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PlayStation 2
3DO Company, The
3DO Company, The
GENRE: Adventure
June 18, 2002
 Written by Chris Reiter  on August 05, 2002

Full Review: Shifters? Aren't they mispronouncing that?

Everyone knows 3DO for its onslaught of Army Men games released year after year, but there's more to the company than that. To prove it, 3DO has recently been breaking away from their plastic figure mold into a new sight of sorts with releases like Warriors of Might and Magic, GoDai: Elemental Force, and of course their latest creation, Shifters. Faced in a new direction of gameplay and design, Shifters strays the course of anything to do with green soldier combat in a magical realm that strives to be completely original of its own birthright.

Within a world unlike our own, there lie the sides of good and evil battling one another for their own purposes. Shifter's story begins when a castle is under attack by a foe of the kingdom. In his possession, he carries an ancient artifact, that when used, can open the doors to another dimension. It is with this instance that you are called upon. You are an old friend of the kingdom. Not only are you a skilled warrior in battle, but also you have the ability to transform from a human being into a creature of many kinds. The legion of warriors that helped bring the kingdom to its knees once stood as people, but have now been transformed by the mysterious enemy of the castle to become what you can become: massive transformations ready to take you down. Save the kingdom, become the hero, and fight to stop the purveyor of evil from unleashing the power of the artifact at all costs. This is your task.

Shifters is your typical hack and slash adventure game, for the most part anyway. What separates this title from any other is its "shifting" component. You will face off against animal abnormalities, and in doing so -- you yourself can become one of these abnormalities. By slicing and dicing enemies everywhere you turn, and by searching for scrolls hidden within each level, you'll gain experience points, as well as status points that add up to a meter of mind, body, and spirit selections. Once you gain enough points, you have the option of turning yourself into a Grunt -- the lowest form of "super creature." As you work your way up through the game, you'll later be able to merge into more powerful beings, such as a Shaman (a magic user).

But to get to the top, you have to work your way up from the bottom. Swords and sorcery combined, this game is half magic and half weaponry tactics. Along in your quest you'll discover many items placed around each level, such as life potions; used to restore your health, mana potions; used to restore your magic, and even various tools of destruction, from sharp blades, heavy axes, or pounding hammers. Controlling the character with any of the chosen objects isn't any different apart from the rest. However, there's a whole lot you can do on the front besides using the primitive method. You have your basic attack and block function. Then you have a jump command for leaping across gaps, the ability to sneak by slowly to avoid enemy detection, and a magic system. Whether you're using a special function such as lighting up a dimmed room, casting haste to move around faster, or use a magic attack to stand your distance without enduring harm, the magic comes in handy, and doesn't let you only limited to one type of attack.

Unfortunately, Shifters is plagued entirely by its persistent use of loose camera movement. You have the option of rotating the camera to any direction you want and even locking it at its default position behind the back, but still, it never ceases to turn in a completely opposite direction of where you want it to head. This leads to much confusion in every spot. Jumping individual platforms across a wide gap, you'll see the camera flip to one direction as the character balance is broken, and the way you were once headed is now severed. The only route to fix this dilemma is to try and guess at the accuracy of how you can't focus on where you think the character will land, but instead, where he won't land, and hope it's the right direction...since with any other way, the camera never seems to agree with whatever you had in mind.

That's not the least of bugs Shifters has, though. Aside from clunky controls, the computer AI in Shifters is dumb as a post. How can you develop a video game, and not give any thought to a challenge whatsoever? Literally, Shifters doesn't require any skill, or not much of it in playing against the game's brainless enemies. Want to sneak up on an enemy? Don't bother. You can nearly be within spitting distance of a creature, and only then will the thing then notice you're coming for it. Then with a few swipes of your sword, it's gone. Sometimes traps are set for you to pace on, but the enemies don't know about that. For instance, you'll see a black ooze spread across the floor in certain areas. By stepping on it, you'll immediately sink into the ground and perish. If you want to, you can just let the enemy track your position on one side of the residue, and wait until they find a way to stop running into the wall and break free to charge right into the black layer spilt across the ground to be of a threat no more.

Decent to a point, the visuals for Shifters aren't anything extraordinary, even though they aren't all that bad to keep your eyes peeled for. Every area you explore has its own lighting and shade effects, which smother rooms of stone tiling, watery catacombs, and even openly expanded and torch lit palace embodiments. In effect, the shadows come into play with your character, and project an interesting black tone that sways everywhere you do. However, the character never seems to be affected by the change of lighting throughout the course of the castle. You can walk right up to a flickering light, and the drab textures all around you, or even your own unhealthy self won't take part in the essence of glowing up against it.

Luckily, there are more details in other areas, such as when you touch fire, your character will brighten and burn temporarily. Walking through water will create splashes. Even running across the dusty and rock solid floor will have the character's feet kicking up dust behind him. When in battle, the animations of your character also look neat, from the way at how the more your character swings the weapon; he'll pull off an automatic combo attack that leads to twists and flips that you can really appreciate. It's too bad that none of the enemies can say the same, as their actions are very one in the same: charging and wailing their weapons, with the occasional magic attack that appears all mediocre at best.

Worst of all, the game loves to punish the player with ongoing repetitive noises. Go forward to the doorway, wait until the enemy detects your presence, and wait some more as it charges the wall roaring in utter stupidity. Proceed into the hallway, and keep pressing the attack button until its dead. Do this again many times more, and listen to the same cheap effect of what's supposed to be some kind of fearsome creature -- which isn't. This is the element of an enemy's sound off. Growls, roars, and the like are what you'll suffer in Shifters that become annoying the whole way through. Not even the other sound effects, which are marginally better, have an appealing ability. Sure, cutting up wooden objects, hacking at the enemy, wading through water, and even shooting a magical fireball at a beast all have sound effects, but the quality of each is low grade and doesn't make the game experience worthwhile enough.

Most of the time, though, the music drowns out any of the sounds you'll hear. Fortunately, this is good news, as the tune sets the feel for adventure. Unfortunately, it's on a loop. No matter what, the background track seems to never shift, and becomes just another part of the overall nuisance. The only period of time in the game that it ever skips elsewhere is when you near an enemy, and then it will build up into a more darker rhythm, but still does nothing great for the ears.

Bottom Line
Lately, 3DO has built a reputation for being marked as "the Army Men company." I can't disagree with that, but I can agree that they now have more of their foot out in the door of other genres. Despite their new seen efforts, Shifters is a title that doesn't make the grade. This game won't turn the heads of masses, but it is somewhat of a game you can benefit from in both unique gameplay elements and it not being just another Army Men release. If you must have a 3DO title, and are interested in taking on a different type of adventure, check out 3DO's Shifters through the rental process, because this a purchase you won't want to make.

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