Is Lair Really That Bad?

Sep 03 2007

When I first read about Lair, writers kept referring to the claim that it would consume an entire Blu-ray disc due to its high-end visuals. Normally, I would worry fearing that style over substance, graphics over gameplay was being given precedent. However, the developer was Factor 5. Their previous games were great fun with the perfect balance of graphics and gameplay. In fact, I was so confident in their ability that Lair took eighth place in my list of top 10 most anticipated games.

As the release date approached, review copies were sent out to critics and then, the reviews began to surface. Mostly negative, highly critical of the gameplay, reviewers wrote that Factor 5 had opted to focus on graphics, leaving gamers with a pretty but unplayable game.

Kevin VanOrd from GameSpot wrote in his review:

You shouldn’t play Lair. Not unless you have some morbid interest in experiencing what is quite possibly one of the worst control schemes ever devised. It’s a shame because as a cinematic experience, it’s stunning to watch. As a game, it’s a nightmare and an embarrassment. It sounds like a fantastic idea: You fly around on a dragon, spewing fire and clawing at other reptiles while generally wreaking havoc. Too bad you’re forced to use Sixaxis controls that destroy the possibility of fun and replace it with the constant need to scream expletives at your television screen.

Greg Miller from IGN had a similar opinion:

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.

Still eager to play Lair, I rented a copy, instead of buying and set off to find out if it was indeed as horrible as described.From the start, Lair screams polished. Beautiful artwork with elegant fonts adorned the title screen. As soon as the prologue ends, voiced by a Hollywood-style narrator, your eyes will be spoiled by the rich world crafted by Factor 5.A radiant sun shines down upon a beautiful, detailed medieval themed landscape. Tall towers cast dark shadows while a nearby ocean and your dragon’s wings reflectively glitter sunlight. The Asylian capital surrounded by rocky mountains, textured with hints of dirt, moss and snow.

The scope of the detail spent on the capital city becomes obvious as you set out for your first battle. As you soar through the skies, the ground below is covered with elaborate buildings, bridges and temples. Besieged by an surprise attack, flaming projectiles hurtle towards, smoke gushes out of burning structures and the sky is filled with fire, spewed by dragons as they battle.   The normally serene ocean now is filled with ships from the enemy navy, catapulting flaming bombardment towards you.

As the game progresses, you’ll view pre-rendered cutscenes.  Absolutely as detailed as the in-game graphics but serve more as an annoyance than anything else. You’ll be interrupted by them in mid-battle, usually over and over again.  It’s as if Factor 5 assumed most gamers are so dense that they need to be repeatively told what their mission objectives are.However, Lair sounds great, too. The entire soundtrack is appropriately filled with medieval themed music and the voice acting is superb for a video game. Support for 5.1 and THX is available for those with capable receivers.

For everything the graphics and sound add to the experience of Lair, the controls quickly take away from it. Factor 5 decided to go with SIXAXIS to control your dragon for most of the game. This might have worked if approached as a labor of love with an immense attention to detail for the nuance that such a control scheme would require. But this did not happen for Lair. The end product feels sloppy, overwhelming players as they’re forced to fight with the controls, instead of enemies. At first, it starts off innocent enough – X speeds you up, O attacks and so forth. Once you start trying to maneuver in the sky, you’ll quickly become frustrated.

There’s an obvious lack of precision here, so you can’t suddenly do a hairpin turn, quickly pitch up or dive which gives your SIXAXIS-free enemies an major advantage as they flank and chase after you.In battle, I would frequently have an icedragon on my tail. There’s a technique which allows you to 180 degree turn to shake them off which requires you to flick the controller upwards to pull it off. Being extremely unresponsive, I would be able to pull it off usually after 3-4 attempts. There’s also a targeting system but don’t get too excited. It, too is horribly broken. It doesn’t have the ability to select a target, so you’re forced to line it up in your sights, press R1 and hope for the best.

That’s because selecting the wrong enemy happens often, forcing you to unlock and try again because there’s no intuitive way to shuffle through targets like using the d-pad. Speaking of targeting, it’s used to set up battles with enemy dragons where the screen will zoom in, some dramatic music will play and you’ll have to melee into them by jerking your controller in the direction you want to rush from. But since the gameplay is so unresponsive, I felt more helpless than in control. Whenever I walked away from one of these fights, it was thanks to luck and chance, not skill and effort.In conclusion, Lair faced high expectations when announced in 2005. Now after being launched, it surely is beautiful sight, raising the bar for graphics but its lackluster gameplay will stop it from being considered a critical hit or runaway success. It is, as Kevin VanOrd noted in his review – a beautiful disaster.