It was somewhere in the neighborhood of my fourth pass over a bridge filled with two warring factions and a bunch of evil rhinos that I went from thinking Lair wasn't that bad to wondering if Lucifer himself pressed this Blu-ray disc in the pits of hell.
See, the time had come for my Asylains to draw up a peace treaty with a group of neighboring bad guys called the Mokai, but when the peace process soured, a huge battle erupted and I -- Rohn, one of the best dragon-riding sky guards around -- needed to make sure our troops came out on top.
No doubt, that sounds interesting and fun; however, Lair's terrible controls and god-awful lock-on system make this a mission worthy of swallowing the business end of a shotgun to avoid.
Oh, how far Lair has fallen.
Sony and Factor 5's dragon-riding adventure title puts you up against gigantic sea snakes, a life-threatening wasp and hordes of hostile dragons in a 1080p game that requires you to use Sixaxis controls to pilot your creature through the hostile skies. When the game first showed up on the industry's radar in 2005, fanboys and critics alike marveled at Lair's stunning visuals and began chomping at the bit to get their hands on it. Now that it's here, most are wishing it would just go away.
At first, Lair doesn't seem like the letdown it is. For two years, everyone has been talking about how great this game looks, and at first glance, it doesn't disappoint. As Rohn smacks his dragon to make him fly faster, the creature's slick wings shine, and you can't help but marvel at the sun-drenched buildings of Asylia as you soar above them. When you get your eyes on the FMVs, the visual delights just get better.
Lair's first FMV introduces you to Rohn and a few of his sky guard cohorts, and as they chat it up, it's easy to get caught up in checking out the pores on their faces, the detail as their armor shifts and the action as the Mokai attack unfolds. Even the stage-select menu -- set over a yellowed, worn map on a shimmering globe -- and the pause screen seem polished and perfectly set in the game's medieval style.
However, that wonderment won't last as you wrap your head around the mandatory Sixaxis control scheme -- especially when you get to "Crossing at Dawn," the fifth mission on the main screen and the bridge battle that ruined any chance of me finding a silver lining in Lair.
With the fight in full swing, I started by flying around breathing fire on evil dragons and proceeded to land and wipe out some dimwitted troops with my beast's talons. With the masses in check, the toros arrived. Opposing dragons dropped these bull-like creatures onto the bridge, and the game informed me I needed to swoop in, snatch the creatures by their horns and toss them into the ether.
Here's where the cursing begins.
To snatch these bad guys, you have to lock-on to them. To lock-on to them, you have to wait for a white circle to appear around them and press L1 or R1. The catch: there's no way to rotate the white circle. The computer chooses who and what you can target.
So, these toros arrived and started crippling my universe. I swooped in with my dragon, saw a toro and pressed the lock-on button. However -- even though I was coming at the Toro straight on -- the computer was looking at a turret on a tower. That meant I ended up locking on to the tower, passing the rampaging toro and heading back into the sky.
Worse? You can't corner or move with any precision in Lair. I missed the toro and thought that I could just turn around and go back to the beast, but my turn was so wide that by the time I was facing the right way, I was already over my foe. The only strategy was to go waaaaaaay out over the water, turn around and slowly come back to the bad guy so that the computer knew exactly who I wanted to take down. Even then, it wasn't unheard of to pick up a trooper by mistake. True, you can jerk the controller to pull off a 180-degree turn, but like all of the Sixaxis controls, I found it horribly unresponsive. Eventually, I just gave up on it -- even though the game refused to let me and had me doing 180s and speed bursts (another wrist-flick move) against my will.
Take too long to get all the bulls -- whether it's because the computer's screwing you or because you're taking too long to turn around -- and you'll lose the level and start the whole thing over again. Beat the toros, and your reward is doing the exact same tedious task with a group of rhinos. It's enough to leave you ready to punt the next lizard you see so that you can extract some level of retribution for the bubbling cauldron of hate this game has created inside you.
Please don't think that this one level is what I'm basing my opinion of Lair on; it's just the first time I understood how painful this game can be. These problems continue throughout the game, and that's a shame. Lair had so much potential -- the game will score your performance, award you medals and toss your scores on an online leaderboard -- and above all else, Lair has a great story.
Although Asylia and Mokai are at each other's throat now, they used to be one nation that worshiped one deity. Then, a volcano erupted and split the land in two. Over time, the factions grew to be enemies, and neither remembers the good times now. Rohn's journey from being a faithful servant of Asylia to seeing the treachery of the Diviner to realizing how similar the Mokai and his people are is impressive in scale, scope and emotion. Add the fact that Lair features a sweeping orchestral score with big pieces to match the big events of the game, an impressive vocal cast and some beautiful FMVs, and this could have been a benchmark for where this industry is going -- could have.
Sure, the FMVs are graphically impressive and so are parts of the gameplay, but there are lots of times I found myself rolling my eyes at what I was seeing on the screen -- I'm talking about tearing, square waves, a chugging framerate and water effects that look like sand.
Even if you could turn off the goodtime neutering Sixaxis controls -- and you can't -- the actual things you would be doing in the game would be a grab bag of neat and lame mechanics. Some levels will have you taking out troops on the ground via swipes or boats on the sea via fire, and that's fun. Other levels will have you fighting dragons, and that's lame.
That's right: the dragon fights in this dragon game are no good.
The takedowns -- which have you fly up on a foe, jump onto the beast, kill the pilot and take out the dragon via some quick action events -- are cool, but they seemed to be the minority. One of the more prevalent attacks had us flying side-by-side with a bad guy and shaking our controller left to right. Although it was unresponsive, eventually the controller would read the action and our dragon would drift into the side of the other dragon, which would then fall away and die. The next battle method had our dragon and the opposing dragon face to face falling toward the ground. Here, we'd hit square to stiffly blast the foe with fire breath and then alternate between X and circle for talon attacks that never appeared to connect.
Sound cool? It wasn't, and that pretty much sums up Lair.
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