You know, this industry is filled with so much controversy that it makes the job just that much more fun. Every now and then a game comes along that was once highly anticipated, only to turn out to be called disappointing for, what is usually, a pretty arbitrary reason. On the PlayStation 2 it was The Bouncer, for its two hour length. On the PlayStation 3 it's Lair for its force-fed SixAxis motion controls. And it's a little complicated writing a review like this, because I genuinely enjoyed Lair. Furthermore, I know I'm not the only one, too.
I'll be honest that I wasn't impressed with Lair during E3. I hated the idea of being confined to solely motion controls, and I couldn't be bothered to learn the controls while on a tight schedule. So when the game arrived to me personally last week, I booted it up and, surprisingly, I found myself enjoying it. Without any pressure to play another 55 games, I was able to adapt to the controls of the game almost instantly. I just freely flew around the training stable for a few minutes before engaging into the game, and I was set. I had no trouble getting through the stages, I never died, and I never lost a mission.
Unlike a game such as MotorStorm where steering with the motion controls feels a little too sloppy, Lair feels almost ideal, like second-nature. So I have a hard time grasping all of these complaints, along with many others. The collective of us who enjoy Lair quite a bit have concluded that it's just simple bitter elitism from critics who didn't want to even bother to adapt to the controls. The bitterness stems from not being able to play using the SixAxis' standard controls, and thus the game is punished.
The game aids you with a lock-on button that allows you to keep sight on a certain enemy, so don't worry about aiming manually (although it is quite doable). Now the game does let you plug in a regular USB controller into the PS3 and play it using joysticks, and such. But because the game requires certain motion controls for attacking (such as directional jolts), you won't be able to complete certain tasks and will have to use the SixAxis. Either way, take my word for it, and don't buy into the hate. Those who've actually went out and bought a copy of Lair have come to find fun out of the game, and a control scheme that isn't anywhere near as bad as claimed.
It felt solid before, but after releasing PS3 firmware 1.92, Sony has managed to tighten up the motion controls and thus Lair benefits from that. As far what the premise of Lair is, it's quite simple. Essentially, two nearby kingdoms have proclaimed war against one another. The legions that each kingdom features are composed of dragon riders, so the only character you really ever get to control is the dragon. There's no on-foot action with the soldier; the only time you're on foot is when you land your dragon and go to town on the army of foot-soldiers walking around - always a great time. You can burn them, stomp on them, eat them, swipe them, or barrage through them. And hey, you can even swoop down from the sky and pick a soldier off.
When in the air, your dragon can perform a variety of attacks. The primary attacks are the fireball and breathe of fire. But you can also engage into a close-range stance and claw, butt, shove, or bite your enemy. Then you have the awesome finisher moves, where your dragon lines up with the enemy, and by pressing a sequence of commands, your dragon rider will dismount the dragon, jump on top of the other dragon, and slaughter it and its rider; it certainly makes for a great show.
But there are problems to Lair. First off, the game isn't very long. Sit down for about 5 hours, and you'll be done. Ouch. Second, the game is missing a lot of polish and can obviously seem like a rush-job. Factor 5 clearly needed a lot more time to iron out some of the biggest trouble spots in the game, such as the pesky action-cam, and the completely broken death scenes. Believe me, the more you play the game, the more you'll pick up on a range of problems and realize that they're only common problems found in demos and incomplete games. Fortunately, the game's issues don't detract from the gameplay much, but they do hurt the presentation considerably.
Now, replay value is a serious sore spot here. While the game is fun, it's over too quick. The Bouncer suffered from this too, but it remedied the issue by giving you multiple characters to play through the game with, with different paths, as well as a nice versus mode for up to four players. Lair has none of that. And essentially, when you're done with the story, you're done with the game. You can always partake in the leaderboards and unlock all of the video content, as well as the medals - but I doubt you'll really want to. Not many do.
Having said that, Lair's gameplay certainly isn't bad. It's actually quite the solid playing game. It provides for a lot of tension and enjoyment, as well as being unusually engrossing. I don't know if the game is worth the $60, largely due to its length. But I do think that you should certainly check it out, by renting it. It can also be like one of those games that you may enjoy playing over and over again, sort of like Star Fox 64.
Since we've all been following Lair quite closely, we knew that this game would be a visual tour de'force, right? For the most part it is, but there are some issues here too. First the good, and then the bad. Immediately, you'll notice that Lair is stunning, with immense details on the dragons and some of the nicest looking water in a game thus far. As you fly around the architecture of the game, you can easily notice how superb the textures look and how much detail is in every little brick and stone. It's quite the visual treat, I have to say. Lighting is also pulled off, well, bouncing off the water for a crisp looking sheen. Resolutions are 720p, 1080i, and 1080p - and the game's native state is 1080p.
Now the bad...you may notice that when there's a horde of soldiers on the ground, they all look like paper-thin toy soldiers. They all have the same terrible animations, all of which seem to be composed of just a few minuscule number of frames (we're talking five, at most). There is no fluidity whatsoever with the ground troops, and it further makes the game feel incomplete. Commonly, something like this would be a temporary placeholder in an incomplete game, you see -- so seeing this in the final product is weird. Then there's the framerate, which isn't bad, but it isn't splendid. It's certainly below 30 frames, though it doesn't chug. It runs somewhere between 25-27 frames, so the experience isn't jarring - but a keen eye will notice the difference. 1080p makes matters worse, so I suggest keeping the game set to 720p.
Audio is perhaps the game's strongest aspect. Non-compressed audio streaming out of your speakers with 7.1 Surround capability makes Lair arguably the best sounding next-generation title available. The soundtrack is completely orchestrated, featuring all of the bells and whistles (and symbol clashes) that you'd expect to hear in a medieval-esque war-game featuring dragons. There's also a fair share of voice acting, which is pretty solid. Sound effects aren't as loud and memorable as they could've been (unlike, say, Warhawk), but they get the job done.
After all of the deliberation, I really can't give Lair a score lower than what it is, largely because the game was fun. Or at least, I personally, found amusement out of it. Once you've got the controls down, you'll find an enjoyable action game out of Lair. For the most part, the game is visually appealing and striking in most cases, but it's not without its faults. And while I can't say it's worth a purchase, thanks to its lack of replay value and short length, I can recommend a rental.
9/10/2007 Arnold Katayev