Shifters is ... (27 minutes of serious thought later) ... crap. Most of the time when I review a game, I make a list of the good and the bad things I find in the game so I'll remember them. For Shifters, I have an entire page worth of glitches and bugs and only a few lines of good things. The first sentence of this review says it all, but keep reading anyway.
The story in Shifters follows a muscle bound jughead, who may or may not be Fabio, as he tries to track down the source of the deadly creatures and weird objects that have been appearing in his world. Another effect of these creatures appearing is that the "hero", Alleron, can shape shift into various creatures. It is up to you to find a sacred artifact and beat up the evil madman who is causing all of this before the magic that had separated the two worlds is lost forever.
The game play in Shifters is fairly straightforward. You have a big-ass sword or axe or club, and there are bad guys running around that need to be sliced and diced. There is also a simple magic system where you learn new spells when you gain a new form you can shift into. Healing potions and other ability modifying potions are also available. The controls are fairly easy to learn and respond quickly enough. Everything sounds so simple, but when it comes to actual combat and exploration, the game fails miserably.
The enemies you face, even at the beginning, really pack a wallop. They smack you around and you crash into the ground hard. But the enemies are also stupid. They always let you get the first couple of hits in, and it only ever takes you two or three hits to kill one of them. If they do get a hit in and you get knocked down to the ground, they wait for you to get up and take a drink of healing potion before they even move to attack again. Even with all of the spells and potions available to you, the simple melee weapons are almost always enough to get the job done. Shifting your form is sort of interesting, and there are 24 form variations to earn; this raises a horrible game into the realm of just being a very bad game. The first form you can change into is a female cheetah. This seemed strange because I don't think that male cheetahs, walking upright, would need breast support, but the female cheetah that your male character shifts into is definitely carrying some extra tissue up front that has to be contained. Earning new levels is a matter of fighting until some text pops up telling you that you gained a level. You can also assign points you gain from finding scrolls and performing certain tasks that go towards your form or to Spirit, Mind, or Body statistics.
Exploration of the world is equally boring and glitchy. Anything you can interact with has a nice bright yellow glow to it. People, items, barrels, door handles. They all glow yellow if you can interact with them. A lot of the time, when you talk to a glowing yellow person, you can actually get stuck on them and have to literally back up the way you came and then go around them. There are several areas where you have to go collect items and trade them with people for new items that you trade to other people in order to get the final item you need to continue on. A lot of the time, it is hard to know exactly what you are supposed to do. Instructions on what to do next are given to you when you talk to the right people, but a lot of the time the conversation is so dry or so random that it is hard to decipher exactly what you need to do. It is pretty safe to say that exploring is not very satisfying because everything and everyone you need is glowing bright yellow.
Now for a big bunch or game play bugs. The action button in the game is L1, so you press it when you want to pick something up or open a door or talk to someone. Easy enough, but you have to be careful when and where you press it. If there are a bunch of barrels or an item you need or any of the glowing yellow things and you press L1 when there is another object between you and the item, you character breaks into a sprint and runs into the post or tree or whatever and the only way you can get out of it is to mash buttons. Another weird bug is that whenever you use your sword on an enemy, this dramatic sounding battle music starts. Fair enough. But if you take a whack at a NPC in a village or something (and who doesn't love to beat up NPCs?), the same battle music starts up. These are only a couple of the little game play annoyances I found.
The camera is perhaps the worst camera I have encountered yet. Walking down narrow passageways is a chore because if you get too close to a wall the camera swings around wildly trying to anticipate your next move. If you get into a narrow space like under a stairwell or in a small room looking for objects, the camera stats freaking out then as well. If you turn right, it swings left, if you turn left, it swings right. If you walk straight, it jitters around and can't decide where to go. You have some control over the camera via the right analog stick, but for all of the moving you do the game almost always tries to correct it and just gets all jittery again. You can use R2 or R3 to center the camera behind your character, but R2 is also a lock on command (think Z trigger in Zelda), so sometimes you lock on to things you didn't want to, and using either R2 or R3 just confuses the camera again. Also, if you are walking around outside, trees and other objects get in the way and completely block the camera. What the hell? If the camera hadn't been so very very bad, Shifters would have been a bit more enjoyable.
Graphically, Shifters is dated looking and not too impressive. Bland, blurry looking characters and simple background textures make for some pretty boring scenery. The lighting effects are good and create nice looking shadows. The time of day also changes turning dark interior passages into extremely dark passages. It never seems too dark or too bright, though, so these effects can really stand out among how bland the rest of the graphics look. Your sword can make cuts into certain background items, which is nice to see, but it looks like the slash appears before your sword even gets there to make the mark. Another kind of weird effect is that you leave the same footprints and kick up the same gray puff of dust no matter what surface you are walking on. Dirt, snow, stone, wood, all must have a thick coat of gray dust on them. It should be noted that the cinema scenes look pretty good and have a lot more detail than the game graphics. They don't do a very good job of telling the story, but they look good nonetheless.
The sound in Shifters isn't very good either. The same battle music plays every time you attack something and the rest of the music is pretty forgettable. There is some decent voice acting. Just decent, not good or great, but not bad.
Overall, Shifters is a very average game that is filled with glitches that make it a bad game. Hack and slash and magic and exploration type games have been done better elsewhere. Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, also on the PS2, is a good example. Shifters relies on the ability to shape-shift into new forms as the root of its game play, but it doesn't really make the game any better; it just makes it a little different from all of the other hack and slashers. There are exceedingly long load times all over the place. Even loading the game menu takes at least twenty seconds. Shifters does have one good thing going for it. Like any adventure worth a damn, it has an attractive princess with a big fancy hairdo. Put simply, aside from one or two things, Shifters is crap. Playing through it has made me realize something though: Being a bug tester at 3DO must be the easiest job in the world. If you enjoyed its predecessor Warriors of Might and Magic, then you might like Shifters. For everyone else, avoid Shifters like the plague.