Whispers of a hot new medieval action title for the PS3 have persisted over the months, and those who attended either the Tokyo Game Show or Sony's Gamer's Day got a sneak peak at Lair. The astute observer who saw both presentations would also notice that Factor 5 increased the framerate of the demo between TGS and Gamer's Day; the latter demo ran 5-10 frames faster than it did at TGS. Lastly, there's one hell of an intriguing demo available for free download via the PlayStation Store.
The levels viewed thus far have been Tutorial and a massive Bridge battle (likely the one you see in that downloadable trailer). In the tutorial, you learn how to control your dragon with the Sixaxis' motion sensitivity: tilt left and right to bank the beast, forward to descend, and back to ascend. But it doesn't end with this simplicity; more advanced moves soon become available, like using the X button to spur your dragon to faster speeds. ...we assume your rider won't be wearing cowboy boots with classic spurs attached, though.
One of the first questions we had when viewing the trailer was, how exactly are we going to do battle? Is it really going to be in-air combat? The short answer- yup. When encountering another enemy as you're soaring along, you'll be able to use any of the four face buttons to begin combo attack strings or solo attacks. Supposedly, the motion sensing of the Sixaxis once again comes into play, as you can "lash out" with the controller to perform a particular strike. And according to Sony, this information is all based on an early combat build, and we can expect even more enhancements in the final version.
As for what you see on screen, besides the distinct possibility of breathtaking visuals, is something called the Morale Meter. Fans of the Dynasty Warriors franchise will probably recognize the name, and it's pretty self-explanatory. You are a member of the Asylians (red) and you're up against the Mokai (blue); once the bar fills entirely with one color or the other, the battle is over and the dominating color wins. At some point, the developers plan to toss up a health bar (might be useful), and there is a chance that those sweet-looking dragons will actually boast texture damage when injured. It's just like a racing game that boasts car damage! We're not sure if this is a feature that will make it into the final Lair cut, though.
But no matter how you look at it, visible lizard wounds or not, the game is shaping up nicely. There are hundreds and even thousands of units on the ground at any one time, and they're shown in very high detail. The dragons have the quintessential flame breath that lights up the battlegrounds with vibrant blasts of color, and every environment is exquisitely crafted. We got a glimpse of some fantastic effects in that trailer, and the demo reveals that everything is on track for an awfully pretty title.
You'll find three different dragon types in the game, which means your Flame Dragon isn't the only powerful monster on the block. There are also Ice and Dark Dragons, as well as huge minotaur-esque creatures labeled "Tauros," and there may be many more different animals scattered throughout the game. From what we've seen of the initial designs, we can't yet determine how different each creature will be, or whether or not you can obtain new dragons to ride. If we can switch between a Flame Dragon and a Dark Dragon, for example, that could add a great deal of variety to the game.
At the very least, though, that Flame Dragon is going to be quite effective. You can replenish health by diving low and snatching up enemy soldiers; for attack methods, tapping the square button shoots fireballs while holding the button down nets you a fire breath attack. Lastly, there may be some RPG elements, meaning that as you progress through the game, you might start to become a more competent dragon rider. It doesn't appear as if the dragons themselves will gain new abilities, but you might be able to gain better control over your winged beast as you progress.
For the most part, Lair is looking to be an extraordinary title, but the key revolves around the balance of air and ground combat, and the functionality of that motion sensitivity in the Sixaxis. We'd really like to know just how big the battles will be, how the in-air controls work, how much strategy is involved, and if there will be player progression. But outside of that, there seems to be a whole lot to look forward to, and could be one of the most anticipated and unique titles of 2007.
11/27/2006 Ben Dutka