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     " Unfortunately thereís no 'Keep your ass in line and follow me, quietly for once ya damn morons' setting. "

      Title: Summoner by THQ

      Format: RPG for the Playstation 2

      Reviewing Monkey: Chimpan-A

      The Hype: One of the launch titles for the PS2 we all heard quite a great deal about this game. Play as a child of fate, as you summon allies to battle at your side. Now, letís see how much fun they managed to summon.

      What This Monkey Thought...

      Graphics: Wow, I have rarely seen such a mixed bag of graphical variety. While some things manage to awe, others will leave you shaking your head in disgust. The setting for Summoner places you in a medieval world, where all the people look like theyíve been taking baths in acid. All the character models have a very unhealthy pallor to them. Now this is probably what the designers were going for, but it still managed to disturb me. I wanted to give up my quest so I could go see a doctor. Everything is done 3D polygonal, and moves smoothly enough (although Iíve rarely seen more grown men run like 4-year-old girls). Kudos to them for giving us reflective equipment selection, if you feel like wearing that Pink Angora +1, by all means, and it will actually show up on your characterís skin! There are clipping errors about, but theyíre minor enough to be ignored for the most part (believe me, when faced with some of the other bugs in this game, a little clipping error is a god send). My biggest complaint about the graphics is the fake horizon line. Apparently it was decided to place the line at which the actual landscape is replaced with a backdrop five feet past your character! Okay, maybe itís a little further out, but when looking at some of the beautiful vistas this game has itís very frustrating to see it crap out at such a short range. 3 out of 5

      Sound: The sound for Summoner is great when you can hear itÖVery rare are the times when you will actually here all of the sounds that are supposed to be playing at the time. Generally, one sound or another will have taken precedence and all the others are left by the wayside. This is highly annoying. When you can hear them though, all of the sounds are great. Combat sounds are very well handled, with appropriate cling, clang, and crunch of weapons use. The music is generally good, although a few songs will get on your nerves. It just doesnít matter how good your sound is, though, if itís not playing when itís supposed to be. 2.5 out of 5

      Game Play: This is a pretty fun game. You romp about as the "Summoner" Joseph, collecting rings from which to summon playmates for your weekly strip poker game, and to save the world and stuff. Unfortunately, what could have been an awesome game to play gets dragged down to mediocre by the crop of bugs and bad choices. Oh where to begin. Youíre given two angles to choose from, a high one, in which you can try to look down womenís blouses, and not much else, and a low one in which you can actually see around you. Not a bad system, if it werenít for the fact that most of the dungeons and towns youíll visit lock you into the high view. This makes actually seeing whatís around you a major pain in the ass. The AI for this game is sub-par as well. Enemies will usually let you walk right up to spitting distance before they react to you. There are even a few spells you can cast that will not even garner a reaction. Leaving the unwitting foe to stand there dying while you laugh from ten feet away. Party AI is a little better, but not by much. The game gives you settings to apply to your characters to govern their actions. For the most part these work pretty well. Unfortunately thereís no "Keep your ass in line and follow me, quietly for once ya damn morons" setting. Thus, characters you donít control will often go charging headlong into the enemy with nary a thought for danger. This is most dangerous when you have one of Josephís more powerful pets summoned, as whenever he dies, his summon goes AWOL, and you get to take him down. Even the healer setting can be just as annoying, as your people will stop what theyíre doing (such trying to kill a powerful enemy) to heal the most asinine status ailments. Combat is helped out by the addition of "Chain" combos. These generally work out pretty well, although the system is a little esoteric. Depending on your particular reflexes, youíll either find it aggravating as all hell, or a useful (if sometimes aggravating) addition. In an interesting choice, you can control your character movement only with the analog stick, but can only do chains with the d-pad. That means a lot of switching back and forth. Weird little bugs will crop up all over the place. The game managed to freeze up on me a couple of times. If you havenít saved for a while, this can be crushing. Other bugs, like not being able to talk to some people (the screen flashes their dialog box), or sometimes randomly running away from a person youíre trying to talk to, come up a lot. For all of it though, once you get into a groove, the game is enjoyable and it probably wonít take much thought to get you to keep playing. 2.5 out of 5

      Level and Environment Designs: Here is the other half of the mixed bag I mentioned earlier. The environments for this game can be utterly gorgeous. The cities in particular are incredibly well done, with a great feel to the buildings and some truly awesome architecture. Every once and a while thereís a stumble, like a molten lava waterfall that doesnít move. Levels are well designed, with an easy feel to them, only one place that qualifies for the requisite maze, and even thatís not too bad. The game provides you with an automap, but in another odd choice, they donít allow you to zoom the map. This means that on some of the very large maps, youíre going to end up having to get very close to the TV, and squint to discern what youíre looking for. Still, itís all good looking and appropriate, a real pleasure to look at (it almost makes it okay that thereís no way to make your characters move faster, almost). 4 out of 5

      Multiplayer: Nope, nada, nix, nill, null. I donít even know what youíd do with it here.

      Replayability: Hereís the thing about quests. Youíre going to find that a lot of them require you to go out of your way. Not so much that you have to go to a completely different place, but that you have to go to the place youíre heading for, then leave that place to return and complete a quest, then return to complete the area. Sometimes the quest item is found near the end of the level. The monsters of course all respawn when you leave the area and return to it. The point of this is that there will be a lot of quests gone unfinished. You may feel like giving it another go just to find what happens there. There are two different endings, but it depends on a choice made at the end, and isnít worth a full replay. All things considered once youíve beaten this, it will mostly likely collect dust from there on out. 2.5 out of 5

      Story/Dramatics: The story for Summoner is pretty good, following Joseph as he endeavors to meet his destiny. It is pretty linear though, with only a couple of twists. A brief section in the middle where Joseph loses his powers can be highly discouraging, but the game plays pretty well. The cut scenes are generally just dramatic camera angels showing your enemies. The story scenes are fairly well acted though, with good performances turned in by the voice talent. I have to say, the ending definitely left me wanting more. 3.5 out of 5

      Instructions and Learning Curve: The instructions are actually quite a useful backup. Should you forget anything learned in the in-game tutorials. They even include world history for those interested. There is one glaring error in them, concerning how summoning works, but the practice of the skill will overshadow any errors in the manual. Learning curve isnít too bad. Combat can take a little while to work through, as you get used to the chain system. Otherwise itís all pretty simple to understand. 4.5 out of 5

      Installation and Real System Requirements: This game has one feature that needs to be seen in more console games, you can save anywhere (with the exception of combat). No more wandering around for five hours looking for a save point, no, now you are master of your own saves! This probably has a lot to do with the PC port thatís planned, but I say "hurrah" to those who realize some players like to be able to save when we want to, not when we find a glowing orb of saving doom. Unfortunately, the good done by that is practically canceled out by the horrendous load times. Whatís worse, as the game progresses the load times get longer! A real pain if you just wanted to drop into town real quick for something. 3 out of 5

      The Verdict:

       If youíre the type of person who can overlook some glitches and just have fun with a game, than run with it man. Otherwise, you may want to pass this one up and wait for bigger and better things. To their credit, the creatures that make the game "Summoner" are a lot of fun, and are all at least interesting. Unfortunately the gameís myriad bugs will drag it down, and grant a fairly mediocre experience.

      The Good: Awesome environments, cool beasties to summon for your destructive pleasures

      The Bad: A major crop of bugs on this plantation.

      The Overall Ugly: Not a really bad game. Just be prepared to be annoyed every once in a while, and you should take it just fine.

      What it's Worth: $30

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