The PS3, a beast of a machine, is upon us yet, due to the somewhat lacklustre showing of software, we're still waiting to see that killer game to show what the console is really capable of. But after playing Lair, we're beginning to get some idea.
Lair is special for two main reasons: it throws insane levels of detail onto our 42" HD screen running in a gorgeous 1080p, and it's one of few games that seems utterly determined to use the tilt-sensing functionality of the SIXAXIS controller in some interesting ways.
Seated on your flying dragon, you simply tilt the controller to steer him left and right and raise or drop altitude. At first you might experience a little rubbish-girl-playing-games syndrome, zigzagging in the air as you fight with the pad's sensitivity and the disembodied feeling of moving an object in free space. But it takes all of about five minutes for your brain to calibrate and get used to it.
Once you've got through all the training mission hoops, the game starts throwing dragons in your direction. You lock onto nearby dragons by holding L1, then you can either shoot fireballs at them by tapping square (a weak attack) or charge in for melee combat by hitting circle or shoving the controller harshly forwards to make you dragon rush the enemy.
At this point you're locked into position next to the other dragon ready for combat. Now, interestingly, you flick the controller towards the opposing lizard to attack. After three or four strikes you then enter a Killing Move οβ" a pre-scripted death scene in which you tap any face button each time the screen flashes red to initiate your character's assault. He'll cinematically leap onto the opposing dragon and boot the rider in the chops, sending him falling into the sea below, or something of that level of brutality.
You can also battle on the ground, too. In the level we played, two massive armies each consisting of hundreds of soldiers faced off on a gigantic, flame-lit stone bridge as we fought dragons above. At some point, the opposing army call out some huge four-legged beasts that start making meals of your troops, and you are called for help.
You fly near the bridge and pull both L2 and R2 to stop in the air, then hit Triangle to land. Then you can stomp around, still using the tilt-sensors to direct your dragon, using your flame breath to fry opposing troops and those beast thingys, before taking off to kick more dragon ass. It makes you feel free and mobile, but unfortunately it never feels challenging.
Both the air and ground combat are too easy to handle, although the version we played was early and we're hopeful the fighting system will receive added layers of depth. But despite how early the game is, it certainly already looks incredible. It ran in a pin-sharp 1080p.
The water looks so real we had to take breaks from battle now and then to swoop down and admire it. The bridge, which was illuminated in the pitch-black night by flickering flames, was breathtakingly huge and so extremely detailed, as were the hundreds of soldiers all battling on it. Each man held a shield with high-res texture patterns adorning its face, and lit beautifully by the flames around him. More of this please, PS3.
We look forward to seeing what Factor 5 makes of Lair. It's already good fun to play, and looks totally next-gen in this early demo. If the battle system is given more meat, and the missions stay feeling fresh and varied all the way through, we could be looking at one corker of a game.
Lair is yet to receive a release date, but a mid-2007 period is our best guess, and we're looking forward to seeing a more advanced version of the game soon after Christmas. You should too.