A lot of gamers like to hold on to the image of being cold, salty bastards that never let their guards down, but let’s face it: we’ve all gotten our hopes up just a little too high for a game. The Hype Train is a tough thing to stop when it’s at full steam, and it’s not difficult to get swept up once in a while. When that train crashes just short of your expectations for one reason or another, it can be pretty disappointing.
There’s an unfortunate amount of games that fall squarely into this category, but without that misfortune there would be little to write about. With that said, let’s dig into some mediocrity.
Thinking about this game recently is what inspired this article in the first place. By all accounts, this should have been one of my all-time favorite games. I’m a pretty big metalhead AND Tim Schafer fan, so all of the pieces were there – the heavy metal setting was one badass album cover after another, the characters were at the same time over-the-top and believable, and the dialogue was nothing short of brilliant. This was written by the guy who worked on The Secret of Monkey Island and Psychonauts, after all.
The problem I had with the game was actually having to play the damn thing. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the pseudo-RTS mechanics made the game unplayable, as I soldiered through to the end just to experience the rest of the game. After the demo showcased the rather fun hack-and-slash part of the combat without alluding to the awkward Stage Battles that made up most of the game, though, I felt a little lied to.
Apparently the strength of everything else was plenty to sway most game critics, as the game averaged pretty well on Metacritic. What I took out of it was the best game I never want to play again. If you haven’t played it, I’d recommend just watching this instead:
The tale behind this game is quite the epic. Unfortunately for developer Silicon Knights and founder Denis Dyack, that more adequately describes the too-long development cycle that ended up producing a rather shoddy product.
Development started on the title in 1999 for the original PlayStation, shifted over to the Gamecube shortly after, then finally ended up being snapped up by Microsoft for release on the Xbox 360. Along the way they ended trying to use Unreal Engine 3 for the game, but ended up ditching it after the game didn’t show well at E3 2006 and putting themselves in a legal battle with Epic Games over the use of UE3.
Three different platforms over the course of the decade and an inability to use a commonly used game engine should’ve been pretty big red flags, but people snapped up the demo to see for themselves. While the story was fairly interesting, what greeted them was awkward to control and overall not a lot of fun to play. Probably the biggest annoyance of all was the unskippable death sequence that took way too long to unfold:
It’s far from the worst game out there, but the amount of time developing the title was disproportionate to the quality that resulted. This was a damn shame, as SK had done such a great job on Eternal Darkness and MGS: The Twin Snakes on the Gamecube.
Lair had a lot of people excited during the early years of the PS3’s existence. It was an easy sell during development: you fly around on a dragon decimating all of those below you and it was being developed by Factor 5, responsible for the excellent Star Wars: Rogue Squadron games on the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube. What could possibly go wrong?
Much like Brütal Legend, Lair was undone by having to play the game. The game looked and sounded amazing, but having to control your dragon with the Sixaxis motion control was a disaster. Sony was convinced that reviewers were playing the game wrong and sent them guides on how they thought they should be playing it. This is of course a fairly shitty thing to do, to be frank, as the consumer doesn’t get the benefit of a pamphlet when they go out to buy the game.
In any case, Sony ended up cracking and offering a patch to be able to play the game with a standard analog scheme, but the damage had already been done. This pretty much marked the beginning of the end of Sixaxis control in most games, with the only notable exception being Heavy Rain.
And thank goodness for that.