Let’s get down to the nitty gritty, Lair is a pile of crap. It really is one of the worst games I’ve played in a long time, and the fact it comes from the once talented folk at Factor 5 (who gave us the closest experience to truly
flying an X, B or Y-wing ever) is just adding salt to the wound. Beyond that, several more cuts start to appear when you realise Lair really is just Rogue Squadron on dragons. Unfortunately, sans Star Wars license and more than a few years on, it turns out gaming has advanced beyond the memorable moments of the Rogue Squadron series and what made those games great now makes for some pretty tired gameplay. History aside, the point
of Lair is equally lost due to over-the-top production in all the wrong areas of the game – kind of like building a flimsy straw house on solid gold foundations.
Factor 5 would have us believe Lair is an epic Lord of the Rings-inspired opus replete with all the fantasy-based background information, history and lore you could ever hope for, and truth be told when I first heard about this game on paper, I was interested. Within minutes, no seconds, of firing it up, however, I wanted to turn it off. All the normal mapping and specular highlights in the world aren’t going to save what’s been presented here, and Factor 5 have been working on the game for some two years, which makes me wonder where all that time went, because it sure as hell wasn’t put to good use in the visual or gameplay department. But I digress, let’s start from the beginning and gradually pull the game apart; I guarantee you by the end of this review, you’ll see more structure in my thousand-odd words than in all of Lair’s punishing components combined.
You play the role of Rohn, a prodigy dragon pilot of the proud peeps of Alysia. To the south are the Mokai, and the game begins with Alysia being attacked by your southern neighbours. There was a time when everyone in the land followed a single belief, worshipped one deity – but a volcano eruption tore the peace asunder and religious views, science and common-sense all split the land into different factions of different denominational viewpoints (not at all dissimilar to the world today, as we know it). So, now it’s either your beliefs or their beliefs and in the middle, war. It’s not all grim though, after a few missions fighting off the invading Mokai hordes, peace talks are held and a treaty is to be signed to ensure the survival of both factions – everything is seemingly on the up. At least until the guy you saw in the cut-scene before who looked alarmingly suspicious confirms your unease and terrorises the talks, ostensibly shifting the fighting into an even higher gear than before. Can’t we all just get along?
Initially you’re asked to show off your amazing dragon-riding skills by being made to fly through… magic rings! (ala PilotWings). But it’s a necessary narrative evil in order to get you familiar with the game’s SIXAXIS controls. For the most part tilting left and right and up and down is fairly responsive, if a little touchy now and then. The degree of movement isn’t nearly as forgiving or comfortable as using the Wii Remote for a game like, say Excite Truck, but as far as this type of control goes on the PS3, it’s at least passable
. After training, you’ll experience some banter between you and your comrades and retire to your peaceful life. That is until the first strike comes. This initial battle is an easy trounce through what to expect from the game’s mission system which sees you, first off, having to blow up a bunch of Mokai ships who’re catapulting flaming devastation your way. As you progress your objectives will become slightly more complex, but ultimately it’s the same in-game on-the-fly objective structure we experienced in Rogue Squadron.
While Factor 5 have tried to paint a believable fantasy world for their game, it still feels very much like the aforementioned Star Wars release. Even to the point some creatures you take down will blow up
(you shoot fireballs from the mouth of your dragon which are inexhaustible - rapid fire ahoy then). You can also tackle enemy dragons and dragon-riders in the air, but it’s all incredibly mechanical and stiff. At no point did I ever feel like I was truly riding a beast, which given the amount of visual detail they’ve invested in the dragons for realism, makes for a terrible juxtaposition in design and functionality. After a while you’ll just fly around and rapidly tap the fire button to perform as much damage as possible. You can lock onto enemies, but this in itself creates a fair amount of trouble, and being locked on doesn’t really mean much in the grand scheme as the game’s camera is just as atrocious as a lot of the gameplay you’ll be fighting with.
At the end of each level you’ll be rewarded a Bronze, Silver or Gold rating (again, not at all unlike Rogue Squadron), but for the most part the criteria for earning higher medals just seems a bit inane, and really, in a fantasy game where you’re supposed to be whisked away and totally immersed, it seems oddly out of place. Missions usually last anywhere between two and 10 minutes, depending on how clear the objectives are but there really isn’t much room for exploration or free-form gaming. You can certainly fly about the game-world and do whatever you want, but ultimately you’re constantly told what to do next and once its done, hands are dusted and the next task is thrown your way. Rinse-repeat, really. This becomes one of the major let-downs for the game – nothing is ever dynamic, there’s no major turn-about for you, and no matter how many times you’re told at the end of a battle you’re great, you just never feel like it. It’s all very arbitrary.
This brings me to one of the most disappointing facets of the game – visuals. Each and every one of these screenshots misrepresents what you’ll see in the final product. The dragons all do look very nice, but in motion their animations are nothing short of lazy, while your character’s animations are best left out of conversation altogether (though, suffice to say you can land your dragon and dismount anywhere on a map, but come across any ground-based humanoid enemies and all the two of you can do is walk into each other). The game-world around you constantly flickers with bad refresh rates and even choppier frame-rates. Nothing is smooth and most of the texturing, while highly detailed, is boring and repetitive. Finally, water, smoke and fire could have been done better on the PSP and actually look as though they were added at the very last moment. Lair is one of the ugliest games I’ve played, despite everything Factor 5 have done to make it appealing.
I really want to say something nice about the game, but it’s a stretch. The orchestral arrangements and voice-acting are as close as this game comes to bearable, but even those are devoid of creativity sounding more like they belong in parts of Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. You can see what it is Factor 5 have set out to do, but all their years working on licensed material has left them clutching for originality. It’s always going to be difficult entering the fantasy field, but when you do it with borrowed gameplay, half-finished visuals and ripped off aural components, you’re never really going to win anyone over. Lair is a game best left on the shelf you picked it up from. Don’t believe those screenshots on the back of the box, no matter how much you feel you need another fantasy experience because you’re over Oblivion – believe me, there are far better things you could be doing with your time.