There are some things you can just say, no matter who or where you are.
“Dragons are cool,” would be one of them, and I’m pretty sure nobody would disagree. Sitting in the saddle on top of a powerful dragon, and taking control of it by the reins to defend the kingdom of Asylia, is an immersive and empowering experience in Lair. You play Rohn, a member of an order of dragon-riding knights. The story unfolds as you defend Asylia from the Mokai people, who wander the realm, deficient of resources and thus invading for food. During your first flight, there is a moment when you take in a breathtaking view of Asylia and know that this game was meant for greatness. However, critics were set ablaze when Lair was released on the PS3. It was a Viking funeral as the game crashed and burned upon arrival. Reviewers praised the production values, but quickly dismissed the game after saying the motion controls rendered it unplayable.
Factor 5 went full tilt, implementing Sony’s six-axis controls while developing this dragon flight sim. It seems every iteration of a Sony PlayStation peripheral has a sacrificial lamb that is put out for the eye of judgment to see, and Lair was clearly designated with that duty for the PS3 controller’s design. Requiring players to hold the PS3 controller like the reins to a dragon turned out disastrous. You had to twist and turn the controller and pull it back in order to maneuver around the map and switch direction. The developer acknowledged the steep learning curve of the flight controls by adding tutorials and onscreen prompts, in order to ease the experience. As the first game with remote play functionality, the lack of an L2 or R2 button made Lair simply impossible to complete on the PSP. It would be almost a year before a patch would fix the remote play functionality and give the game regular controls to choose from. By this time, the damage done to Lair’s reputation was irreparable. The only way to resurrect Lair was from inside the bargain bin at GameStop.
2007 is considered by many to have been one of the greatest years for gaming. The upward mobility of the new XBox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, and the popular Nintendo Wii, gave a lot of new IPs traction. New series being introduced included Assassin’s Creed, BioShock, Mass Effect, and Portal to name a few. Other titles such as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and Resident Evil 4, were given new life on the then new-gen consoles. So critics were too busy to backpedal to dig up Lair from the hole they put it in, even though the patch fixed everything they had complained about, and Lair had already gone down as one of the biggest disappointments in gaming history. So with all this talk of the old control scheme out of the way, let’s dig our claws into a new review for the patched version of Lair on PS3.
Lair was one of the first 1080p games to fully utilize the home theater. It was an amazing cinematic experience. The story is engaging, as you get instructions yelled to you by your comrades and bear witness to cinematics during key points of each mission to help you figure out how to approach your next objective. The lore to Lair is deep and the acting is intense. Moreover, the camera is pretty consistent with many options for looking around.
You have many different ways you can approach defeating your enemies. Once they are in your central view, you press R1 or L1 to lock onto them. You can claw at them, eat them, shoot them out of the sky with fireballs, glide in with a sneak attack, duel them mid-air, literally grab and tear them apart with your talons, or jump off your dragon and make a daring acrobatic kill with your stryker. It takes some time and practice to chain together the kills, but there does exist a fairly large amount of space for skill to improve to make completing the game much easier. The game is perfectly playable with the motion controls, but the room for error on each mission drops immensely once you get a few levels in, which makes it feel like the controls could have been simplified a little or tightened up to make completing the game a little more manageable.
The primary flaw in Lair is that it’s difficult to gauge which objectives should be pursued at any given moment. At the top middle of the screen you will often see a red and blue bar that measures the morale of your troops, and by laying waste to your opponent’s army, you can build up your army’s morale. At the top right of the screen, you will often see an arrow that points in the general direction of your next goal. If you click the R3 button you get the list of objectives you are working on. Then, if you press start you will see a more detailed look of what you need to do and a map. Each objective has a different threshold for how much “damage” it can take before your mission fails. The only mistake you will make many of the times you fail a mission will be mismanaging your goals. The game will often freeze the action and interject a cut scene as a hint when you near the maximum threshold for loss for one of your objectives. Sometimes, you will be crossing multiple thresholds at once and receive multiple cut scenes, one after another. It might be too late at this point, but make sure you listen to what the cinematics are telling you for your next go at the mission. Near the end of the game you are expected to be using Rage Mode regularly to allot extra time in order to multitask like a boss.
While Lair does tell a compelling visual story, the stress placed on you to be the master tactician on the battlefield can get a little frustrating. It is more a matter of taste and style for the player than a decision of whether the game is good or bad. You might just find that riding on a dragon and tearing through your enemies makes the game fun. The war between Asylia and the Mokai is very intricate and interesting as well. If you find the game worth completing, you will endure the growing number of times you read “mission failed” and come back with a refined strategy. While 2007 had many hit titles, it’s unfortunate Lair could not have been among them.