Let Sleeping Dragons Lie

Rogue Squadron + dragons! What could go wrong? Apparently, everything.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: September 4, 2007
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I question whether or not there was a discussion either in the ranks of developer Factor 5 or at least at Sony Computer Entertainment America as to include a video on the very game most will be cursing because of its horrendous controls that openly says the first time the motion controls were demoed for the development team that everybody hated and flat-out called it crap.

Right there, that should have been the defining moment that said "well, let's at least give the players a choice rather than forcing them down this path." Instead, they started adding more motion controls to the game, eventually ham-fisting the entirety of the controls experience into the SIXAXIS and the result is as much the fault of the developers as it is the fact that the SIXAXIS just isn't responsive enough to properly handle controlling a beast -- and at times some inputs have the complete opposite effect that they're intended for.

That someone could be so bone-headed -- either someone at Sony for forcing Factor 5 to make the controls mandatory or Factor 5 themselves insisting they had the right idea -- that they would require something that wasn't immediately responsive and, let's just call it fun, doesn't really matter, because Lair at its heart is a game that was apparently made to sell a couple of key bullet points for the system; it runs at 1080p! It has motion controls! The problem, of course, is that neither of those points are properly addressed; the game runs like shit, even at standard-def resolutions and the motion controls... well I'll get to those in a moment.

The biggest problem with Lair is simply that the game is a cobbled-together mixture of half-baked ideas and a pervasive feeling of just not being done. Why is it that when I press the Start Button to pause the game, everything freezes and it takes upwards of five seconds to fade to the actual pause screen? Why does it take just as long if not longer to fade from the level select screen or the end-of-mission screen? Why do enemies explode in a cheap-looking ball of 32-bit-era flames and then obviously wink out of existence? Why does my character's death animation amount to his body going rigid and tumbling to the ground in unspectacular fashion?

Again, though, these are minor issues when compared to the game's biggest problem, and surprisingly it's not the controls (though they're a close second). It's the fact that for the entirety of my time spent with the game, I didn't know what the fuck was going on. Missions would end in success or failure seemingly at random, and the game plays like a series of never-ending escort missions, arguably the worst gameplay mechanic in video games.

There's no time to admire the admittedly amazing looking water or just lazily dogfight with other dragons -- even if it's part of your mission because you have to, through trial and error, determine which of the two or three objectives that are being screamed at you constantly are the actual way to get through a level, and there's nothing worse than finally wrangling the dragon controls and having a couple of quality passes through the game, only to have it throw to a cutscene with some exploding boats to end the mission abruptly.

This is Lair's cardinal sin, that the absolutely worthless little arrow that supposed to be pointing you to your destination and the in-game help do absolutely zero to properly indicate what you should be doing in some of the missions. In the beginning of the game, it's okay because you can usually mess around for a while and figure stuff out, but the final missions in the game are controller-throwingly frustrating out of the sheer fact that you often don't know why you failed.

But let's talk about those controls for a moment. The biggest problem with controlling a dragon is that, apparently even for tamed beasts, they don't really move like you need them to in a game that centers around dogfighting and strafing targets. Their turn radius is wide and sloppy, and the game's horrid lock-on system (which grabs the wrong target during crucial moments more than the Grand Theft Auto games), not to mention a camera that completely flips out at times, means you're constantly jockeying with the game to try to accomplish even the most basic attacks (most of which are of the "blow this thing up" variety.

For as clumsy as the steeds are in the air, they're worse on the ground, where the clumsy, plodding movements not only give no real sense of devastation, but they put the camera right up next to the low-poly, stiffly (or sometimes not at all) animated troops that all move in unison in little packs, essentially highlighting all the corners cut to give the game the scale it has. The ground-based element's rough, unpolished nature carries through to when you swoop down to pick up objects. This can only be done by holding the lock-on button, and often times you'll go to attack one thing and end up grabbing another (say a troop). The interface for then flinging whatever's in the dragon's talons, be it bomb or beast, is also rather clunky.
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