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Lair (PlayStation 3) artwork

Lair (PlayStation 3) review

"The game from this point on expertly goads you into taking on the role of the righteous Asylian dragon knight Rohn in his quest to stamp out the barbarian Mokai hordes. Even to the point where our hero proclaims fateful phrases such as “God was with us today!”, while making the skies “Rain with Mokai blood”. You burn them out of the sky, torch the screaming soldiers with dragon fire. (...)"

WARNING: May contain political Irony and Commentary

In a meeting I attended a while back together with the local Marxist cadre, I was accused of committing “political suicide”. Which, I was told, was a bad thing. The question at the time was: “How long will it take before the American capitalist machine will meet it's inevitable collapse, and why will it happen before next year?”. The response I provided was that perhaps the right question to ask would be slightly more complicated than our approach to the issue would suggest at first blush. And that therefore the answer also would be slightly more nuanced. The snicker in the back was not a response to my sarcasm, but instead simply expressing how hilarious such a notion would be. Clearly the revolution would come this year.

In my opinion, Factor 5 (the developer of Lair, as well as famous and technically impressive titles such as Rogue Squadron for N64, and Rogue Leader on Gamecube) faced a similar initial block towards their audience with the release of Lair. There were two major hurdles involved. First, the game was to sell what was at this point imaginary science fiction technology such as 1080p gaming on consoles, as well as the much maligned Playstation sixaxis motion controls.

Second, the exposition in the game paints an allegory of both “the politics of Fear” as well as include a spin on global warming as well as the food crisis - during the very first level - in such an unsubtle manner that even the most politically unaware individual would be able to grasp what Factor 5 is pointing at (with a huge stabbing finger).

The game from this point on expertly goads you into taking on the role of the righteous Asylian dragon knight Rohn in his quest to stamp out the barbarian Mokai hordes. Even to the point where our hero proclaims fateful phrases such as “God was with us today!”, while making the skies “Rain with Mokai blood”. You burn them out of the sky, torch the screaming soldiers with dragon fire. And then land your dragon in the middle of a terrified group of minions, stamping them to bits in slow motion. Until your “slaughter” meter rises to a full burn, and you can unleash a red fury of neck-bites, aerial wrestles and breath-taking dragon rider take-downs. It's marvelously vicious and graphic, and it lures you to accompany Rohn's righteous Victory roars with a wide grin.

Of course, soon things turn towards doubts and difficult questions. A crisis of faith, if you will. That challenges your fundamental beliefs, and stagger your resolve. As things are wont to do in the second act. The Mokai, as our solemn story-teller insists, were once the same people as the Asylians. They both even worshipped the same god. And why do the Mokai target food-supplies and grain storage, rather than military targets anyway? Why are they attacking so desperately now that the winter comes? Perhaps there is room for negotiation and a peace-treaty after all?

Presently the peace treaty, the final humbling act of the ageing Mokai leader, is sabotaged from within Asylia. And finally, to maintain the illusion of the Mokai threat, Rohn is forced to burn unarmed and starving civilians under strict (and clearly unlawful) military order.

But for Asylia? Or for “The Diviner” (as the Asylian supreme religious leader is hilariously called) to maintain his political control over the Asylian nation? To continue the crusade against Asylia's enemies? Yes.. oh, dear me, dear me. I believe I can probably imagine a more unwise political issue to present in 2007 - but not right now.

Still, if we imagine for a moment that it is simply a tale about a war between two opposing peoples, and the journey involved for an unlikely saviour to unite the two - we are on safe ground again, so let's just do that.

Further inane complication

In fact, it would be a terrible disservice to the game to get hung up on which god is the most just, and to bicker and argue about who burned who. Because aside from the long and drawn-out monologues from our very solemn story-teller, the game takes you through a series of carefully directed and neatly varied scenarios - very similarly to the way Rogue Squadron plays (even down to using a low-tech variant of the Star Wars tow-cables on the legs of a large creature in one level - a homage to one of the more memorable moments in Rogue Squadron). There is repetition, obviously, but the scenery progresses, and culminates in various large creature battles at very different fortress locations. Ground fighting tends to be an interesting extra that puts a face on the tiny ants you typically burn from the safety of the skies. There's also a stealth-mission, which I thought was very exciting. And the game mixes things up like this to avoid becoming stale. In addition you can now control your wings more freely compared to Rogue Squadron, and choose your approach to the targets at will for the most part.

And this was of course the other problem. The game is difficult to play, allegedly - to the point where “the professionals” can't do it, according to one prominent reviewer.

What was the problem with the controls? Beats me. Essentially, what Factor 5 has you do in this game is imagine that you are holding the dragon's reins. If you pull the controller on the left, the dragon will turn towards the left. If you pull on the right (“come, so, good dragon”), the dragon will head to the right. If you snap the reins, the dragon surges forward. If you pull hard, it stalls. Stab the dragon with the heels.. I mean, R2 and L2, and it hovers in mid flight. Lean further back and it does a 180 turn. Like riding a horse.. that can fly.. and doesn't shake you off or grow tired. Simple. On top of this the targeting system is seamless and automatic, letting you do very simple things to easily control very visually impressive and smooth dragon-fighting.

Unfortunately, said reviewers have a tendency to simply cite their twitter-feed in place of explaining their opinion, so the controls really wasn't something they were interested in arguing on the behalf of. And of course the story doesn't end there - afterwards Sony moronically responded (and mind you, this is some time after the launch of the game) with a relatively large and elaborately printed booklet explaining the simplistic controls in truly embarrassing detail. This was accompanied by a hurried patch that enabled analogue stick control. This patch also removed the interesting snap and 180 turn moves from the sixaxis controls altogether - literally because three people on the forums complained they triggered the function by accident. Sony obviously doing nothing here to /stop/ the idea that their much hyped, if not anticipated, ps3 launch-title had a completely impossible to use control scheme when it hit retail.

But what did they expect? That the reviewers would go and change their scores later, admitting they had been extremely foolish? Or even take the booklet as a soft, but expensive, insult to how hilarious their complaints were? Or that the fans would be happy, rather than suck at the attention like leeches on a wounded dragon? Unlikely.

About the actual game

Regardless of expectations, then: In truth, the game is an easily played arcade shooter with extremely nifty hd graphics and full Hollywood sound production. It follows the story of one Asylian dragon knight Rohn as he comes to eventually take up arms against his former country and masters - and the personal transformation and events he goes through before that happens. It's a well written (if eerily familiar) drama. With familiar pseudo John Williams music accompanying your glorious deeds and dragon flybys. It was also one of the few PS3 titles that received the full 7.1 surround production treatment, which suits the remarkably stellar foley (leather jackets and chains ahoy) and environmentally aware voice-acting very well. Together with the smoothly flowing visuals, and the absolutely unserious action fun, Factor 5 came as close to recreating a popcorn action movie-experience in this game as they ever did.

In 2011 - now several years after Factor 5's studio was dissolved (without paying it's employees for the last couple of months it existed, following the abysmal reception of Lair). After all of that, you can safely pick up this title - from the very bottom of the bargain bin, most likely - if you would like to play an easy, but engaging, and absolutely beautiful action-game.

(Also feel free to read my semi-technical walkthrough of Lair's technical solutions on my blog elsewhere on this site.)


fleinn's avatar
Community review by fleinn (July 19, 2011)

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