Review: Lair

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Platform: PS3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Factor 5
Release Date: 9/4/07
Genre: Action
Players: 1

Contrary to popular belief, Lair is a rock-solid game and one hell of a dragon-based flight combat experience. I am completely dumbfounded by how overly trashed Lair has been since its release. Damn near every game site and magazine covering the title has panned it and proclaimed its Sixaxis motion control system to be broken. But having just wrapped up my dragon-riding journey defending the lands of Asylia, I’ve come away with a drastically different take.

Now, I don’t know if most gamers and reviewers are just being lazy not wanting to “learn” how to play the game (even though there’s an excellent set of tutorial stages available if needed) or if maybe the copy I have is somehow magically different than everyone else’s, but believe it or not I had no issues acclimating to the tilt control scheme whatsoever. In fact, I’ve found the controls to be quite smooth and intuitive (yeah, that’s right!). There are snags along the way for sure, such as the inconsistent lock-on system and occasionally spastic camera, but in terms of navigating the skies atop a mighty dragon, Factor 5 really nailed the visceral feel of gliding through the air in command of such a powerful beast.

Before getting too far ahead of myself, let me first set the stage here right quick. In Lair, you assume the role of Rohn, an honorable dragon rider for the Asylian army’s Sky Guard who gets caught up in a twisting plot in which two warring factions – the Asylians and the Mokai — clash for control over the land ravaged and divided by volcanoes. The story is fairly typical fantasy material — combining the epic cinematic scale of the Lord of the Rings with sort of the cultural and religious undertones of Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven — but is compelling enough to drive you through the approximately six-hour adventure and is presented masterfully through beautiful cut scenes, an award-winning musical score (the soundtrack may be the best of the year) and solid voice acting performances.

As Rohn, you take to the skies for 15 multi-phased missions of intense dragon-riding warfare consisting of a diverse range of objectives, be it defending ally troops and transports, raining fire down upon attacking ships, dive-bombing enemy bases, ripping apart catapults, ensnaring nasty war beasts around the legs ala Factor 5’s old Star Wars titles, or going head-to-head with truly enormous bosses. When airborne, controlling your dragon is as simple as tilting the Sixaxis in the appropriate direction. Want to dive? Tilt the controller down. Ascend? Tilt the controller up. Bank left or right? Turn the controller left or right. It’s not rocket science here people, no matter how much naysayers seem to think it is. I’m not sure why so many players are having trouble with this control method, but it works just as advertised and becomes quite immersive once you get the system down.

Getting into some of the more advanced moves, such as pulling back on the Sixaxis to do a quick-turn or pushing forward for a speed boost, are a bit trickier to pull off at first without the game confusing the two, but in short time you’ll learn (or at least you should) that the key to maintaining proper control is to keep your gestures very subtle and direct. Do that and everything is smooth sailing. Going overboard with exaggerated tilts and jerks, however, only leads to frustration as your dragon flips around wildly out of control – somehow I have a feeling this important point is what many of the game’s haters failed to grasp.

Once you’ve got the controls down, the combat itself delivers plenty of thrills and variety. You can spit out fireballs all rapid fire-like, torch enemies with a continuous stream of fire, land on the ground and claw, burn and chomp through hordes of enemy troops, get up close and personal for mid-air, one-on-one melee dragon brawls, or pull off acrobatic, daredevil-style takedown sequences where Rohn gets in on the action by leaping from his mount and quick-killing the target as you input button combinations indicated on the screen. Every mission is also brimming with on-screen activity that drives home the epic scale of war the developers were obviously striving to create, and even though the sheer chaos of so much going on at once can be overwhelming at times (especially when the nagging objective update cut scenes kick in and sort of throw off your attention), the game as a whole is simply fun to play and quite a satisfying challenge, especially when you factor in the replayability of the medal ranking system and network leaderboards.

Love or hate how the game plays, surely no one can deny how splendid it looks. Occasional frame rate drop and texture pop-in aside, Lair is a graphical stunner and a showcase of beautiful art direction. The dragons are obviously the stars, and as you would expect they are modeled and animated in magnificently menacing detail. More impressive, though, are the environments and the jaw-dropping draw distances. Take a moment away to fly around and soak in all the breathtaking scenery, lighting and particle effects and you’ll find yourself in sensory overload heaven, only to be brought back down to earth once a dark dragon gets on your tail.

Factor 5 has proven time after time that they know how to make great flight combat games, and Lair does nothing to suggest otherwise no matter what the critics may say. Sure, a little more time spent polishing up a few spots (lock-on system, framerate hitches, etc.) would’ve been nice, but in current form none of the problem areas detract from the game being a fun, gorgeous-looking, sublime-sounding ride. It’s a real shame much of the press panned this title, as I’m sure most gamers have turned their nose up at it based on bad reputation alone rather than actually playing it firsthand. So whatever you do, please at least give Lair a shot so you can judge for yourself. If you open your mind and block out the swirling negativity, I think you’ll discover the same captivating gaming experience I did and a fine exclusive to add to your PS3 library. Either that or you’ll just think I’m crazy for loving this game…

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Pros:
+ Sixaxis tilt controls are actually very smooth and intuitive, despite the naysayers
+ Fun, intense flight combat action
+ Award-worthy soundtrack
+ Gorgeous graphics on an epic scale

Cons:
– Camera and lock-on systems a bit hairy
– A few technical bugs mar the visuals some

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!