Joystiq impressions -- Lair (PS3)

Zack Stern
Z. Stern|10.25.06

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Zack Stern
October 25th, 2006
Joystiq impressions -- Lair (PS3)
I saw the PS3 exclusive, Lair, at the Sony Gamer's Day event last week. The Factor 5-developed game was featured in the opening presentation, and it was available for play afterwords afterwards. I looked forward to trying the game because of its Sixaxis controls, but I was unfortunately thwarted.

Just as I reached for the controller, excited to get hands-on time with the dragon-combat action title, an unnamed PR rep literally turned off the PS3 and told me to to go downstairs for dinner. Who was this guy, my mom? Apparently they wanted us fed and ready for the Ludacris performance more than they wanted us to get hands-on time with the game.

The Lair developer, who had been manning the game, saw the flash of anger in my eyes. He reassured me that, since the game isn't a launch title, I may get another chance to play it before its release. That wasn't much consolation.

We Joystiqers talked about the situation and decided I would still write my impressions of the game even without being able to pilot the dragons. I saw enough of the title to make a few comments. Even after the go-downstairs-for-dinner fiasco, I'm still looking forward to Lair.
Lair's epic scale -- like many other titles on display -- initially caught my eye. Your human warrior spends most of the game on top of a dragon that's many times larger than you. The size disparity reminded me of Shadow of the Colossus, only instead of being one person crawling all over a giant creature, Lair often pits two dragons against each other. Another twist from Colossus happens after landing a dragon and rampage over enemy armies on foot; instead of noticing the small size of your character, the focus changes to how large the dragons are, wading though the armies.

Lair's graphics and animation looked strong. The flapping and gliding movements made the dragons fill the world; if those mechanics didn't feel right, I wouldn't have been able to suspend my disbelief about this fantasy setting. The rest of the world held a lot of detail, but the sky was usually dark and the colors were muted. These choices fit the medieval/fantasy setting, but I hope that the rest of the game includes more variety. At least the dragons' puffs of fire added color.

The gameplay and controls looked strong, but that's based mostly on watching other people play the game. The combat demonstrated in this version of the game existed on several levels: dragon versus dragon, dragon versus human, and human versus human. Players could begin by wrangling a dragon to kick through ground armies, breathing fire on the soldiers. Then, the dragon could take flight to attack another dragon and its pilot. Finally, warriors could board an enemy dragon to directly attack an enemy pilot.

The Sixaxis controller worked much like an airplane yoke to control pitch and roll, while bigger shakes to the sides acted as quick dodges. If close enough to cling to another dragon, the controls added more buttons to attack the enemy pilot, like a fighting game. This complexity should interest advanced gamers, although the game was touted as accessible to beginners because of the Sixaxis movements.

Factor 5 said little about the plot of the game and the characters' objectives. Instead, the showcased levels felt open and unrestricted, almost like a sandbox action title. I hope that the full game maintains some of this loose sensibility; gamers may just want to fly and explore. I know I did.

Lair was one of the most unique titles at Gamer's Day. I'm looking forward to its release next year.
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