Developer: Factor 5
Released: August 31 2007
Lair takes place in a world threatened by volcanoes. The once unified people now form two kingdoms: the Mokai and Asylians. Rohn is an Asylian skyguard, a dragon rider pledged to defend Asylia. When the Mokai attack, Rohn fights to defend his nation, but is also forced to confront the treachery and ruthlessness of his own people, all in the middle of full-scale war.
Lair received average review scores of only 53%. Critics were impressed with its graphics, art direction, sound and music, but most reviewers hated the Sixaxis motion controls for flight. The consensus was that the controls were reasonable enough in open spaces, but a frustrating mess in tighter areas or when surrounded by enemies.
A patch added analog flight controls, and there's a free downloadable pack in the PSN store that includes two new playable dragons. You'll have to go find the pack yourself; it isn't included automatically. Note that the pack is called the "Dragons and Controls pack", but the analog flight control is already included in a free game patch, so the pack is really just for the dragons now.
The back of the box claims that you'll fight armies of thousands. I guess that's technically true - there are hundreds of foot soldiers - but as a skyguard I'm only engaging other dragon riders, siege weapons, and other big targets, while the ground troops aren't even worth the attention. But it's still great because the troops are actually there. The battles feel really big, with formations of troops and siege weapons and fire and explosions everywhere.
Dragons and Flight
The dragons are pretty cool. You've got a lot of versatility in what you can do, with a lot of contextual options on top of that. Your dragon can breathe fire in either a big fireball, rapid-fire projectiles, or a continuous but short-range stream. In some missions, you can pick up and drop bombs or creatures. You can even land and fight on the ground, which is mostly useless but a cool feature anyway.
In terms of how flight controls work, it's basically Rogue Squadron with dragons - and that's great! Factor 5 has added some new tricks since Rogue Leader, including a camera lock, a quick 180-degree turn, and a sort of bumper to keep you from smacking into terrain, but otherwise you'll feel right at home if you're a fan of the Rogue Squadron series. It's a fairly simple but versatile flight system, so it's easy to pick up, but there are some cool tricks you can pull.
I don't like the default Sixaxis controls, though. I'll talk about that down in The Bad.
The visuals are kind of mixed, but overall quite nice. Terrain tends to be fairly low-detail and boring, but the buildings and creatures are high quality (except ground troops because they don't really matter anyway). Any time you're in a city or fighting over a major landmark (like a bridge), those environments look great, but a little out of place when surrounded by featureless terrain (by featureless I mean it's textured but otherwise there are no trees or rocks or anything). But the effects and the quality of the creatures (despite the sheer number) are pretty awesome. The rendered cutscenes look nice, too.
The orchestral soundtrack is impressive, and actually reminds me a lot of some tracks from Star Wars, and more specifically, some from Rogue Squadron. It's brassy and epic, but does a good job with some quieter bits too.
Like the Rogue Squadron games, you're graded on performance, and you earn medals for doing well. After you finish the mission you see how you did compared to the requirements for the next grade of medal - so, for example, if you did well enough to earn a bronze, it'll show the stats you attained, and compare them to the requirements for silver. The requirements can get quite challenging, and if you like the game, it'll add some extra play time.
You don't unlock any game content for earning better medals, though you do get more extras - development info, art, etc. I also hear that if you earn a gold on all missions you can unlock a flying Buick - a running gag from the Rogue Squadron games.
There's not too much going on here. The plot doesn't do too much more than give you some context as to why you're fighting. It's too bad, because the world and lore seem really cool, but they aren't explored enough. What's the Maelstrom? What are those neat weapons the dragon riders use? How does one tame a dragon? What are mantas?
Target lock is a little annoying. Once you get your target selected it's great, but it's occasionally hard to pick the right target. It's worst and most noticeable when you're trying to grab rhinos and the dragon just keeps picking up horses.
I almost don't want to put this down as a bad, because the game gives you a choice between Sixaxis (motion) and analog controls for flight. But I don't like that Sixaxis is the default, because it's more difficult to use than analog. It's hard to fly with much precision by tilting a controller you hold with both hands, and the gestures (like flip up to reverse) aren't always responsive (though I've found that they work better if you're gentle and don't jerk the controller wildly). In fact, it can even be tough to pick a target and maintain a steady course, because turning in to it in the first place can be tricky. As a result the Sixaxis controls are very frustrating in missions where you need high precision.
But, again, you can switch to analog controls at the push of a button in the options, so this isn't really a big deal. Analog flight works great, and if you can find the right level of movement for the special actions, they'll be pretty consistent.
Many missions require you to defend certain things - ships, mantas, soldiers, etc. What's annoying is that when you lose one of these allies, the game cuts away and shows you the thing exploding. Or, even more annoying, you'll be fighting dragons, and it cuts away to show you that your stuff is getting attacked (but not destroyed yet) and someone yells at you WE NEED HELP. Yeah, I know you need me to shoot down the dragons attacking the mantas. That's why I'm shooting down the dragons attacking the mantas. Just let me do it already.
This would have been much better with voice only, or seeing the stuff blow up if you happen to be looking at it when it does.
Recommendation: play it.
Looking at launch reviews, it seems to me that the only real problem anyone had with Lair was the controls - and given that you can now swap to analog, that problem is gone. Lair is pretty epic, with a strong soundtrack accompanying impressively large-scale battles with hundreds or thousands of units in play. Flying a dragon is a lot of fun, and even though you feel really powerful, the game also does a good job of subtly showing you that dragons aren't a win button - you'll have enough cannons shooting at you to keep the suspense up. And though the game is short, there's some replayability in the medals, challenging you to earn a better score.
Ignore Metacritic and play Lair. It's awesome and fun! Also you should be able to find it really cheap, given its age and reviews.