Down in Flames

In terms of the yawning chasm between what was promised and what has been delivered, Lair earns the distinction of being the biggest letdown ever for PlayStation 3. Worse, it's also one of those games where massive prerelease hype merely ended up underscoring its flaws, transmogrifying a game that would've been simply second-rate into a $60 personal affront on a disc.

What the hell happened? Waggle is what happened: motion controls shoehorned in for no good reason, making a bad game frustrating to boot.

Lair casts you as Rohn, a knight who flies dragons in a Middle Earthish version of the Air Force. And as in most fantasy settings, there's a war raging, which provides a convenient excuse to fly around exotic locales, roaring and setting things on fire.

Lair's controls, while not the game's only problem, are certainly the most glaring one. Thanks to the motion-sensitivity of the PS3's Sixaxis controller, you are required to guide your dragon by actually moving the controller -- so if you want to climb, you tilt it up; want to bank left, you tilt it left.

In theory, this could be great -- a few Nintendo Wii games have shown that motion controls can be a lot more precise and intuitive than simply pushing a joystick. But in the case of Lair, it's a disaster. Whether the Sixaxis isn't as sensitive as the Wiimote or the game's programming just isn't very good, there is an obvious and frustrating lack of precision when flying. The dragon is slow to respond to your gestures and moves sluggishly when he finally does, resulting in something that feels more like pushing a shopping cart around a hockey rink than the surreal experience of riding dragonback.

Advanced maneuvers are even sloppier -- particularly the 180-degree turns (quickly move the Sixaxis straight up) and forward dashes (plunge it forward), distinct motions that constantly result in the opposite of what you were trying to do . . . not fun when you want to turn on a dime to avoid a mountain peak, only to ram it at full speed instead.

This could all be written off as a harmless failed experiment if players had the option, as in Warhawk, to switch to normal analog stick flight. Amazingly, Lair offers no such option, and there's no excuse for this: Not only are the motion controls unnecessary; the game would be better off without them. Forcing their use borders on sadistic.

Patient gamers eventually can make do, but their dedication won't be rewarded. Even looking past the sloppy game play, Lair is a very run-of-the-mill flight simulator that borrows way too much from the Star Wars: Rogue Squadron games we've been playing for years, right down to the giant, four-legged AT-AT-like beasts you need to trip with cables. And it's far too easy to finish; the game's primary challenge is in coming to terms with the Sixaxis. Once you manage that, it's over in a few hours.

Even the visuals don't live up to expectations, from the stuttering frame rate to the mostly brown color palette, which makes targets hard to spot and "friendly fire" (ahem) a regular occurrence.

A year ago, no one would've guessed the PlayStation 3 would be limping so far behind its competitors. Now, who knows whether it will ever catch up? But if the PS3's days are indeed numbered, games like Lair will be mentioned in the obituary.

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Gary Hodges
Contact: Gary Hodges