Sony Computer Entertainment Lair
- Gorgeous graphics, Amazing orchestral soundtrack, Dragon-based action has its moments.
- Six-axis only control scheme hurts more than it helps. Small design flaws cut into the game's potential
Despite the faults, Lair still manages to be decent title that all PS3 owners should look into, but you may want to reserve your true excitement for the day when the other hotly anticipated PS3 titles like Heavenly Sword arrive.
Price$ 99.95 (AUD)
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Although most of the negativity surrounding the PS3 has to do with its exorbitant price tag, it is, without a doubt, its anemic game library that is the system's true Achilles heel.
There's no denying that if the games were there, the price of the system wouldn't matter as much. Look ahead to the next few months and you'll see games like Heavenly Sword and Metal Gear Solid 4 waiting just on the horizon, but what the PS3 needs more than anything right now, at this very moment, is a triple-A title to come along and provide some lift for its massive black wings.
Lair is the first of the hotly anticipated and overly hyped PS3 games that could have and should have fit the bill, and although it flies in with a full head of steam, it ultimately comes in for an awkward landing.
Before we get to the things it does wrong, let's look at the list of the things Lair does right. First, Sony fanboys will have a lot of fun crowing to 360 fanboys about the game's gorgeous graphics and rightly so, as Lair does a great job of showing off the graphical prowess of the PS3. It isn't the revolutionary leap over the 360 that the PS3 diehards will want it to be but it is proof positive that developers are finally beginning to get a firm grasp on the complexities of the hardware and it serves as an encouraging sign of what's to come.
Speaking of which, Lair plays great regardless of the setup: we played it on an old 480i set all the way up to a brand spanking new 1080p display and it looked impressive all the way through. Obviously you'll get better results with a true 1080p display, and if you have the equipment to take full advantage of the audio/visual buffet that Lair has to offer then you're definitely in for a treat, especially if you're equipped for 7.1 surround sound, as Lair's orchestral score is particularly strong.
The Air Up There
I also appreciated Lair's compelling and interesting story, even if it does have a few holes. The narrative revolves around two nations who were once united but were split during a cataclysmic time of upheaval. One nation, the Asylians, prospered while the other, the Mokai, did not. You play the role of Rohn, a member of Asylia's Sky Guard, who begins the game defending his country's borders against a Mokai invasion but is quickly embroiled in a growing conspiracy of betrayal.
While the story isn't going to win any originality awards, its element of theological warmongering is fascinating and has a lot of resonance with current cultural events. And despite a few plot holes, the story drives the action along and gives you enough excuses to ride out on your dragon and wreak havoc, which is, of course, the main draw of the game.
Dragon Your Tail
At its best, the dragon-based combat of Lair is pretty damn awesome. Soaring around majestically in the sky; raining hot fiery dragon-breath death upon your foes' heads; grappling with other dragons and clawing their eyes out; leaping onto an enemy dragon-rider's back and hacking at him with your weapon; swooping down onto the ground and rampaging around like Godzilla--there's no shortage of thrills to be had. Missions have a variety of objectives and you'll constantly be forced to change your tactical focus and point of attack.
While the game-play isn't revolutionary, it's solidly done, which is no surprise given developer Factor 5's track record with its Rogue Squadron titles. But here's where things get complicated: for all its pretty graphics and sweet dragon-on-dragon action, the game suffers from one colossal design flaw--it relies entirely on the Six-axis motion sensing controller.
Want your dragon to go left? Bank your controller left. Want it to swoop down? Tilt the controller forward. It sounds simple enough, but in practice ends up being more of a chore than it should be. To be fair, the motion sensing is pretty accurate but requiring you to constantly move your hands around while fiddling with buttons over the course of a fairly long game is asking too much. It's unfortunate that the game relies so heavily on a gimmicky feature that no one has been able to get a true grasp of (pun intended).
Tried And True
What's most confusing about all this is that there is no other control scheme available. Had Factor 5 simply put in an option to switch to an analogue-stick based scheme, the game would have fared much better. Six-axis doesn't ruin the game--spend enough time with it and you'll eventually get used to the controls--but being able to play with a traditional analogue stick scheme would have made the game more palatable and enjoyable.
If you factor in occasional goofs like stilted storytelling, frustrating missions that you will have to repeat multiple times to get right, an irritating lack of objective updates during battles and an unfriendly camera that works against you as much as it works with you, and you have a game that could have been great but isn't.
I should point out that we were playing an early review build and Factor 5 will probably make tweaks up to the moment the gold master goes off to the mastering lab, but the core gameplay mechanics are already in place and there's no denying that it's flawed. I expect many fans will be disappointed thanks to all of the hype that's built up around the game, but the inevitable complaints about the control scheme will no doubt be warranted.
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