Sony Computer EntertainmentDeveloped by:
T (Teen)Release Date:
August 30, 2007Screenshots: LinkAmazon: Buy Now!Written By:
With everything that’s happened since Lair’s release and really ever since the game was announced and positioned first in Sony’s autumn software lineup, one could describe the critical and PR disaster the game is going through as almost ominous.
What better developer than Factor 5 to embody the Playstation 3’s capabilities into a single game? They’ve got experience making flight games, (Star Wars Rogue Squadron) which been seen as an avenue to validate Sony’s SIXAXIS controller ever since it was first unveiled through Warhawk. They even made a Gamecube game in 2001 that looked better than almost anything else from the following six years, so they certainly know how to get results from hardware. Lair’s failings however are not in these areas, but instead lie in an overall game design that is simply tired and overgrown.
Lair is your standard flight combat game with its main twist being that you fly a dragon with PS3’s SIXAXIS motion controls, which have become the most polarizing element of the game. Personally, I find the controls to be quite intuitive, taking me all of about two seconds to learn. The major difference in the controls though is the fact that controlling a living breathing dragon is inherently going to be less precise than controlling a machine like an X-Wing. This didn’t bug me at all while playing Lair. I even like some of the extra perks to flying a dragon, like being able to breathe fire in both bursts and a stream. Being able to land and rip apart enemies on the ground also felt very cool.
The main problem with Lair though is that it’s a re-skinned Rogue Squadron. The similarities hit me practically the moment I booted the game up and only came up more and more as I played. The menu interface is just about identical for one, but what hurts the game the most is that it simply relies way too much on a gameplay structure that was perfected in 2001’s Star Wars Rogue Squadron II Rogue Leader, and may even be outdated at this point.
What Lair essentially tries to do is take Rogue Squadron’s mission structure and expand it to a larger scale. On the one hand this creates some pretty chaotic battles that look amazing when viewed in full. This also brings out the apparent potential in how these games have different units like airborne fighters, ground vehicles, and foot soldiers all interacting on one battlefield, making Lair feel almost as if you’re a single unit in a battle out of a real time strategy game. On the other hand however, expanding Rogue Squadron’s gameplay also magnifies its annoyances.
Lair is filled with levels that remind me of some of the worst escort missions of the N64 era. This is really a problem that’s affected flight games on consoles for probably a decade: escorts and wingmen alike, without actually helping the player, all whine at him to defend something (usually something helpless) all by himself. Lair’s increased scale brings this to another level, one mission in particular being worthy of controller-snapping.
In the 10th mission of the game, you’re tasked with single-handedly defending a group of soldiers and refugees on a hill from a massive battalion of enemy soldiers, heavy ground units, enemy dragons, bombers, and a naval fleet in the neighboring coral reef. You spend the whole mission being bounced around between fending off each danger by a screaming voice (played by Crispin Freeman no less) constantly barking orders at you. Furthermore, every notification is accompanied by a short but intrusive cutscene. Also, because you’re flying a dragon, not an X-wing, and thus don’t have radar, that yellow cone that was critical to Rogue Squadron’s gameplay is replaced in Lair with a vague arrow. All of this ends constantly when you suddenly fail the mission with no clear indication of the status of your escorts.
Not only does Lair fail to truly evolve over Rogue Squadron’s design and even magnify some of its problems, but too much in its presentation seems to just be substituting for the absence of the Star Wars license. I can understand if Factor 5 is simply trying to use what they’ve learned from working with Lucasarts to create their own world, and there are some times when you can tell they’re really trying, but because generic voice acting and a shallowly told storyline, the whole thing falls on its face, leaving behind a presentation that looks more like its ripping off of Star Wars than being inspired by it. One of the creatures in the game is in fact a giant four-legged beast that must be killed by attaching ropes to its legs!
Where Lair does shine however, as expected from Factor 5, is in its production values. Through producing some of the best visuals on the N64 and Gamecube as well as spending five years working with a license that’s gone hand-in-hand with top-quality sound, Factor 5 has become one of those companies especially known for putting out high-fidelity games, which further promotes Lair’s position on the PS3.
On a 1080p setup (that’s 1080p native by the way) with at least a 5.1 sound setup, Lair definitely looks and sounds above average for a PS3 game. Even though some scenes of the game suffer from the Crisco effect prevalent in many early Xbox360 titles, Lair’s sense of scale allows it to show off impressively rendered battle scenes that look almost theatrical despite occasional frame rate dips. The orchestral sound track here even manages fit the mood of the game perfectly.
The biggest barrier to Lair seems to be its motion controls, which at best have become extremely polarizing among those who’ve played it. Those who aren’t annoyed by the controls however, may still find annoyances in an outdated and overgrown game scheme.
If you’ve never played Star Wars Rogue Squadron though, and thus are immune to the obscene amounts of déjà vu I got from this game, I’ll admit that there is a chance you may like Lair, which is why I suggest PS3 owners at least rent the game to see where they stand on it.6/
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