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Retrospective: Daemon Summoner

Sometimes the dead should stay dead.

I thought it would be a good idea.

After writing a couple of retrospectives of some entertainingly awful games (Driver 3, Soldner), when a developer approached me saying he'd worked on Driver 3, but suggested I try out another game he'd been involved with that was even worse, how could I resist? Someone telling me that a 2006 PS2 game so obscure it hasn't even troubled Wikipedia, let alone Metacritic, is so bad that it deserves attention. I went straight to eBay and found myself a copy.

Games like Daemon Summoner can slip through the cracks. They can go forgotten by the mainstream media, and by gaming at large, and that's a tragedy. Because when a game is as bad as Daemon Summoner, not being aware of what it's up to can only be dangerous. It would be like discovering a portal to hell, and thinking, "Meh, best left ignored." No, that's how the end of the world begins, and I'm not about to let that happen.

So with high expectations for low expectations I sat before the PS2, creaking controller in hand, and settled back to enjoy the misery.

But, see, the thing is, there's so bad a game can be that this isn't even possible. Because sometimes a game is so bad that contemplating getting past the second level is beyond even my steely will.

Things begin in some mad amalgamation of late 19th century London. Long, stretching streets of identical buildings disappear to vanishing points, criss-crossing in perpendicular grids, decorated only with the odd cart or crate. And through it you must pursue Emily, a vampire who has been killing prostitutes and letting Jack The Ripper take the blame.

Let's have an aside on old JTR for a moment, shall we? We are a strange bunch, with our tolerance for the most grotesque content in our fiction so long as a lot of time has passed. For instance, I don't imagine we'd be all too keen on a game loosely taking the events of the Yorkshire murders of the late '70s, claiming vampires were responsible for Sutcliffe's crimes. But because these prostitutes died 120 years ago, outside living memory, they're fair game. It's a weird flippancy, and it's not like Daemon Summoner is especially worse in the broad crowd.

Surely fangs set that far back are no use at all?

Any how, this vampire, Emily, is letting the fictional Jack T. Ripper take the flak for her bloody-sucking ways, and apparently you're someone trying to stop her. Why? Uh, I don't know.

It's perhaps not quite far to say that Daemon Summoner doesn't explain its own plot properly. Because it's almost impossible to hear any of it under the sound of the four seconds of looping rain/background noise. But I think I'm fairly sure that there's no moment that explains who or why or what anything is about. And not being able to get past the second level, I don't know if there's anything about summoning daemons at any point.

The opening level's London streets eventually give way to some sewers, in which you meet the first enemies. Skellingtons. These buggers are so determined to gnaw you to bits that they'll even continue biting you after you've exploded their heads! Their heads are especially prone to exploding, bursting bloodily when you shoot an arrow at their chests.

In case shooting at these beasties was any fun, you're given a crossbow that takes about five seconds to reload. This means you have to run backward down the near-infinite sewer corridors, which as you'll probably have guessed, makes you invincible. Get caught on an invisible wall of course and you could be in trouble, as an absent head starts angrily biting you.

The sewers make the streets above look positively picturesque. These are massively long grey tunnels, again criss-crossing each other at such enormous length, and with no clear clue about which direction to head in, that it feels like an attempt to build the world's dullest maze. Award them a blue plaque, because they achieved it. Escape this tedium and it's back up to the London roads and more aimless nonsense. Two vampires to fight, who again can't hurt you if you run backward, and then if you're lucky enough to follow her quickly enough, and don't have to wander around the enormous identical streets for ten minutes first, a fight with Emily!

A fight that sees her fall the ground, having been filled with crossbow bolts, and then in a cutscene stand up, gently poke you so you fall uselessly to the ground, and then scarper. Level finished!

Level 2 changes things up. A pistol is mysteriously added to your arsenal, and then you're told if you use it it's game over.

It means game over.

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John Walker


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