**Before starting to the review, I'd like to note that this review includes the patch, which allowed for an analog stick control scheme.**
Coming in after a rough start across the web, the PS3 needed a brand to make its expensive hardware show off what the machine is really capable of doing. With an interesting take on flight simulation, the developer Factor 5 (behind the famous Star Wars: Rouge Squadron series) behind the project, and early showings of some stunning visuals seemed like it would be enough for Sony to have its first flagship title for the PS3. Unfortunately, Lair actually had a countervailing critical reaction to what most were anticipating. Rather than being a must-have exclusive, Lair became one of the biggest pariahs to PS3 fanboys and flight sim fans alike. It is still dumbfounding to this day how a game with this much promise could've failed across so many boards.
The world of Lair takes place on a huge island, apparently being the only piece of landmass on the planet. Two divided kingdoms, the rough Mokai and the noble Asylians, which once thrived in unison, are now constantly fighting. The provocation for this fighting is found in the sightings of multiple volcanoes reaching all corners of their earth; which instigates one side to blame the other because they feel this is judgment from God. Enter a Burner for the Asylian Sky Guard named Rohn, the main protagonist. Having viewed the Mokai as enemies, Rohn begins to develop a clearer understanding for these people throughout his journey filled with religious schemes, loyalty, and redemption. Lair's story is told through greatly-rendered cinematic cut scenes and voiceover before selecting each battle. Overall, the story is essentially "bare-bones" without the great lore stacked behind it. I viewed the story/lore as a symbiotic relationship between the two (just go with it). In one hand you have the setting, scale, and general ideas while in the other you have masterful artists creating an awesome variety of beasts and locales that accentuate the diversity between the two kingdoms. This meshing of ideas makes me wish there's was more backing behind the plot; although, the fantasy felt so...real. To put a cap on this segment, Lair's story is good in the run. You may feel that it's constricted, but the creators behind the fiction seem to make the most out of what they've been given.
The stunning presentation that was displayed before the game was released is still in all of its glory throughout the game, in both the audio and visual aspects. Even in the opening cut scene, Lair wants to show graphical detail ranging from miniscule to mammoth. Details, such as the dragons scales, can be noticed right of the bat that show how much work went into the game's looks. To keep from going too much into detail, I'll just say this: IF every level was designed closer to the destructive beauty of Maelstrom (2nd to last map), this game would have probably unanimously received best console graphics awards of '07. The only problems found within the games graphics are closer to that of bug-related problems. Going through objects and nauseating camera shifts are the main fundamental visual problems to be found in the game.
Audio aspects of the Lair are of the best heard among it's time; unfortunately, it also seems like that was of the most paramount importance to the developers. With a boisterous chorus/orchestra created, Lair holds one of the greatest original soundtracks of 2007, if not THE greatest. Whether it's from the softer moments of taking in the scale to the all-out hecticism, Lair's range follows closely to that of Star Wars Episode I for the Mokai, while holding more genteel tones for the higher-caste Asylian. The only problem I had was how annoying the voiceovers would cut into each other during the action, sometimes repetitively cutting in on where to go and what to destroy. Overall, there's really no major fault in Lair's audio development and so many strengths.
As hinted in the last paragraph, fellow Lair players may come to an agreement with each other that the gameplay was not the first aspect that the developer focused on. Lair's initial emphasis on flying was coupled with the objective of making PS3's new SixAxis motion mechanic relevant with the system itself. In this also lie many of Lair's faults, one of them being bad motion controls. It's funny to think that the idea that seems to give the most freedom can also be the most restraining mechanic. It would be nice if I could label this steering design as arbitrary, but that's not the case since it was the only mechanic you could use at launch. Although a patch does include analog flying, it requires some finger dexterity to be able to steer and while in 'dragon vision'. As funny as it sounds, the only motion control aspects that seem to work are the ones that keep the dragon temporarily stationary.
Lair's overall structure will come off as familiar to you if you have played any of the Rogue Squadron games. Before each mission, you're presented with an overview of the story and what to expect from the map. The mission structure comes-as expected-with a directional arrow to guide you towards your next objective; built in with that comes "dragon vision". While holding down the UP D-Pad button, your screen goes into the dragon's eye, allowing you to see highlighted objects you either need to defend or destroy. Quick time events and duels with other dragons are some of the highlights of the gameplay implementing both SixAxis and face buttons whenever necessary. These sequences still contain errors in regards to the camera. The slow motion clips of destroying an enemy may be cool, but that also makes you lose sense of your direction. Lair's overall structure is sound until you put the game in motion. There are just too many inconsistencies in what mission is your first priority in defending.
Lair will probably be held on among the greats (or worst(s) depending on how you look at it) of "Most Disappointing New IP's". Never would one expect such a "grocery list" of problems to a game that looked spectacular upon announcement. On a personal note, this was my hyped game that would've made me purchase a PS3 around Lair's release date. To those who have yet to play, run in the other direction. For all of its marvelous technical design comes a short, unsatisfying flight game.
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