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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Lair (PS3)

By Michael Palisano

Sony's long-awaited dragon combat title Lair has finally arrived on shelves after what seems like an eternal development cycle. Unfortunately for Playstation 3 owners, while there are some flashes of the brilliant promise laid out in the game's many demos and trailers, the end result falls short of the expectations that have been set up over the past few years. A brilliant cinematic presentation and slick production values are wrapped around an engaging storyline and there are definitely moments of excitement and fun in the game. Unfortunately, Lair's poorly implemented motion-sensitive controls make the gameplay frustratingly inconsistent leading to a title that doesn't deliver neatly the experience it should have.

Given the past history of developers Factor 5 have with the successful Rogue Squadron series on Gamecube, expectations for Lair on the PS3 were exceptionally high before its much-anticipated release. Things start off on the right foot initially, but unfortunately go downhill in a hurry. The basic concept and plotline of Lair are fairly straightforward, though presented in a somewhat interesting cinematic way. You are cast as Rohn, a dragon-riding warrior in a war-torn fantasy realm that has been split apart by years of fighting amongst two rival factions. Ironically, they were once the same race until a massive volcanic eruption separated the two and turned them into bitter rivals who have been at war with each other for centuries. The game is divided into several missions or levels which players can then battle through and see the entire story. After each level is complete, players are awarded medals which can then be used to open locked content such as developer interviews. The gameplay is relatively straightforward, and players have a variety of sub-objectives to complete in each area. Most of the game involves combat in the air, though there are areas where you have to battle on the ground. Interestingly, Lair doesn't provide much in the way of traditional on-screen help, with only an arrow to point you in the right direction. You can turn on the Dragon's special sense and locate enemies which are highlighted in red, but for the most part, the gameplay is relatively free-form. These environments offer you a degree of freedom when you are flying, but the game itself unfolds in a strictly linear fashion with preset objectives and no level branching, which does tend to hurt the game's replay value. This all sounds fairly standard for most games, but once you are in the air and in control of your dragon, things begin to fall apart, since Lair's execution leaves a lot to be desired in the interface department.

Instead of relying on a traditional set of analog flying controls, as you'd expect it to, Lair instead opts to use the PS3's Sixaxis controller exclusively when it comes to movement and motion. At first this seems like a cool idea, since turning and flying your dragon is fairly easy to accomplish. You fire your weapons using the standard face buttons and can increase your speed by flapping your wings by pressing the X button several times. Performing more complicated flying maneuvers, such as quick turns or speed rushes requires you to pull back or push forward on the controller quickly, which isn't quite as natural or responsive as one would help. In addition, players can lock onto a specific enemy by pressing the L1 and L2 buttons, which helps to increase the accuracy of their fire, but also makes it more difficult to perform evasive maneuvers such as rolling out of the way or turning around quickly. Even when you master the controller movements, the responsiveness isn't always as accurate as it needs to be, which can make Lair a bit more frustrating than it needs to be. This is a real shame, since everything else you want in a solid title seems to be present. Making the aerial battles even more frustrating is the fact that players also can at certain points, take the action to land and fight opposing forces on the ground. These sequences are more standard because players control the dragon using the analog sticks, which makes an inconsistent interface. It also points out the flaws in the design, since analog control in these portions is much better than the Sixaxis motion-controlled flight sequences. This only serves to make the control problems in the flying arenas all the more glaring and apparent and points to the fact that a consistent interface throughout would have made for a much better experience overall. As it stands, switching between air and land battles is an exercise in confusing frustrating.

Lair's motion-sensitive approach to definitely takes some getting used to and while its control interface sounds good on paper, but is very awkward to use in practice and makes playing the game far more complicated than it should be. This leads to frustration more often than not, and since the game requires you to begin again at the beginning of its very long stages when you lose your energy, it makes Lair feel like drudgery at certain points. Players with persistence will probably get used to the game's idiosyncrasies after awhile, but the game never feels as smooth as it could have been. What's worse is that the flying sequences are complicated by the frequent appearance of quick time events when you get close to an opponent. Instead of fighting in real time, the action stops and players have to either perform a series of mindless button presses in time to the game or battle in a kind of RPG form where you are given choices, such as fighting with fire or attacking with your claws. This helps to make the experience far less cohesive than it should be and switching between two completely different control schemes doesn't help matters. In the end, the controls hamper what could have been a much better experience and this disappointing interface goes a long way in diminishing any promise that the game holds. You can get accustomed to the gameplay after awhile, but Lair is far less polished and more gimmicky than you'd expect it to be.

Lair's sterling production values are one are where Lair actually lives up to the high expectations gamers had for it. An elaborate storyline with cinematic flair and decent voice acting helps to bring you into the storyline, and the lushly detailed environments help to bring this elaborate world to life in vivid fashion. There are some spectacular aerial views that are simply breathtaking and the game's beautiful character and dragon designs and particularly impressive. The scale and presentation of these epic dragon battles are impressive, and the game takes full advantage of the PS3 in terms of creating its world - the textures, light-sourcing and smooth animation really do an excellent job in transporting players to the back of their dragons. An excellent orchestral score helps to punctuate the action effectively and gives Lair a fairly impressive cinematic sensibility that makes you feel like you are inside a dramatic film. From this standpoint, it's almost worth struggling with the controls to see all that the game has to offer, and to be fair, you can progress through most of the storyline fairly quickly once you get the hang of its controls and interface.

There's little doubt that Lair looks spectacular, and the game's storyline is engaging, but you cannot overlook it's poor controls, which help to drag down what potential the game had. You can either look at the glass half-full or dwell on its problems. Lair is a fairly interesting game on many levels, and it's experiments occasionally pay off - there are moments when you're flying that the Sixaxis controls actually feel intuitive. However, the battle system and its awkward lock-ons and quick-time, shake-the-controller approach doesn't quite work. Even after you get used to using Lair's problematic interface, the inconsistent level design and sometimes baffling objectives hinder what might have been a brilliant game. There can be little doubt that this is a flawed title, but not nearly as bad as some people might have you believe. However, even after you get accustomed to its picky and quirky controls, the game still doesn't deliver on its promise. Gamers might want to rent before they check out to see if they can get used to the controls, and whether they find the story and game itself exciting enough to look beyond its many flaws.Lair does have some flashes of brilliance scattered throughout, but its poorly designed controls and predictable gameplay help to extinguish most of its potential. Lair is one of those disappointing releases with a cool concept most players will probably want to like more than they will end up actually enjoying it less than they though they would. Sadly, Lair is probably the most disappointing title on the Playstation 3 to date in terms of missed opportunities and lost potential.

- Michael Palisano


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