It’s been a while since we last saw Aya Brea in Parasite Eve 1 and 2 doing what she does best: fighting monsters and saving the world from destruction. But now on the magical little black box known as the PSP comes a new release called The 3rd Birthday (this is not supposed a follow up to the Parasite Eve series) which has been published by Square Enix and developed by HexaDrive (Majin and the Forsaken Kingdon and Rez HD)
Once again we see the return of Aya (one of the first of many great heroines that graced the very first PlayStation console, the PS one) up against impossible odds. Now, the game Parasite Eve was a mixture of RPG and horror. It was a strange but compelling game that was set in modern-day New York City. This is where you first meet police officer Aya Brea as she fights head to head with mutations of all shapes and sizes; it was indeed an unforgettable experience. Aya’s journey in Parasite Eve begins when she is attending an opera at Carnegie Hall and when the soloist starts to sing, the audience burst into flames. Somehow, Aya is the only attendee who isn’t affected. Not surprisingly, she wants to know what’s going on. This curiosity, coupled with her duties as a police officer, grows into a full-scale investigation involving spontaneous human combustion, mutating animals.
Then there was Parasite Eve 2, it was more like Resident Evil. It still honed the focus on what we had come to expect from the franchise (horror) along with plenty of RPG elements. This story had taken place three years after the New York incident of the first game, when the horrible mutations were a thing of the past. Whilst working for the FBI in Los Angeles, Aya is called on to join the Mitochondrian Investigation and Suppression Team (MIST) to unravel the conspiracy that would lead to the possible destruction of all mankind.
Now we have The 3rd Birthday, this isn’t actually a sequel to the Parasite Eve franchise; it is totally different with its surprising and interesting gameplay that may help longtime fans overlook the deviation from its predecessors.
It’s December 24th 2012 and creatures known as the Twisted attack Manhattan and start killing everything in sight. One year later the doomed planet earth faces total inhalation and an organisation is then set up by the US government to counter the Twisted. The organisation formed is called Counter Twisted Investigation (CTI). A mentally disturbed and unstable Aya Brea is taken on board by CTI because of her unique ability to go back in time which is known as Overdive. With Aya now on the team the government hopes to alter the past so humanity can have a fighting chance to save the future.
The 3rd Birthday is an intriguing and original game. The Twisted are relentless creatures who have links to the protagonist Aya Brea. There are plenty of the revelations that will be revealed in the latter half of the game and it will both surprise and shock you, the player. Sadly the rest of the plot doesn’t hold up that well, with a poorly written script, bad characters and a more than confusing collage of a story to boot. Some characters from the original Parasite Eve franchises make a return so it’s best to brush up on your Parasite Eve history.
One thing I did notice and tried to overlook was Aya Brea herself. While she was a strong female protagonist in the Parasite Eve 1 and 2, she is replaced by a mentally broken version of herself. This Aya Brea continuously shows how emotionally shattered she is but her will to survive against the odds balances this out.
Initially seeming like a straight forward and standard third person shooter, The 3rd Birthday introduces the Overdive and not only does it allow Aya to travel back in time as I mentioned before but the special ability also allows Aya to possess soldiers that are within close proximity and continues the battle from the possessed soldiers point of view. This comes in handy when you want to flank the enemy and in doing this The 3rd Birthday does away with the conventional way of gaming. Using the Overdive as a tactic is paramount to success in the game as you can also takedown bigger and nastier enemies from within once they have been staggered from a hail of bullets or grenades.
Aya also has another powerful ability, Liberation. As you fight enemies, your Liberation bar fills up, and once it’s full, you can activate it to temporarily go into a super-powered state. In Liberation mode, Aya is functionally invincible, automatically dodging attacks and gaining the ability to warp around the battlefield at high speeds. She begins wielding-dual handguns that do amazing amounts of damage.
As you’d expect from a Parasite Eve game, Aya has a wide selection of weapons that she can equip. Weapons come in a variety of classes: Assault Rifle, Handgun, Launchers, Shotgun and Sniper Rifle. In addition to that, each weapon is divided into various subclasses that showcase their specialty. Also you can Overdive into enemies with greater regularity if you use impact weapons like the Magnum hand gun, but these weapons are also less effective at killing enemies.
As good as the gameplay mechanics are in The 3rd Birthday, the controls are equally well laid out. Everything seems to flow and feel natural as you play. The buttons are utilized in a way that the player has easy access to almost everything that they need. There are limitations that present themselves but that falls victim mainly to the PSP itself and not the developer.
One major gripe that I have with the game is the camera controls. To manually change the camera the player must use the directional pad, which is incredibly awkward to do in the in the heat of battle. The auto target feature is useful during the early stages or when there are few enemies on screen but once enemies become stronger, faster and more abundant some severe issues begin to present themselves.
The 3rd Birthday is one of the better games on the PSP, but if you think you can play this game on the move, you’ll be hard pressed to do so. HexaDrive should have put more thought into the designing of bite sized levels or more frequent game saves. The PSP is supposed to be about on the move gaming but I feel this title would have been better served on the PS2.
The sound in the game is good but isn’t anything amazing. The music, at times, can really enhance the mood but at other times becomes a monotonous hum. The graphics and CGI is top notch for the PSP. The voice acting is ok sometimes, but other times it can be unbearable.
Having said that the game (though odd in the story aspect) is a thoroughly entertaining and deceptive shooter. The mechanics of the game takes some getting used to but once you get into the swing of it you’ll soon realize that this is one of the most original titles on the PSP.
The 3rd Birthday is a game that any fan of Parasite Eve will be pleased with and anyone looking for a good solid gaming experience on the PSP should pick this up. The game play can be epic and the amount of customization is rather robust for a handheld and if you are up for the challenge there is a good deal to unlock, but be warned, the harsh difficulty of the game might put off some players.