E3 2000Summoner Hands-On

The PS2 version of Volition and THQ's RPG-in-development seems to be coming along quite well, despite a few minor graphical warts.

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Summoner was playable on the show floor, and needless to say, many were excited. Much has been said about the title, and expectations have been definitely high.

First off, movement within the game, whether actually covering distance or changing camera perspectives, occurs very smoothly, and the transitions seem intuitive. Occasionally, I encountered certain areas that my party could traverse, whose borders seemed arbitrary and ill defined, but this seemed the exception rather than the rule. Switching between party members is a simple affair as well, and the camera smoothly flows to the new character's spot.

I had a lot of fun with the combat system. All battles occur in real time, but one can pause the action in order to change the characters' attacks. Two buttons bring up two different menus, one for physical attacks, and another for magic. Aside from attacks, you can opt to use other physical abilities, like hiding, moving stealthily, and whatnot.

The magic is what I really found most exciting about the title. Not only do you have access to the standard arsenal of magical assaults (fireballs, icebolts, etc.), but you are also able to summon a menagerie of creatures. Imps, minotaurs, and even an animate blade are included in the hero's initial reserve of callable creatures. Real cool stuff. When summoned, the creatures behave identically to the other party members and can even be selected, if you are unsatisfied with their AI performance. Each comes packed with its own set of abilities, which are at your disposal once selected.

The demo I played lacked, for the most part, any sort of graphical polish. There was a general graininess to everything on the screen, especially during close-ups. There was also a good bit of pop-up that didn't actually pop up as much as fade. Very weird, to be sure, but the effect was the same.

Graphical funk aside, Summoner seems a solid RPG with a few killer concepts that could easily win it a place in the hearts of RPG gamers. A visually polished presentation would only help.

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