July 6, 2007 - Lair has come along way since that bridge. For what seemed like months on end, all there was to see of Factor 5's red-hot dragon riding game was a disparate battle between a handful of dragons and a load of soldiers scrapping it out on a bridge, with no reason as to why it was all kicking off.
Since then, Sony has pulled its cloak of secrecy back a little further, revealing story details behind the game along with a few new levels. However, with E3 looming and the game's release less than two months away, we've got our hands on the near-final code of Lair and have torn it to pieces.
But before we progress, a warning: Lair is as much about a complex, twisting storyline as it is flying dragons through moody skies so, with that in mind, expect a few spoilers if you continue reading. There's one spoiler in particular you might want to skip past if you want to come to Lair afresh, but we'll be sure to give you plenty of warning rather than blurt out all the gory details.
Still with us? Good. We've already gone into detail about the game's flying mechanics and the fact it's a game designed to show off the PS3's SIXAXIS capabilities. We've also explained how ground combat works and that you, as an Elite Sky Guard named Rohn, are fighting as part of the Asylian army against the barbaric race of barbarians known as the Mokai. Indeed, regular IGN readers will also be familiar with the variety of missions Lair has to offer, from straightforward dogfights to protecting convoy runs and also the bigger battles served up, in which your single dragon plays but a small part in a much larger skirmish.
Our recent time with the game uncovered more variety still, such as the stealth mission in which Rohn must infiltrate a Mokai outpost undetected. Under the cover of darkness the Sky Guards swoop in, flying low along the coast and toward an opening in the rocks. The mission isn't as simple as it first seems though, because the Mokai has lined the run-up to the outpost with lookout towers. Spotlights cut through the midnight sky, sweeping across the walls of the chasm in search of intruders and, unless you want to be on the receiving end of a Mokai steam cannon - a thoroughly unpleasant experience, we can tell you - you've got to silently glide between the beams of light, which are more densely packed and get more unpredictable the closer to the outpost you get.
As we've reported previously, the SIXAXIS copes easily with dogfights in open areas, but negotiating the confined chasms without being spotted is a much tougher test of the controller's precision. Thankfully it feels responsive without being twitchy and with a little practice - we're talking less than a few minutes - gliding past the spotlights becomes second nature. The task is made considerably easier by your dragon's ability to hover, enabling you to wait for the spotlight to pass before swooping under. It can dash too, so if you accidentally stray into the light - at which point the Mokai hammer your winged beast with fireballs - you can quickly escape back into the safety of the darkness.
Taking it slowly isn't the only way to tackle this mission either, so players who prefer a more gung-ho approach can get just as much satisfaction from the game. Taking out the spotlights is a possible option for example, targeting the generators which provide power by diving in and tearing them to pieces with your claws. Naturally, an air of caution must be maintained because the spotlights are numerous, but as each one is destroyed and the darkness envelopes the outpost, you're free to disable the steam cannons at will.
Although the objectives for most missions are strict - you can only progress by destroying a certain building or protecting specific allied units - how you actually complete these goals is pretty much up to you. The night run is a great example of this and one of the game's most pivotal missions - in which you're ordered to attack the Mokai armoury - is further evidence too. Much like the run-up to the outpost, the path to the armoury is a treacherous one and the Sky Guard is forced to fly through a narrow canyon with sharp, jagged rock faces towering up on the either side. As you near the base, the Mokai defences grow stronger, with steam cannons spitting lethal jets of boiling death. You could attempt to dash past, although there's little room to manoeuvre so the slightest mistake and your dragon will crash into the chasm wall. A better option is to take the cannons out, by knocking out the long power cables - which stretch across the canyons like giant electrified backbones - with a few well-placed fireballs. This temporarily stuns the Mokai defences, giving you a few precious seconds to target the steam cannons, by flying in close and grabbing the turrets in the dragon's claws, then shaking the SIXAXIS to tear the building apart.
Like the power generator attack in the night mission, it's a neat application of the SIXAXIS controls and adds a visceral edge to the gameplay, plus it helps to bring the players closer to the action. Indeed, Sony is so adamant that Lair is an "advert" for the SIXAXIS controller - the words of SCEE producer Dan Maher - that there's no option to fly the dragon using the analogue sticks. "We've done a lot of focus testing to get the SIXAXIS controls just right", explains Maher. "Initially we were aiming to perfect one type of controls, but quickly realised people play in different ways and therefore introduced sliding sensitivity." As a result, Lair is surprisingly easy to pick up and play, and piloting your dragon in the heat of a battle - with swarms of enemies bombarding you from every angle - becomes simple with practice. They're responsive too, and moves such as the quick 180-degree turn, executed by jolting the pad up, means that dogfighting soon becomes second nature.