Lair Review (PS3)

Playstation 3 owners have been patiently awaiting Sony to release a game designed to take advantage of the grossly underutilized SIXAXIS controller’s motion capabilities. Ironically, after nearly a year’s time since the console’s debut, two of them have been released into the wild a week apart from one another. The second, Lair, is an ambitious and risky new intellectual property endeavor relying entirely on the SIXAXIS to re-create the uncharted gaming realm of realistic aerial dragon warfare.

Lair’s story unfolds cinematically through the eyes of Rohn, a Mokai dragon rider finding himself caught in a war between two civilizations that once existed as one. Players must step into Rohn’s shoes and fend off increasingly brazen Asylian land, sea and air offenses in a combination of structured chapters objectives and more open sandbox-esque locales.

As Hollywood has shown us in Reign of Fire and Dragonslayer, dragons are vicious creatures that soar through the air at incredible speeds and torch anything that tickles their angry bone. These motions are duplicated in Lair with a self-propelled dragon controlled by steering its movements entirely by motion with the SIXAXIS controller. The only physical button required to maneuver a dragon are the L2 and R2 shoulder buttons, which when triggered together, initiate an air brake.

Aimlessly soaring through the open sky with the SIXAXIS is an exhilarating ride. Stopping to engage the enemy, however, instantly kills the rush.

The SIXAXIS in Lair is extremely sensitive to motion, akin to flying a plane with a loose yolk. This looseness makes lining up an enemy a Herculean task to properly achieve. Compounding the flaw is the game’s design to rely heavily on pulling the shoulder buttons to slow down and even stop before engaging enemies. It’s extremely awkward to keep both buttons continually depressed while maintaining a steady hand to not throw the aim off with an unintentional movement.

A complimentary Rage Mode slows down time a notch and highlights enemies against the sepia-toned environments as an aid device. It’s only good for a handful of seconds until the Rage Meter is emptied and in need of a refill triggered by destroying objects on the ground. An option to always have Rage Mode active would have been a welcome addition to help curtail control inadequacies.

An alternative means of attack, especially for enemy light, medium or heavy dragons near impossible to fly behind, is to lock onto a target and strike it. This motion sends your dragon flying into the other like a heat-seeking missile. The approach is effective against smaller, light dragons and ground forces as they can be wiped out with a single strike. However, little enjoyment is found in mindlessly locking onto and striking wave after wave of enemies.

Heavier dragons require a more intimate approach as striking them is a fruitless act of aggression. When your dragon is close to a heavy dragon, a Fight Mode initiates pitting each behemoth against each other in a physical brawl. Combat is enacted via the four face buttons mapping to block, claw, bite, and flame attacks. This mini-game of sorts is a welcome diversion from struggling with SIXAXIS controls and plays a more prominent role as the story progresses.

The dragons in Lair have been designed with a couple nifty tricks that round out the inclusion of every imaginable dragon ability. In addition to shooting flame and the aforementioned fighting styles, dragons are able to pick up and drop numerous objects ” including enemies and bombs, rip and tear into objects ” like rope, and even bump other dragons without engaging in a fight. The lack of tight flight controls hinders fun coming from executing these moves.

Riding dragons in Lair is simultaneously one of the most satisfyingly unique and frustratingly impossible gaming experiences of recent memory. And that’s a monumental shame, because Lair is a sweeping epic with massive battlefields, gorgeous albeit monotone sepia art design, crisp visuals running at 1080p, and a thunderous Dolby Digital 7.1 soundtrack that shakes the floorboards whether an A/V receiver is capable of decoding the extra two channels or not. Toss out the mandatory SIXAXIS controls and Lair marks the dawn of a potential new franchise. Saddled with SIXAXIS, Lair is worth only a short test flight before turning back in anticipation of a brewing storm.

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