[Gamers' Day 2007] The Belly of the Beast

We take a look at the fleshy underside of Lair with an updated build.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: May 17, 2007
For a game that everyone seems to be freaking out about, we still don't get the hype associated with Lair. Oh, sure, it's pretty enough, particularly the newest build we peeked at during the Gamers' Day event, what with its massive, sprawling initial vista overlooking a castle in mid-siege, but we're still not sold on the controls yet.

Blame it on the fact that, despite having played plenty of games with support for it (including the awesomeness that is Warhawk), the whole SIXAXIS thing is such a focus of the game that we fear it may kill the experience for some. That said, whether we're just becoming more familiar with using the controller in 3D space or if the game has become a little more sensitive, we have to admit that it was all starting to feel a little more natural. Dragons aren't F-22 Raptors, so they require more slow, deliberate moves, and once we found the rhythm, it worked a lot more than we remembered in the past.

For whatever retarded reason, we somehow haven't yet done a proper preview of Lair, so consider this that. For the uninitiated, the idea is that you're a dragon rider, plain and simple. For the most part you won't dismount, as it's far easier to just land the dragon and let him wreck stuff on a far bigger scale. On the ground, you have a few basic moves like fire clouds and stomps, but most will probably head to the terra firma to scoop up a couple soldiers and regain some of the dragon's health before taking to the skies again. In the mission we saw at Gamers' Day, landing was semi-necessary to take out a couple of trebuchets that were attacking the castle walls, though of course there was plenty of distraction in the hundreds of soldiers all running around (sadly at this point in the pre-alpha build, they all ran around at the same time using the same animation for the most part).

Lifting off, though, is where the meat of the game is. Yes, you can dive-bomb ground targets, but your main goal with the dragon is to drop any other dragons in the sky. Since there are varying sizes and shapes to the winged beasts, some will fall with just a couple fire balls, and others require a bit more shall we say... oomph. By targeting a dragon, you can sidle up to them and then use the SIXAXIS to slam into them to kick off a bit o' combat. Though it's entirely possible (and quite fun) to use a timing-based system to just scoop riders off their dragons or jump on to impale them and their ride, the real fun comes in getting locked into a freefall brawl between dragons.

It's here that the game gets just at touch deeper. The dragons have a basic combo system, and the idea is to bite, scratch and claw the crap out of the other big ass lizard before they do it to you enough to send you falling to earth (or into that incredibly sexy water that developer Factor 5 has absolutely nailed). By getting the proper timing and buttons in, you can rack up more damage and get the fight over with faster than just idly mashing and hoping you come out on top. Interesting concept, and again, it's another layer of depth to what most thought would be about flying around and shooting fireballs at things.

Though they won't go into it, Factor 5 also apparently has quite the storyline laid out. Most of it revolves around what a general soldier sees at the start of a conflict and how that perspective shifts as they're exposed to the kinds of things that happen over the course of a war. Enemies are rarely defined as good and evil in black and white terms and it's in the greys that the storyline will start to emerge. Parallels to the conflicts in the Middle East have been insinuated, but we'll have to see how those turn out when the game hits in just a couple of months.

Given that the game is meant to be something of a technical showpiece (DID YOU HEAR, IT'S 1080P!!!!), we're not-so-secretly hoping things like framerate and general feeling of battle improve a touch, but again, all we've ever seen so far is basically pre-alpha code that hasn't gone through the touch-up phases yet. The core of the game is there, now it just needs a little coat o' polish and we could be looking at a game that really sells the whole tech package of the PS3. Or lots of people could be horribly underwhelmed. We'll find out soon enough!