PSP Review: The 3rd Birthday



After a lengthy decade-long road to fruition, The 3rd Birthday finally sees a follow up to cult classic survival horror-RPG hybrid Parasite Eve 2 hit stores. The resulting game delivers the PSP its most visually stunning title and an excellent third-person shooter teeming with great gameplay ideas, but an indecipherable story might leave fans wanting.

In a plot only tenuously linked to the previous games, a hive of creatures known as The Twisted has erupted from the streets of New York, devastating the city, and as their numbers grow, humanity itself hangs in the balance. Aya Brea, who was discovered on the Manhattan streets sporting a wedding dress, covered in blood and with pesky amnesia, has been put to work with CTI – a unit tasked with stopping the Twisted menace. Handily, she has the ability to jump back in time and transport her consciousness into the bodies of other people, so CTI send Aya back to the day the Twisted first arrived to find a way to nip them in the bud.
.
.

.
.
Sadly, for so much of The 3rd Birthday, as the plot unfolds and new waves of frustrating incoherence wash over you, you’ll be half-heartedly accepting each nugget of nonsense and convincing yourself that it will all make sense eventually. It’s a futile endeavour, though, as the game takes so long to even try tying its threads together that by the time the finale comes, the pay-off is unsatisfying at best and nonsensical at worst. It shouldn’t come as much surprise – The 3rd Birthday is written by Motomu Toriyama, who provided a similarly impenetrable plot for Final Fantasy XIII – but it’s certainly a shame, especially considering how great the rest of the game is.

The game adopts a third person action approach, so you’ll do plenty of running, rolling and shooting the bejesus out of enemies from behind cover. It handles well on the PSP – Aya’s diving and rolling dodges are speedy enough to avoid most dangers and the control scheme is an effective and intuitive one, though the lack of a second analog stick is felt when using heavy weapons and sniper rifles. A slow rate of turn and an unwieldy scope means that rifles and launchers aren’t as quick and comfortable a fit with the controls as regular weapons, which are great at rapidly auto-aiming you in the direction of the nearest enemy.
.
.

.
.
Amidst the fast-paced gunfire, the primary gameplay mechanic that you’ll put to use is that of the Overdive system. Aya now has the ability to leap from body to body as her consciousness takes control of any friendly person nearby with a push of the triangle button. Running low on health or ammo? Just hop into the meatsack of a comrade with a full magazine. Need a specific weapon to take down an enemy? Try leaping into a squadmate and check if they have what you need. Don’t feel like walking across the room? Hell, laziness is a virtue, so just jump from body to body until you’re where you want to be.

During opportune moments after hammering an enemy’s health, a prompt will often appear and allow you to Overdive into them, too, scrambling their psyche and hacking off a huge chunk of health. The Overdive system also ushers in a tactical element to the game as you jump between your team to flank foes, while if enough of your squad are still alive and you can hold your aim long enough, you can sync up a Crossfire attack in which all your squad focus their fire on your target. When you’re not controlling them, your AI pals are intelligent enough, though they can be a tad overzealous in getting to cover, sometimes shoving you from your shelter to claim it for themselves. The Overdive mechanic is a pretty wonderfully implemented device, and one which blends a unique health and ammo system with a means of fast travel and squad-based tactics to great effect, making for some incredibly fun gameplay and tense, satisfying gun battles.
.
.

.
.
Said battles go smoother if you master the DNA system and put your XP to use in upgrading your arsenal of weapons. Each level has a few safe zones where you can save your game, gear up and fiddle around with your stats and upgrades. In lieu of Aya’s more magical abilities from the first two games, The 3rd Birthday implements a 3×3 DNA grid that you can stack up with new stringed sequences of DNA orbs. They’re mostly passive abilities, like increased odds of scoring critical hits or more effective healing. Some of the more desirable genes might come paired with a detrimental cell that’ll weaken certain abilities. Part RPG management and slight puzzle game, there’s a surprising amount of versatility at play if you feel the need to futz around with it, since you’ll need to stack your collection of cells strategically to cancel out negative abilities, using all nine slots to maximum effect.

If you don’t want to spend time fine-tuning everything to perfection, though, it’s an intuitive enough system that you can slot together a decent grid with ease and make it through the game. A more traditional upgrade system comes with your array of weaponry. Completing levels and nailing various “feats” dotted throughout – snipe a lot of enemies or keep your squadmates alive, for example – will unlock a wider selection of firearms, with a massive selection of everything from handguns to grenade launchers. Each individual model can be tweaked and modded to an impressive extent, from more accurate scopes to more powerful shells.
.
.

.
.
The game also throws in a plentiful array of design switch-ups along the way for good measure as you’ll tackle on-rails shooter sections, Overdive into the cockpit of helicopters, tanks and turrets to lay waste to enemies, not to mention the array of creatively disgusting bug-like bosses you’ll face off against. Things are kept varied, fun and engaging throughout without ever feeling erratic or scattershot. There’s a pretty substantial challenge to be found, too – The 3rd Birthday is a refreshingly tough game, but never unfairly so, and the checkpoint system kicks you out to just before each battle so there’s never any frustrating footwork to do if you kick the bucket.

On top of it all, The 3rd Birthday is an utterly gorgeous game. Square Enix seem to be the only developer really pushing the PSP to its limits visually, and it’s a trend continued here with a tonne of stunning cut scenes. It’s perhaps the most beautiful game on the system, and Yvonne Strahovski and Supernatural star Jensen Ackles provide impressive voice work to boot, it’s just a shame that the incoherent story underneath it all doesn’t come close to the visual splendour and lovely voice acting. The 3rd Birthday might not be everything fans of the series hoped for in terms of story, but even so, it’s a fantastic, gorgeously presented third person shooter with a wealth of unique and well implemented game design ideas that’s a huge amount of fun to play through.

Rating:





The 3rd Birthday is available to buy for PSP now in stores and on the PlayStation Network.
Click here to buy The Twisted Edition from Amazon.co.uk, which comes with free artbook and art prints.