Lair was one of the most heavily anticipated games for Sony’s PlayStation 3 due to its impressive graphics and core gameplay element of controlling a flying dragon.  Gamers were eager to get their hands on Lair but started to get a bit concerned when negative reports were starting to come in from people who got their hands on playable builds at this year’s major game shows.  The biggest issue from these reports was the Sixaxis motion-only controls in the game.  Now that we have gotten our hands on the game, we can tell you if the controls are really that difficult to use but more important, we get to see if the game lives up to its early hype. Let’s get right to the issue of the controls.  The Sixaxis motion-only control works for basic maneuvering of the dragon once you get used to it.  The learning curve is not that steep but problems crop up later in the game with the more challenging levels.  There will be times when you have to complete objectives in a given length of time so precise flying is the only way to be successful in these levels.  They are not impossible to complete but don’t be surprised if you start swearing like a character from a Martin Scorsese film as you struggle to maneuver your dragon.  This is especially true when you try to push the controller forward for a speed burst and you end up flying in the opposite direction via a 180 degree move since you might have naturally pulled the controller slightly back before pushing it forward.  Great, you’re trying to go forward in a burst of speed and you end up going in the opposite direction.  This is actually an appropriate metaphor for the game.The sad thing is the game would have been a lot more fun using the analog sticks for controlling your dragon.  I actually found myself trying to use the analog sticks every time I started a level.  The bottom line is if you’re going to fork over $50 to $60 on a game, you should be able to choose the type of control scheme you want to use.  Yeah, the developers might have thought the Sixaxis motion control was perfect but they aren’t the buying public, now are they?   The controls are only the beginning of what’s really wrong with Lair.  The other and more important problem is the overall gameplay.  The most fun you’ll have in the game is the flying itself and that’s about it.  The level objectives really don’t take advantage of commanding a dragon.  The objectives typically involve destroying certain targets in a very repetitive structure – take out enemy dragons, clear ground troops, fight special enemy creatures, take out certain structures and repeat.  Just substitute a spaceship or fighter plane for your dragon and this is a game you’ve already played a hundred times before.  In other words, it’s just flat-out boring.  For example, why can’t I land my dragon on a castle wall or cliff, survey the battlefield and then swoop down on critical targets for the kill?  There is an example in the game where you have to grab a Guardian (human ally) and move them to safety.  Instead of having to actually grab the person, you just fly over them and they magically appear in your clutches.  From there, you fly them over a designated area and a cutscene shows you dropping them to safety.  You should have to fly in and physically picking them up and carry them to safety.  Instead, all that is required is to fly over the person and let the cutscene do the rest.  Great!  Video gaming for dummies!!  The bizarre thing is the fact you can actually fly by and pick up enemies so why not carry this through with this particular objective?  Another problem is the difficulty in trying to identify enemy dragons in the game, especially when there is so much going on during battles.  The enemy dragons are different in color but it’s hard to tell with the overall brown hue and dark contrast of the game.  An enemy tracking mode (L1) helps but you end up flying all over the place looking for enemy targets.  Some type of radar would have helped or at least make the enemy dragons look significantly different than your allies so you can spot them without flying all over the d** place.While I’m on a roll with my banter – what is with all of the frickin cutscenes that pop up at the most inopportune time?  You’ll be in the heat of battle, getting used to the controls while torching enemies and then bam, another cutscene kicks in!  This happens so frequently that any momentum you establish playing the game is repeatedly wiped out.  The frequent slow-motion battle sequences also end up doing the same thing.  It’s almost feels like developer would rather have me watch the game instead of playing it.  Gee, I wonder why?There are attempts at adding some interesting action sequences such as mid-air melee combat with an enemy dragon, which requires the use of certain moves (block, claw, bite and torch) but again the sequence is crippled with its action-halting slow-motion mode.  Jumping on enemy dragons looks cool but it’s nowhere near the fun that it should be.  I expected this sequence to be simple enough – fly near an enemy dragon, hit a jump button, land on it and then hit the good old punch button to take out your enemy dragon flyer.  Instead you get to watch another automated action sequence after hitting two prompted button pushes.  It’s about as exciting as watching … yes, another cutscene.    Munching on enemy soldiers is fun but it’s been neutered for the Teen rating with the elimination of blood.  No matter what the developers try, it just ends up falling flat on its face.  The other excruciating element of the game is the voice acting, which is uneven as all hell.  The “Maverick, there’s a bogie on your six!” voice acting of your fighting mates is completely out of character in a Lord of the Rings-style environment.  It sounds like it’s more suited to a modern fighter jet jockey fantasy.  Gee I wonder why?  Well, I found out soon enough when viewing of a bonus video where Factor 5 director, Julian Eggebrecht states they were going for a Top Gun approach to dragon flying.  If that’s the case, then why isn’t Kenny Loggins’ hit, Danger Zone pumping it when kicking ass with my fire-breathing reptile?  If I can recall correctly, Top Gun was a big hit, when?  Let me think…Reagan was President and Falco was Rocking Amadeus.  Yeah, right on – dragon flying circa 1986!!   Where the game does succeed is in visuals and music.  The music sounds like it came directly from a Lord of the Rings movie.  It’s a perfect fit for this fantasy environment.  The visuals are equally as impressive as the Factor 5 did a fantastic job with the dragons and the game’s environments.  The medieval structures and the water effects are brilliant.  It is also impressive to see so much action on the screen at one time both in the sky and on the ground.  It’s not perfect since texture fill and framerate slowdowns occur at times but not frequently enough to be considered major problems.  It’s too bad the gameplay doesn’t come anywhere close to these two standout areas.Lair has the feel of a game that was cobbled together at the end of the development cycle so it could hit a ship date.  The problem is the game was delayed almost a full eight months after its original release date (the launch of the PlayStation 3) so one has to wonder what was being worked on during this extra time.  The developers took a great game concept (flying dragons), gave it the necessary look, added a fantastic soundtrack and then forgot about the most important component – the gameplay.  Throw in the constant cutscene interruptions and you end up with a game that just isn’t fun to play.  This is one dragon that should have never been let out of its lair.  

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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