The latest action title from 3DO, Shifters, attempts to add a new twist to the action genre. Harnessing the ability to morph into 24 different creatures, you set out to rid the land of impending evil. That is, if you can figure out which way you're supposed to be going.
There are many types of sequel in today's media. There is the blockbuster sequel, which improves upon its predecessor in every way. The lackluster sequel never manages to capture the spirit of the original. The cash-in sequel is made as quickly as possible simply to make a buck off previous success. Then there is the infamous unidentified sequel, a work of such dubious quality that its title is changed in order to protect the sanctity of the franchise.
When I first loaded up Shifters, I had a strange feeling of dčja vu. I mean, the main character . . . isn't that Alleron from Warriors of Might and Magic? In fact, he's still wearing the Mask of the Accused, which was forced upon him at the beginning of Warriors. When the game showed me a flashback movie of that exact moment, all doubts were removed. Shifters is the unidentified sequel of Warriors of Might and Magic. Now the painful question had to be asked: why was it renamed?
Warriors of Might and Magic was an enjoyable action game that served as a glimpse of what was to come for the fledgling PS2. Not a perfect game by any means, it still managed to keep me playing all the way to the end. I can only wonder how the nearly two-year time span between these titles was spent, especially when one considers that Shifters uses the same engine. Not only does this title fail to offer a single improvement, it actually manages to be worse in practically every area.
The ambitious decision to allow multiple paths through each level was not executed as planned. 3DO has attempted to build a non-linear game without addressing any of the issues that choice entails. The game is broken up into three worlds, each with many sub-sections. When you enter each subsection, you are presented with the message, "Loading a new level. Are you sure?" In fact the very first door you encounter in the game prompts that message. Not only is it confusing, it fails to provide you with any indication of even where you are trying to go. You have no idea if loading another level is the correct choice, or is actually going backwards. To say it's frustrating is putting it mildly.
Combat is a monotonous routine of attack, block, and counter-attack. You can lock onto your enemies and unleash standard melee combinations or ranged magic attacks. This system worked well in the earlier title, but, unfortunately, in Shifters the lock-on mechanism seems to free itself at random. This leads to many senseless deaths as you lose your focus in the heat of combat.
You have the ability to morph into the forms of several of your enemies. Sadly, doing so offers no real variety in gameplay. Yes, each form has a different melee combination, but the technique to execute it is exactly the same. I didn't find a single situation where one form had an advantage over another. Each form does have a unique spell, but many of them just aren't very useful. The morphing is a good idea, but you aren't given nearly enough reward to make the system enjoyable.
Shifters features a camera that could make a naval captain seasick. When you get close to walls it swings around wildly, often settling in the worst possible position. Walking through narrow hallways is almost comedic, as the camera cannot decide where it wants to be. It just keeps rotating around, making sure there is no possibility of actually seeing where you are going.
The visuals, which were passable for Warriors, look exactly the same as they did nearly two years ago. Times certainly have changed since then, and PS2 stunners like Devil May Cry have raised the bar. In comparison, Shifters simply looks ugly. Blocky models, poor animation, texture seams, and an inconsistent framerate are all included. Admittedly, there are times when the visuals can still impress. Whether it's a lighting effect from a dungeon, a nicely modeled stone bridge in the shape of a snake, or some of the downright original character designs, the game has its moments. Sadly, instead of adding to the game, these impressive moments only serve to show how lacking the rest of it is.
Shifters has so many core problems that the game is virtually unplayable. None of the strengths of the existing engine are put to good use and the visuals and sounds are simply dated. My only hope is that this game uses its shape-shifting powers to morph into a bird and fly away.
· · · PBMaX