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PS3 Fanboy review: Lair

While Colin gets the delightful task of reviewing Warhawk (9.0), I'm left with the arduous burden of reviewing Lair, one of PS3's most hyped and anticipated games. What could possibly go wrong with a game where dragons fly around, killing each other? With stunning graphics, incredible production values, and dragons, Lair easily had a ton of potential. However, it all goes to waste through unresponsive controls and flawed level design.

As any Gamecube owner knows, Factor 5 is a team comprised of technical wizards. Their previous Rogue Squadron games pulled off graphical techniques on Nintendo's last generation machine that most Wii games still don't take advantage of. Factor 5 managed to rip out the most celebrated moments of the Star Wars films and make a captivating series that delivered action faithful to its inspiration. So, why does Lair feel like a retread from Factor 5's previous games?

Gallery: Lair

Visually, Lair is a sight to behold. Fully rendered cities are set ablaze by hundreds, maybe thousands, of fully detailed dragons and foot soldiers. Add a few levels of visual sheen, such as impeccable lighting and realistic interactive water, and you have a visual feast to dine on. More than any other game currently on the market, this looks "next gen."

But after the initial wow, the game's flaws quickly reveal themselves. Maybe the game needed more optimization, but it appears that the PS3 chugs while trying to run Lair. Even in the final retail version, frame rate drops are obvious and frequent. There's a claustrophobic feel to many of the levels, with enemies and allies in such abundant supply that it becomes dizzying. If only Factor 5 chose to make each level smaller, or made it less crowded, the framerate might become a bit more bearable.

In spite of its new fantasy setting, Lair's gameplay is incredibly derivative of Factor 5's Rogue Squadron series. The mission structure, your dragon's abilities, and even the level select menu, are all based on their previous titles. You will find yourself flying around, dogfighting, protecting vessels, and blowing up key enemy strongholds. Because of its familiarity, the feeling of controlling a dragon is completely lost. Really, you might as well be in a TIE Fighter. Simple things, like the dragon's lock-on fireball, make the creatures feel less organic and more robotic. In the second level, players will see a giant whale-like creature literally explode in flames when shot at. Are these beasts related to the Hindenburg, by any chance?

The missions use the same progressive objectives structure that the Rogue Squadron series utilized. Not only is the structure familiar, but many of the objectives themselves are clearly copied from previous Factor 5 titles. For example, one level has you flying in the dark, avoiding spotlights in order to destroy a power generator -- not an homage, but a clear recycling of their previous games. Unfortunately, these objectives are too many and all the levels suffer from a somewhat intolerable length. While the battles themselves can be engaging, it becomes tiresome to have to constantly protect a vessel, or target a catapult. The game does little offer a genuine feeling of variety. In addition, the lack of checkpoints becomes truly devastating. Imaging playing for fifteen, twenty minutes, only to have to redo a level in its entirety after dying. It generates the kind of frustration that has you throwing your controller at something.

The checkpoint system isn't the only source of uncontrollable frustration. In fact, the entire experience of playing Lair is like one giant test of anger management. The SIXAXIS controls do add a level of immersion to the experience that's appreciable, but it still doesn't offer the precision we expect from an action game. For example, a common complaint is that the game fails to differentiate boosting forward and making a U-turn successfully. Players learn to avoid using these once-critical moves, just because having the game do the wrong move will do more harm than good. Because of the tilt controls, you have less freedom of movement than you would in a typical flight game: you won't be able to make tight turns, nor will you be able to U-turn or boost effectively, killing any hope for some genuinely interesting dogfighting. [Editor's note: We tested the controls after firmware 1.92, and the SIXAXIS still frequently fails to differentiate between a boost and a U-turn.]

While in the air, players can engage in various melee battles with other dragons. Unfortunately, none of them really work. The first method involves flying to the side of an opponent, and thrusting the SIXAXIS to take down an enemy. Cute, but its novelty wears thin. The other method is a brawl mode, where players must input button commands, a la traditional fighting games. This mode is never elaborated upon, and it ultimately feels like a meaningless button masher.

The game's finest moments, strangely, come when you're on the ground. When landed, players have the ability to rampage, taking down countless numbers of enemy troops. While it certainly lacks depth, the added slow-mo effects emphasize the true brutality of your beast. A smile is guaranteed to form on your face as you set hundreds of soldiers on fire, and eat any that may somehow survive. Delicious!

It's easy to get dazed by Lair's breathtaking vistas and sweeping soundtrack. However, players shouldn't have to feel like they're fighting a game's basic controls in order to have a good time. Lair will undeniably offer a few good moments. However, it simply doesn't have the depth to warrant a purchase. At the end of a one night stand with Lair, you'll wish that it could've played as well as it looked.

PS3 Fanboy score: 5.5

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Reader Comments

(Page 1)

1. I don't get why devs/publishers, after sinking SO much money into a game will go "Oh, well, we're nearing the release date, but the game sucks, oh well.", instead of just sinking some more money into it. I mean, a game that's actually GOOD and that has this much hype would sell like mad. The overwhelmingly bad press this game has been getting (Feels like this is one of the biggest disappointments of the year) will probably hurt sales.

Posted at 9:19AM on Sep 5th 2007 by Stef Geiger

2. Eh not surprised on the review. Same old excuses of the controls.

Posted at 9:30AM on Sep 5th 2007 by MisterTwoTurbo

3. Queue the flame posts...

Posted at 9:32AM on Sep 5th 2007 by Amphlett

4. After playing a levels of this last night, it's already getting sent back to Gamefly. The controls were just too clunky with the Sixaxis to be any real fun. I know its derivative of other Factor 5 games, I just wish they copied the Rouge Squadron control scheme.

Posted at 9:35AM on Sep 5th 2007 by craigehlo

5. I have been hearing the same things about this game from many other sources as well. It is a shame as I was actually thinking about getting this game. It looks like they could have used more development time tweaking the game play. For me pretty graphics mean nothing if the game play sucks. I am also not sold on the sixaxis motion controls. I think that developers should either stay away from the motion controls or allow a bypass like Warhawk did.

I imagine the developers left some hooks in the code so they could add bypass controls via an update. However, it looks like the game has more problems than just the motion controls. Maybe if they release an update to bypass the motion controls I may rent it.

Thanks for the review!

Posted at 9:36AM on Sep 5th 2007 by ShadowHawk01

6. It's like what Shigeru Miyamoto said about some of his games getting delayed "A delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever." I wish they had spent more time working on the game because this was going to be the game that I got a PS3 for. Now I will wait for Ratchet and Clank.

Posted at 9:43AM on Sep 5th 2007 by SKI

7. Man, I completely disagree. I think this is one of the best games I've ever played. Seriously. It's not a twitch, mash button game. It's more elegant than that. Apparently, I took to the controls much faster than most, because I'm really enjoying it. I do have some troubles getting a U turn happening, but I don't find myself needing to U turn much anyway. If you hold in the left or right trigger (brake), tilt the controller to that direction, then tap X to flap your wings and you'll do a tight, fast turn. I love how you're really just one of many powerful creatures on a field of battle with THOUSANDS of other enemies, and you're somehow going to turn the tide to your side (sometimes literally). Where else can you do that?

GREAT game.

Posted at 9:45AM on Sep 5th 2007 by Brian Spence

8. I still dont get the bad Reveiws I find the Controls Fine, and I have yet to notice any frame rate drops or Clugging as the call it, i've gotten that in Oblivion alot when I'm totally surroundedm, but i''ve yet to get it in Oblivion, As far as the dash and 180 turn go, that does happen to me alot dash when you wanna do a 180 or 180 when you wanna dash. as for the lock-on,. it's a game of course Dragons dont have lock-on(or they wouldnt if the were real) as for creatures Blowing up in Flames that does seem rather odd to me too,. shouldnt they be falling when they die not bursting into flame? the enemy dragons fall to their death, . Like the Big whale crossed with manta ray creatures that are Cargo tranport unti that happen to be called Mantas burst into flames and explode as though they were a cargo spaceship or something

And as far as too much happening at once yeah it can get over whelming at times, However i've yet to see it affect the framerate graphics in anyway,. but I think it gets overwhelming to the point it takes away the fun,. If you Friendlies( you guys , soldiers on ground, fellow sky gaurd, and that which you are protecting) didnt die/get destroyed so fast it wouldnt be so bad.

I personally give the game 4/5 or 8/10 ,. it loses point for me for the overwhelmingness at times and so far I can barely get Bronze on some levels so i think the difficulty for getting gold and whatever that 4th medal is are a little TOO high

Posted at 9:51AM on Sep 5th 2007 by Tim Parsons

9. Good thing I have never played Rogue Squadron. :)
I don't have issues with the controls either. Some like it, most seem to not. Its also strange how some see frame rate drops and some have not seen any. I noticed it on the first ship battle in the explosions but haven't really seen any since. I do enjoy the game so far.

Posted at 10:02AM on Sep 5th 2007 by wonway01

10. @9 ship battles??

Posted at 10:05AM on Sep 5th 2007 by Tim Parsons

11. the only pet peeve I have with the game is the controls they suck, and the story could have been a little more deep make me care about the character for 60 bucks all these games should have full immersion

Posted at 10:06AM on Sep 5th 2007 by Jovah45

12. Could it be possible they could patch the game to use the analog sticks? I mean didn't they rework the whole online for MotorStorm to work better. Its not like its a 3rd party game its by Sony they have the tech to do it. ----- Supposing the control was patched to work that way would it help the score out????? I am looking at you

Posted at 10:11AM on Sep 5th 2007 by MCX

13. so is it true that the new update fixed the controls in the game? If so I may give it a try before next week when Heavenly sword hits.

Posted at 10:12AM on Sep 5th 2007 by drdre74

14. I had a feeling this game would be terrible. You started to see the red flags go up with all the delays. At least 4. Then the absence from E3 and Liepzig.

Besides the controls being extremely poor, I also thought the graphics where lacking. The in-game visuals where much worse than the cut scenes--the only positive aspect of the game.

Finally--gameply was extremely shallow. Seems to me that Sony and Factor 5 knew this game would suck. Sony just told F5 to release the game the way it was because they would not tolerate another delay.

Posted at 10:20AM on Sep 5th 2007 by Frankym

15. The only knock I have is the sometimes confusing way to figure out who is the enemy. I just try to find something to lock onto and attack from there.

Riding a dragon has never been more fun IMO, that is if you approach it as controlling a dragon versus a TIE fighter.

I'm having a blast with this game. I might be one of the few who don't think they just wasted $60.

Posted at 10:33AM on Sep 5th 2007 by Matt B

16. i was really pissed at the controls in the first hour maybe 3 .. but now its totally natural .. its a lovely game but i can help but agree with 14. in some aspects here, and .. gulp .. agree with ... (must fight urge to vomit) .. i think that annndddrrrr....(fight it!) . .i think andrew is right .. (nooooooooooooooooo) .. ok maybe only kinda.

Posted at 10:33AM on Sep 5th 2007 by sectionz

17. Do those new improved sixaxis controls Sony admitted surreptitiously slipping into newer systems improve gameplay at all?

Posted at 10:47AM on Sep 5th 2007 by Tonbo

18. You hit the nail on the head with the fact that this IS Rogue Squadron with dragons instead of TIE fighters. Rogue Squadron wasn't a fun game to play, ant its surprising they thought making Lair use the same controls would suddenly be a GOOD game just because they changed the theme. Their problem is the idea of forcing the player to follow a predetermined flight path, with only moderate flexibility in movement. You want to fly off the path, but can't, which is what most people are struggling with in the game. With the power of the PS3 along with sixaxis, they should have allowed total freedom of movement. I have no respect a company that takes initial beta feedback (which was lousy a year ago) and continues to develop a game with obvious flaws. This game will seal the coffin for Factor 5. Lair is a huge dissapointment and has nothing to do with sixaxis, period.

Posted at 10:56AM on Sep 5th 2007 by chris.westermann

19. @10

The first thing you do when you blowing up ships at sea and the water looks cool as everything explodes.

Posted at 11:10AM on Sep 5th 2007 by wonway01


Nuff said don't shake the sixaxis like a moron play smooth and have a lot of fun.

Posted at 11:14AM on Sep 5th 2007 by SimplyB

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