The 3rd Birthday
For: Playstation Portable
From: HexaDrive/Square Enix
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood,
partial nudity, strong language,
By Billy O'Keefe
It's been a long time — 10 years — since we last saw Aya Brea in "Parasite Eve II," and for those who cared about the games she was in rather than Aya herself, this likely isn't the homecoming you had in mind.
Officially, "The 3rd Birthday" marks the continuation of the "Eve" storyline, an opera of mutated monkeys, genetic engineering and spontaneous combustion that's entirely too bizarre to explain succinctly. Unofficially, it doesn't much matter: Only a few other characters make the crossover from "Eve" to "Birthday," and while there are definite ties to the past — Manhattan and Christmas Eve really do not mix in Aya's world — the new storyline feels more like a fresh crisis for a familiar face than something reliant on events whose explanations exist in a decade-old game.
More to the point, though, "Birthday" doesn't play anything like the "Eve" games, which creatively layered role-playing game elements atop horror gameplay from the "Resident Evil" playbook.
"Birthday," by contrast, is a third-person shooter, and even by the classifications of that genre, it falls heavily on the arcadey side. A heavy infusion of storytelling directs the action, but most of the time, you enter an area, the music swells, you clear the area of monsters, move to the next area and repeat. The game compensates for the PSP's lack of a second stick by using the left trigger to lock onto enemies and making aiming mostly unnecessary, which in turn transforms "Birthday" into a run-and-gun shooter that rarely stops running and gunning.
If it sounds repetitive — especially stretched across the 12 or so hours "Birthday" needs to weave yet another enjoyably labyrinthine story — that's because it is. But the general fast pace of the action means it also stays fresher than if "Birthday" moved at the speed of a traditional third-person shooter.
"Birthday" also helps itself by throwing in some oddball mechanics that, while often confusingly explained, do serve their purpose.
Because Aya is more a spiritual presence in these shootouts instead of there in the flesh (crazy story explains, don't worry), you're free to "jump" into the bodies of your human allies, control their movements, and jump at will from body to body. As long as the body Aya assumes doesn't die, neither does she, and being able to leap around the environment so quickly allows her to flank enemies and use cover in some creative ways.
Other tricks aren't quite as significant but do come in handy. Aya can use the same trick to temporarily jump into the bodies of weakened enemies and destroy them from within, and a limited-use trick called Liberation temporarily makes her an invincible force of nature.
"Birthday" doesn't give you much in the way of tactical controls over your allies, but it is possible to duck behind cover, direct crossfire on a specific enemy, and either evade the enemy or finish it off while your allies concentrate their fire that way.
If you like "Birthday's" brand of shooting enough at its outset, the flavor these mechanics provide — along with an elaborate weapons/armor upgrade system and a completely convoluted (but, once you get it, pretty cool) means of upgrading Aya's DNA — should keep it in your favor while the story does what it does. "Eve's" unique gameplay remains missed, but "Birthday" carries on the series' quirky storytelling disposition, and that may be the more important of the two legacies here.
(c) 2011, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.