Lair (Playstation 3)
Lair is the first game that I have purchased using my “no reading reviews” motto. I just finished the game so I figured I would post my impressions and thought.
When I first popped the game into my PS3 I had no idea what to expect. My biggest concern was that controlling the dragon using the PS3’s motion controls simply wouldn’t work. However those worries were quickly relieved when I tried the training mission. The dragon responded extremely accurately to my controller movements and I was very pleased. Since it was just a training level I held my breath and jumped into the first mission.
Once the game got intense I wondered if the controls would hold up. Luckily for me they did. It really felt like I was at the reigns of a fierce, fear inducing dragon. The controls weren’t analog stick perfect, but I’ll be damned if it they weren't pretty close. As if it were second nature I began gracefully cutting through the unfriendly skies taking down enemy dragons with efficient accuracy. Just controlling the dragon was joyous for me. The creature moves with a subtle fluidity that I found pleasing to the eye and the accompanying wing flapping sounded authentic too.
The attention to detail in the environments was spectacular. Buildings had awe-inspiring architecture and the surrounding landscape was simply beautiful. I was particularly impressed with the water effects. It’s quite possibly the best looking water I've ever seen in a game. The frame rate had no problem keeping up with all the onscreen mayhem. Even with boats exploding in the ocean while dozens of dragons battle in the sky the frame rate remained steady. I often found myself just gawking at the surrounding areas while flying through them.
I have to comment on the sublime fully orchestrated music found in this game. Lair’s music is easily the best I have ever heard in a videogame. It rivals anything found on movie soundtracks. It can be bombastic and grandiose and then change to subtle and melancholy. It had this grand epic feel, but the whole soundtrack is vaguely haunting and depressing in tone. If I ever find the soundtrack to this game on a CD I’m buying it without hesitation. It really is that good. Needless to say, Lair is extremely pleasing both aurally and visually.
I really dug the narrative in Lair. It is presented to the player using some very fancy CG scenes blended with in game action, much like Final Fantasy X. The CG scenes bring a striking realism to the characters and rival the CG found in movies such as “The Polar Express”. The story is sort of clichéd but I found it to be very enjoyable. I have to admit, after each mission I couldn’t wait to see the CG scenes…they are a feast for the eyes.
The missions range from fairly simple (protect grain barges) to very complex (assist your troops from land, sea and air attacks all at once), but they always entertained. There are all out wars that you will fight in as well as stealthy solo missions. The variety in objectives is enough to keep you entertained throughout the experience.
The game really gives you a sense that you are controlling a powerful beast. Some levels require you to take out 1000’s of enemy troops and your dragon is more than up to the task. There is no aiming reticule to rely on, but when a target is in sight it is highlighted with a grey bubble. It’s disconcerting at first, but after a few missions it becomes second nature not to have the reticule there. You can also easily lock onto targets with a simple tap of L1 or R1.
Lair isn’t a very long game and it can be completed in about 6-8 hours. The difficulty rises at a nice pace and the challenge doesn’t ramp up too drastically. The last few missions can be a pain, but they are short enough that replaying them is encouraged. Replaying missions is rewarding because of the medals and bonuses you can earn on each level. After completing the game I’m going back now to get the gold medals.
The action towards the very end of the game is hectic and you need to be lightening fast to succeed. I’m not the most patient gamer in the world and I was able to stick with it. I personally love the carnage you can achieve with your dragon. One minute you are cruising over the ocean sending war ships to their watery graves, the next you are on land eating and clawing your way through enemy’s troops. Weaker dragons can be taken out with a few blasts, but stronger once need to be weakened by ramming into them, or engaged in air to air, dragon on dragon combat. These sequences are fun, and they usually reward you with a boost in health. Also after you cause enough carnage a meter fills and you can perform various “takedowns”. After locking onto an enemy dragon you press the triangle button and follow the onscreen motion and button instructions. The result is you killing the opposing dragon rider in a highly cinematic way (very cool!). You will also use context sensitive motion and button controls during the games few boss fights. Those work very well and figuring out the Boss’s attack patterns is half the battle…very old-school.
So enough gushing about this game…what did I find wrong with it. Well, for starters it could have used a little more polish. The in-missions cinemas that update objectives and move the story along look sort of rough compared to the rest of the game. I noticed some ugly textures here and there, and they become more apparent during these cinemas. The motion controls worked well most of the time but it wasn’t until I was about 80% done with the game that I finally mastered them. The biggest issue is performing the “u-turn” maneuver. The game requires you to pull up on the controller and I tinkered with several movements. Personally I found that big exaggerated gestures worked best. As a Wii owner I was used to experiementing with motion controls so it wasn’t a deal breaker for me. It did lead to some frustrating deaths though.
If you are a fan of games like Panzer Dragoon Orta, Star Fox 64 or any of the Rogue Squadron games you will probably enjoy Lair. I know I certainly did. Some of the missions are truly hectic and literally had me exhausted afterwards. I really felt like I was controlling a dragon and I also felt like an integral part of my army. The motion controls greatly added to the experience because it felt like I had the reigns in my hands. Overall, Lair is one my favorite experiences on the PS3 and I am glad I decided to buy it. Anyone on the fence should give it a go or at least rent it. I think you would be pleasantly surprised.