really make them stand out in the cutscenes.
Then you have other things that are hit and miss. The skies and clouds are fantastic while the water in the game doesn’t look nearly as good as the water in the menu; however, there is an impressive shockwave ripple effect when you blow up a boat.
Once again the PS3 impresses with a stunning digital sound presentation, this time in native 7.1 surround, a first for the system. The epic soundtrack encompasses all things fantasy, adventure, and action, with an orchestral score that could easily replace Eragon, or even parts of Lord of the Rings. There are victory themes and somber elements for the funeral fire scene and plenty of rousing music for combat.
The voice work is outstanding with plenty of dialogue during the cutscenes and not so much during the actual game. All of the voice actors perform exceptionally, matching the tone of the script and the look of their characters. I still love the line where Rohn is boasting about getting lucky with “cousins” and his buddy doesn’t miss a beat when he inquires, “Yours”, all during a very serious meeting in the rotunda.
Sound effects are just as good, both in clarity and the way the come at you from all 7 speakers (if you have them). There are great effects for the breath weapon, whether it be short bursts or sustained streams of flame, then you have the screeching of dragons engaged in combat as they rip and tear each other apart. Great stuff!
Most gamers, at least the ones who don’t run away crying about the control system, will finish this game in 10-12 hours, but they probably won’t get a gold medal in every level. So you have that reward system in place to encourage you to replay as well as online leaderboards so you can get yourself some bragging rights. Plus, the game is just so gorgeous and fun to play that you’ll want to revisit your favorite missions just to show them off to friends.
Lair does not suck, but judging from the comments and reviews from most of the media there are a lot of game reviewers who simply aren’t prepared to accept the SIXAXIS control scheme. Admittedly, until this title, motion input has always been an alternative. I didn’t like it in Ridge Racer and it barely worked in Blazing Angels, but when the game is designed solely around that premise you have to get it right and Factor 5 did just that.
Flying around in Lair is so intuitive you almost create a symbiotic link to your dragon through the PS3 controller. I’ll admit, there were times, even 5-6 hours into the game where I would instinctively revert to moving the stick to change direction, only to change the camera view instead. But you can’t wipe out a 12-year habit overnight. Not all games are going to work with the SIXAXIS but Lair definitely does, and if you are open to learning new things and want to experience the fantasy flight-action title of the summer, then saddle up and take Lair for a spin.