When I think of dragons, I think of huge creatures with demonic like eyes and fire breathing breath – not to mention their huge wing span and scaled skin. I guess this picture game from films and novels such as Eragon (which was awful) and even Lord of the Rings, with those dragon-like creatures that flew about carrying the bad guys. For some reason, whenever I think of dragons now, I think of Lair. Sadly though, not in a good way.
When Lair was first introduced, gamers everywhere were drooling at the stunning visuals, the intuitive SIXAXIS control scheme, and the excitement of playing as a dragon - against other dragons! Some people got quite desperate and sold their family in an attempt to “wow” the developers enough to get hands-on with some preview code. Ok I made that last bit up – but there was a huge air of anticipation. Unfortunately that excitement was short lived.
Before we go into just how annoyingly rubbish Lair is, it’s best to give you an overview of the game. You play Rohn, a servant of Asylia and one of the best dragon riders around, who battles all sorts of sea creatures, dragons, soldiers, boats and other strange looking beasts, in a medieval type action title that on the surface seems great. Your main enemy is the Mokai. After an eruption of a nearby volcano, the two factions split and quickly became arch-enemies. What entails after that is a collection of battles for supremacy between the two factions – and you, Rohn, are caught in the middle. The opening sequence is graphically stunning, introducing you to your character, along with some colleagues; but it doesn’t reflect the rest of the game.
There’s one thing with Lair that really lets it down – the SIXAXIS control system. For starters, it’s mandatory. There is no where you can turn it off and enjoy an analogue system. Secondly, it’s unresponsive, bulky and quite frustrating. Some titles seem to use the SIXAXIS well, only utilising it for small areas of the game – such as keeping balance as you walk across fallen tree stumps in Uncharted: Drakes Fortune, or steering Ratchet as he freefalls from a craft in Ratchet and Clank – but for some reason, Lair’s developers, Factor 5, wanted to use it for every movement.
It sadly just doesn’t work. The dragons are big and cumbersome, so any sharp turning maneuvers are almost impossible. This means if you miss your target (which you will do regularly) then you’ll have to fly right out and do a slow turn, then come back again. After a while, it gets frustrating and slows every fight sequence down to a snail’s pace. Although you can do a 180 degree turn by shaking the controller up, it just didn’t seem natural, nor did it work very often. Other times you’ll accidentally thrust forward instead of doing a 180 because you shook the controller a bit too much in frustration.
This tedious control system just turns the main focus of the game, the battles, into a task rather than an enjoyment. Not only does the SIXAXIS control scheme not feel comfortable or natural, it just doesn’t work. And the fact that you can’t even turn it off makes it even more of a burden.
There are elements of LAIR that are somewhat satisfying however. Some missions will require you to take out thousands of foot soldiers, who are slowly traipsing towards your rather large castle. You have two options; you can either attempt to stay in the air and take them out with swooping flame attacks, or you can land on them, and blast out fire and sulfur everywhere. The latter option is by far the better choice. Firstly, you won’t get the frustrating task of having to keep flying right out and coming back to hit your target. Secondly, there’s a huge sense of satisfaction as you take out one hundred men in a second with a blast of your breath, or a stamp of your foot.
The cut scenes themselves are very well done also, with great voice acting and extremely realistic character renders. Along with that is a superb soundtrack of medieval orchestral tracks that set the mood every time. Sadly though, none of this can outweigh the frequent poor graphics and or the awkward game play. For example, the in-game sea can look a bit poor, and in some cases doesn’t even look like water!
It’s a real shame that Lair hasn’t delivered on the anticipation. Even if you could turn off the awful SIXAXIS control scheme, you’d still be left with a mediocre game that just isn’t worth a full game price tag. My advice to game developers is stop trying to over-use the SIXAXIS control scheme and concentrate on delivering graphically stunning, game play focused titles. My rather reluctant advice to gamers is to leave this one on the shelf!
Russ Clow not only nearly shares his name with one of the best Gladiators around, but he also has a bundle of experience under his belt. Since a very young age he's been playing video games, and has been working in the video game industry for most of his working career. Russ is a secret Sony Fanboy, although he tries hard to hide it so as to keep his position as Editor-in-Chief. When he's not playing games, Russ likes to play football with the "lads".