TGS 06: Lair Hands-On

Surly dragons tear through Factor 5's upcoming PlayStation 3 game in Japan.

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TOKYO--It has been almost a year since we got our first look at Lair, the upcoming original game from Factor 5 for the PlayStation 3. The game first appeared in trailer form at last year's Tokyo Game Show. In a nice bit of synchronicity, it was in playable form at this year's show, and the demo let us experience the virtues of flying around on a dragon, shooting stuff, and jacking fools.

The playable demo at the show was broken up into two chunks: a tutorial and a proper bit of action that sent you off to burn foes up during a pitched battle between two armies on a massive bridge. The tutorial was a brief run through the finer aspects of dragon handling. You'll steer your dragon with the PlayStation 3's motion-sensing feature. You'll move left and right by moving the controller in the either direction. You'll adjust your height by moving the controller up or down. A quick downward motion lets you dash for a short time, which comes in handy when taking on foes.

The game features a combat lock that, once initiated, lets you stick with a set target and opens up a new aspect of combat. When you initially lock on to enemies at range, you'll be able to shoot fireballs at them. However, if you dash into them once you're locked on, you'll initiate an interesting multipart airborne melee system. The first part of it finds you flying next to your foes and able to ram into them by jerking the controller right or left courtesy of the tilt sensor.

The next part of the battle changes your perspective and brings the view in up-close and personal for you and your foe. You're literally locked claw-to-claw in a rough-and-tumble spiral for a short time where you'll be able to perform combos by hitting the controller's face buttons. This way, you can have your dragon claw and maul your enemy in fun and exciting ways. The final part of combat finds you wrapping up your fight to the death with a little God of War-style minigame action as you perform a finishing move to deal the killing blow to your enemy. The moves are multipart actions that require you to follow an onscreen cue--a reddish haze that creeps up around the edges of the screen--and either hit the controller's face buttons or simply jerk the controller quickly in any direction. The payoff is a slow-mo series of brutal moves that varied as we played.

Now while Lair is obviously about flying around and murdering foes, Factor 5 is throwing in some ground combat as well. The system isn't quite as elaborate as the air battling in the demo, but it's certainly satisfying and, oddly enough, reminded us a bit of Joust. Basically, you can land anytime you're near solid ground by pressing the triangle button. Besides the obvious benefit of riding atop a massive armored dragon as you wade into a battlefield, you'll be able to barbecue anyone around you. The combination of trampling and flambé action makes for a satisfying experience that's actually useful. A morale meter onscreen reflects how friendly forces are feeling about the battle. If it starts to dip, you can help cheer them up by murdering mobs of foes.

All told, the combat system in Lair is pretty fun once you get used to the game's control. The tilt sensor took some getting used to, as did the perspective changes during aerial combat, but it didn't take too long to get comfortable with the setup. The multipart finishers are cool and should be a favorite part of combat provided they don't drag out too long.

The visuals in the game are shaping up well and stay true to the teaser trailer we saw last year at the show. The dragon we rode sported a high level of detail and had a gritty look to it. The design was equal parts bat and dinosaur--different from the traditional look for dragons that we've seen in most fantasy games. The animation varied in quality, but there were still some nice touches when the dragon was in flight and during parts of combat. The two environments we saw had a weathered, "just had a war" look with a medieval slant. The tutorial area was just an open area set above a mountain range with floating rings. The combat area featured a massive bridge between two mountainous areas that ran over a large body of water that seemed to spill out into an ocean. The sky above was populated with an assortment of airborne foes riding dragons, much like yours, and the bridge itself was packed with two warring armies.

The visual effects included light bloom, assorted filters, and buckets of particle effects, which gave the action a flashy look. The frame rate was, for the most part, smooth and solid, with an occasional inconsistency. The camera worked to varying degrees, but it took some getting used to because of the tilt functionality when turning and the perspective changes during battle. The audio was a little tough to make out amid the din of the show floor, but what we were able to hear had a suitably eerie sound to it. The voice acting was sharp and suitably dramatic, and the TGS demo featured a language option for toggling Japanese and English.

Based on this early look, Lair could be a very cool game. The gameplay is an interesting mix of familiar mechanics and some new elements that use the PS3 controller. Though what we played was understandably rough in a few places, especially considering the game is not due out until next year, there's some nice potential here. We're curious to hear more about the game's story and how big the adventure is going to be. Lair is currently slated to ship in spring of 2007. Look for more on the game in the coming months.

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