his era of downloadable content has given gamers a lot to laud and just about as much to lament. For every map pack or David Bowie track, there seems to be a piece of horse armor or a game-breaking über-gun. Further muddying the waters of digital downloads are patches and other "refinements." While I tend to forgive developer's mistakes (we're all human), the ease with which they're now able to fix them makes one wonder if we'll see a huge increase in shoddy products making their way onto store shelves. Patches to optimize network performance or remove an overlooked level exploit seem legitimate enough. But what are we to make of it when a developer "fixes" a game's entire control scheme?
Last Friday, I awoke to find Sony's weekly PlayStation Store e-newsletter in my inbox with its usual list of newly available downloadable content. Buried in the middle of that list, somewhere between Gran Turismo 5: Prologue and a stable of Rock Band tracks, was a little add-on entitled Lair — Dragons and Control Pack. For those of you who've already gathered what this means: please sit out the next paragraph and try to get your fits of laughter under control. Everyone else: here's a brief overview.
Lair was supposed to be a launch title for the PlayStation 3. Not just any launch title, mind you, but a brand-defining showcase. It debuted at 2005's Tokyo Game Show where it wowed journalists with beautiful environments and aerial dragon battles. It looked as though Rogue Squadron developer Factor 5 had found themselves a great new IP. Then came news of another product's debut — Sony's own SIXAXIS controller — and Lair's delay until autumn of 2007. When American gamers finally got their hands on the title, their worst fears were realized. In grafting motion controls onto their surefire dragon sim, Factor 5 had literally broken the game that should have made PS3s fly off store shelves. Sony tried to gloss over Lair's abysmal showing in the gaming press by releasing a supplemental guide clarifying the game's control scheme, but this only made matters worse. You see, we all realized how to play the game — it just so happened that we were smart enough to not want to.
Which brings us now to last week's downloadable content. As you may have guessed, the Dragons and Control Pack did indeed include a few new dragons for you to ride. What it also included was a completely revamped analog control scheme. Despite previous claims by both Sony and Factor 5's president, Julian Eggebrecht, that Lair's SIXAXIS controls fit the game perfectly, they've now decided to release "last-generation" analog controls via a content patch more than seven months later. Though I appreciate the effort put forth by Factor 5 to try and set right their broken opus ("try" being the operative word here), I find it strange and a tad distressing that Sony has decided to present this olive branch as "exciting new bonus content." It's akin to Ubisoft commemorating the launch of a Rainbow Six patch with a sweepstakes — nonsensical, pompous fluff.
The internet has done great things for console gaming — digital distribution is clearly the wave of the future, and we're already utilizing it as a (relatively) pain-free method for updating the content of retail games. Still, I hope this convenience doesn't tempt publishers to release a flood of half-baked products — no beta test is worth spending $60 for unless it's Halo 3.