Lair is a solid concept but lacks proper execution
First off let’s talk about the good things in Lair, one of which is the story. Lair takes place in a mythical land ruled by two nations, the Asylians who reside in the lush mountain green lands, and the volcano based Mokia. The two groups broke apart due to the emergence of volcanoes which disrupted the land and the Mokai resent the Asylians for the resources they have. While the story for Lair is not as deep as MGS or Zelda, it is pretty interesting and the world that Factor 5 is pretty original. Some of the characters may be a bit cliché but it doesn’t get to the point where it takes away from the overall story. There are also quite a few big revelations the main character Rohn encounters throughout the game which makes him change his views on how the Mokai are treated.
It’s a real pity that some game players may not be able to see Lair’s story due to the unresponsive and clunky controls. In case you didn’t know Lair is the first PS3 title to be built around the Sixaxis controller from the start. While other titles that use Sixaxis allow the users the option of using the analog controls, Lair does not allow analog control for flight but it is used for ground combat. While some may say that the Sixaxis control for Lair may take awhile to get used to the end result is that despite being accustomed to it for several levels it is still clunky and makes certain actions in the game more of a chore than a fun experience. Doing a 180 move is a bit difficult to pull off and shaking the controller up and down to kill an enemy or destroy an object just feels a bit off and tedious after awhile. Another problem with the game’s controls is the speed of the dragon. While of course the speed of a dragon shouldn’t be as fast as a fighter jet, but the speed of the dragon is so slow that turning around to reorient yourself can be quite an issue and just takes longer than it should. The controls also feel a bit unresponsive in certain areas, especially during the first boss battle where you need to move the controller left and right to avoid Sea Serpents venom. It’s very clear that Factor 5 didn’t refine the Sixaxis control as much as they could have since the end experience with the controls in the game is one of frustration and anger over what could’ve been a fun experience.
Let’s move on to a better part of the game, the visuals. Since its debut Lair has been touted as being built around 1080P, a feature many gamers like me do not have. The visuals of Lair are quite excellent in some areas such as seeing a massive bridge filled with thousands of soldiers and with dragons flying in the sky. But the two problems with the visuals in Lair are that they’re a bit uneven at times and the color palette that’s used in the game takes away from the experience. First off the frame rate in the game is incredibly unstable which results in a ton of slowdown during hectic battles and animation that looks incredibly choppy. It also doesn’t help the ground combat almost feels broken. At one time the enemy ground soldiers did absolutely nothing while I stood still but then proceeded to move in what seemed to be a 5 animation frame set. It’s unknown if the disappointing ground combat is the result of some type of tech issue or poor game design, which is a problem throughout the game. The other problem with the visuals is the overall art direction and the use of colors. Expect a lot of browns, dark greens and other earthy colors when playing. The main problem with the use of these colors is that it makes seeing which dragons you’re supposed to attack a bit difficult. The only way you know which dragon is an enemy is based on the color of their fire. So for example the Ice Dragons have a light blue fire color. But during the hectic combat levels it is still tricky finding the enemy dragons which could result in some frustrating battles. It would’ve helped a lot if there was some sort of on-screen map which would make it easier to find the enemy dragons.
The one aspect that is the best in Lair is the audio. Featuring a score composed by John Debney (The Passion of the Christ, Sin City) Lair features a fully orchestral score that is probably one of the best to be heard this year. The tracks are lush and fit the tone of the game perfectly. It’s nice that you can listen to the tracks through the extra content that’s in the game since many gamers probably won’t play the full length of Lair. Aside from the music Lair also has some pretty good voice acting. The core of it is pretty good but a few of the performers feel off due to them not fitting their characters and their overall performance not being as good as some of the others.
While the controls in Lair are just crap the overall production values are pretty good. Despite some of its technical issues Lair doesn’t feel like a cheap game, which just further adds to the frustration over why the controls are crap. You can see the Factor 5 put a lot of time and effort into the game and it shows. An interesting feature in the game is the mission select screen which shows Rohn atop his dragon looking over a world map while a narrator explains the following mission and the overall impact it has on the story. Touches like this are nice and can make you appreciate the game for the few things it does well.
With its pedigree in making arcade flight titles many were wondering what the missions of Lair would be like since Factor 5 had more freedom over what they could do. Sadly the core game design mirrors Factor 5’s previous efforts as Lair features very basic mission design that at times feel old. Many of the missions in the game consist of escorting a group of boats or creatures and to protect them from the oncoming Mokai. There are some interesting missions such as one where you need to avoid searchlights but this mission can be quite difficult due to the poor controls. It’s also a problem to find your objective/enemy in the game. While most of the time you do know what you have to do going about it can be a problem. Once again this is due to the poor control which makes some objectives hard to accomplish and the poor art design which makes it hard to see some foes.
Lair in concept is a solid title that could’ve spawned a series of titles but sadly the poor controls and tech issues take away from the game to the point where it’s almost unplayable since you’ll hardly find yourself having any fun. While some titles that have had tech issues have come back to rectify themselves in better sequels this will most likely not be the case with Lair due to the stigma the game has garnered amongst gamers. When you have a budget of over $20 million and spend almost 3 years in development it’s almost inexcusable for this to be the final result. Factor 5 should be applauded in some respects due to what they were able to accomplish such as developing a solid graphics engine but it seems like they tried to do too much especially considering this was their first next-gen title and their first time working with the PS3 and Playstation architecture. Perhaps Factor 5 can redeem themselves with their PSN title but that’s if Sony hasn’t cancelled their contract with Factor 5 over the disappointment that is Lair.