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Factor 5 takes on dragons and the SixAxis with its forthcoming PS3 release...
Between Stefen Fangmeier's Eragon and Courtney Soloman's Dungeons & Dragons, the once majestic fire-breathing, reptilian beasts haven't enjoyed the warmest reception in recent times. Hoping to reverse this slide, Factor 5's debut PS3 title has been attracting attention since it made an appearance back in 2005.
More than just a desperately needed PS3 exclusive, Lair carries the weight of the SixAxis credibility on its scaly shoulders. To-date, it seems the much-maligned SixAxis still has a long way to go before convincing gamers (and developers) that its motion-sensitive capabilities were little more than a desperate last-ditch attempt to masquerade the legal wrangles rumbling with Immersion. Ranging from the stupidly absurd to the downright diabolical, developers have generally had a tough time coming up with ideas to put the unwieldy design of the pad to good use.
Amidst such poorly conceived gimmicks, one game stands out as a possible hope for the pad's future. Factor 5' Lair has almost become a talisman for the SixAxis, a game re-designed around the concept, which requires the sole use of the SixAxis to take control of a dragon flying through the skies of what's shaping up to be a relatively routine fantasy action romp.
Taking players into a land soaked with clichÃ©d fantasy elements, the central plotline appears to borrow elements from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings to Lucas' Star Wars. Assuming the role of a Jedi-esque Knight named Rohn, the recent eruption of volcanoes has split the once peaceful land, it's inhabitants dividing into the Mokai that live in the barren lands of the North, and the noble Asylians who live in the last remaining bountiful, luscious grasslands to the south.
Taking flight to the skies, Lair's single-player campaign chronicles the conflict between the two different factions, typically involving all-out attacks, escort missions and dynamic battlefields that reflect the changing tides of the war and your actions upon it. Encounters with slightly grander beasts serve as the game's array of boss adversaries, peppering the missions and providing a little more variety to the standard human and dragon slaying action. Achieving Gold, Silver and Bronze awards at the end of each stage, further progress throughout the game rewards players with additional attacking techniques and extra dragons to ride.
Using the SixAxis to guide the dragon in flight initially seems awkward and unresponsive. Tilting the SixAxis left, right, up and down to control the flight of the dragon feels a little light and sorely misses some rumble feedback to provide a sense of weight to the proceedings. More often then not, you'll find yourself flipping the SixAxis repeatedly to try something as simple as a reverse turn, which doesn't suggest that Lair will offer the watertight motion-control game to silence the doubters when it's released across Europe next month.
One aspect that Factor 5 appears to have nailed at this late stage is the game's auto-targeting option, which comes as a welcome relief given the issues that the general control setup throws up. Providing a constant view of the target whilst at the same time maintaining a sense of control over your own dragon without clattering in the towers, trees and ramparts, this feature goes along way to improving the frustrations but we doubt it will overcome the general lack of response that plagues the overall feeling of flight in the game.
Beyond the archetypal burst of flames, Rohn and his trusty winged steed have a number of additional techniques at their disposal. Homing in on an opponent with a lock-on, the face buttons unleash a wide range of attacks, ranging from one-on-one fighting ala Streetfighter to God of War II styled quick button mini-games and a rather peculiar 'bashing' conquest between the dragons in the skies. The execution of these concepts feel a little loose at this stage (like the controls), a collection of ideas that haven't gelled together as well as they possibly could have and we're hoping that the final code will tighten up the overall execution to make combat a little more entertaining then what's currently on display. One of the few entertaining aspects to be had from Lair comes from swooping low and clutching hold of enemy characters in the dragon's talons before launching them towards the horizon. It's undoubtedly a small touch and unlikely to change Lair's path to mediocrity, but it's one of the rare moments when flying a dragon in Lair feels and looks pretty impressive.
Despite a list of technical buzzwords to boast about the game's graphical prowess, Lair has left us thoroughly underwhelmed with a chaotic mixture to disguise many of its misgivings. HDR lighting, real-time dynamic/fluid physics, parallax shaders and volumetric effects are all evident in Lair, however closer inspection reveals some dubious texture's (particularly land and sea) and a generally unconvincing style. Unfortunately, Lair is a victim of the Sony CG policy that has affected the likes of MotorStorm, WarHawk and forthcoming titles such as The Getaway, KillZone. Whilst the luscious CG scenes closely resemble what Sony was originally demonstrating, the final look of the game is unlikely to match the visual splendour that was on display at the game's GDC '06 debut.
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