ince its release in early September, the PS3 title Lair has been universally panned by reviewers from across the spectrum of gaming websites and magazines. I don't think I can recall a title in recent memory which has been backed so fervently by its publisher while being criticized so mercilessly in the press — you know things are getting ugly when a game's developer sends out a pamphlet to journalists instructing them on how to play it. A few weeks ago, I decided to check out Factor 5's most recent opus for myself, hoping to set the record straight.
For those of you not "in the know", Lair is an arcade-style flight game in which the player controls their dragon mount in both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat. The game's control scheme, which is completely reliant on the Playstation 3's tilt-sensitive controller, was meant to set it apart from the competition and give the player "something completely different" (in the words of Julian Eggebrecht, Factor 5's President).
In Lair's opening level, a tutorial which familiarizes the player with basic flight controls, one can guide their dragon with ease — a gentle tilt of the controller is all it takes to alter your mount's glide path as you maneuver through a series of rings ala Nintendo's Pilotwings. Upon starting the game's second level, however, one quickly begins to recognize the shortcomings of the controls. Though perfectly adequate when all you have to do is fly your dragon from point-to-point, they simply don't provide the responsiveness you need when it comes time to take on enemies in combat situations — I quickly stopped counting the number of times I overshot ground targets or failed to engage an enemy dragon as they evaded me with aerobatic maneuvers which my own mount seemed incapable of executing.
Further complicating things is Lair's graphical interface (or lack thereof). I understand Factor 5's decision to not include any form of radar in the game, but the alternative provided is less than ideal. In the place of radar, there is an arrow which points towards the primary objective as well as an option to temporarily highlight all enemies in red by pressing down on the d-pad. Still, from that second level through to the game's end, I was constantly struggling to recognize objectives and distinguish friend from foe. The game itself is never that difficult, but the system of trial and error one must employ in order to progress is frustrating and simply inexcusable.
Level design and overall presentation are definitely Lair's strong points, though even these have their faults. Gorgeous cut scenes do make for a nice break from the action every once in a while, but it's never a good thing when a pre-rendered movie literally stops you in your tracks. On many occasions, I'd end up losing a battle after being interrupted by an arbitrarily triggered animation. Though Lair's graphics and audio could at times be splendid, imperfections in texture quality, frame rate, and draw distance often marred the experience. The game's voice acting and script can best be summed up as "okay" — certainly not the worst you've ever seen, but riddled with enough clichés to keep Lair from becoming something special.
Lair can best be summed up as a big-budget production gone awry. As much as Factor 5 tried to bolster it with their signature polish, they weren't able to mask the fact that the game's controls were at the very least insufficient and at the very worst broken. At a time when the Playstation 3 is in desperate need of a smash-hit exclusive title, it's a shame to see Lair fail so unquestionably. Though this certainly won't be the worst game you've ever played, I have a hard time recommending its ten hours of frustration as a worthwhile way to spend $60.