The 3rd Birthday
| The 3rd Birthday

Like its body-swapping protagonist, The 3rd Birthday has multiple personalities.

A spin off rather than a sequel to the two previous Parasite Eve titles, it draws upon the series staple of not sticking to a single genre.

The original Parasite Eve was an RPG with a dark edge. The sequel was a survival-horror game with role-play inklings. The 3rd Birthday attempts to be a third-person shooter, but one that also bears many minor similarities to its predecessors.

Ironically, it’s the game’s parasitic tendencies that hold it back from greatness.

What a parasite

The main gameplay conceit is undeniably interesting and unique.

You play as Aya Brea, fighting against the invading alien force known as the Twisted, while also learning about your mysterious past.

Instead of being a one-woman army, though, you can ‘overdive’ into allies near you in shootouts with a press of the Circle button. This means you can shift from one end of the battlefield to another in the blink of an eye.

It’s an ability that you have to grasp quickly to survive. Each soldier has his own set of weapons and ammo, so being able to utilise all your available resources against the Twisted is paramount to success.

You can even overdive into enemies temporarily at particular moments, dealing them massive damage in the process. Shooting enemies also builds up your Liberation energy bar, which you can unleash with O and X to temporarily deal more damage, be invincible, and dash around using almost uncontrollable bursts of speed.

Coupled with a robust weapon levelling-up system, a reliable lock-on and shoot system (L and R respectively), and a plethora of gene altering options, Aya’s multitude of attacking options is the best element of the game.

You monster

It’s a shame that the Twisted can’t quite match up to the combat mechanics.

Although most of the enemies you’ll face are suitably grotesque, they have the look and feel of generic RPG enemies, lacking the sheer physical presence you’d want in an action game.

When you blast away at many of the Twisted you don’t even feel as if you’re doing them any real damage, meaning the gunplay lacks any real heft and never really satisfies as it should. At times, battles can descend into slogs of attrition.

This is a real pity, considering the surroundings in which you do battle are often stunning to look at. The amount of effort that has gone into the game’s design, with its gloomy yet hugely detailed world, is a testament to the power of the PSP.

A story not worth telling

Even disregarding the Twisted, there is still one truly negative force in the game – the plot.

Put simply, the story running through The 3rd Birthday is nonsensical drivel of the highest order, made even more unbearable by the fact that it’s so prominent.

Involving time switching and character personality shifts, there are twists and turns aplenty.

But instead of putting you through an emotional rollercoaster, the plot comes off its rails early on and stays off the track for the game’s entirety, evading comprehension with knot after knot. Although familiarity with the Parasite Eve series does help you recognise some of the characters, the plot is still a mess no matter how versed you are in Aya’s world.

Two faced

What makes this so irritating is that the game underneath the tangle of plot and half-baked enemies can at times be exhilarating.

Many of the latter stages in particular are packed with fraught and varied action, with tanks and helicopters available to commandeer, and there are some stunning (if simplistic) set-pieces.

It just makes you wonder how good a shooter this could have been if Square Enix had jettisoned the unnecessary and clunky RPG touches that pervade the experience.

In attempting to borrow from its past and at the same time carve out a new path, The 3rd Birthday fails to find a convincing identity of its own.

The 3rd Birthday

It can conjure moments of brilliance, but ultimately The 3rd Birthday is bogged down by indecisive design choices