First thoughts on The 3rd Birthday

I loved Parasite Eve when I played it way back in the days of the ancients. I don’t really remember why: when it comes to old games I generally remember emotions and feelings better than I remember specifics of story or gameplay. I remember the ‘tone’ of Parasite Eve being rather haunting. I don’t finish many games but I couldn’t leave Aya Brea hanging.

I have no recollection of Parasite Eve 2, so either I didn’t play it, or it didn’t make an impression. Still when I heard The 3rd Birthday was a Parasite Eve game (without the name due to licensing issues) I couldn’t resist. It helped that buying a new PSP game soothed the nagged desire for a Nintendo 3DS. My PSP gets used so infrequently that every time I pick it up it’s like getting a new handheld. It also didn’t hurt that I could buy it digitally.

Anyway, over the weekend I had a 90 minute ferry ride and used that to immerse myself in the game. It was an almost empty boat, I had my headphones on and it had been a long day. These factors conspired to help me completely sink into the world of The Third Birthday.

At the end of my trip I’d only done 1 mission but I spent a lot of time reading in-game back story stuff and playing with the game’s various systems. Here’s the thing I came away with. The Third Birthday is a pretty good world but not a great game.

The core actual gameplay is third person shooter with a lock-on system to make up for the PSP’s lack of a 2nd analog nub. You move Aya with the nub, move the camera with the direction buttons. If that sounds awkward, well, it is. You can turn Aya or turn the camera but not both at once (easily). You lock on with the left shoulder button and fire with the right. Then there’s all kinds of button combinations. Left button + Down Arrow targets the nearest baddie, and so on.

The Third Birthday makes me pine for the Sony NGP with its dual analog sticks.

The actual story feels very reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed. An otherworldly menace (the Twisted) has attacked New York City (and eventually the rest of the world) killing thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people. Mankind is up against the wall, but suddenly Aya appears on the scene with no memory of who she is but some special powers that, combined with a bit of technology, allows her to travel back in time and inhabit the body of some poor schlub. By doing this, she needs to stop the attack before it happens.

So she runs around, shooting bad critters, gaining exp and (essentially) cash. She can (and should) jump from body to body. If a soldier she jumps into has a weapon she hasn’t seen before, she can add it to her arsenal. Aya can also jump into an enemy and explode it from within, which is gross but very effective.

The story is typically (for a Square Enix game) bizarre and opaque, at least at these early stages. The graphics are first rate for the system, and really great in the cut-scenes, but the dialog isn’t translated at all well.

There’re systems I still don’t understand. A DNA chip system lets you give Aya passive skills via implants. These implants appear in sets of 2 and have to be fitted into a 3×3 grid. When you do this you get a mutation rating… I really don’t yet understand it. As Aya uses a particular gun, it too levels up. As well she can spent credits to modify weapons. So there’s all kinds of ways to improve your character.

What keeps happening is that I get excited about the game until I actually start a mission, then the controls frustrate me. Perhaps I’ll get used to them. Perhaps people who use their PSPs more than I do will be better able to grok the controls.

I played more last night, doing a second mission. I might restart on Easy just to blow through the game, see the story and find out what’s going on. Somewhat like with Crysis 2 there’s a certain fascination with being in a New York that has been destroyed by monsters, y’know?

So far The Third Birthday doesn’t have the rather haunting aspects that I remember from Parasite Eve but it’s early days yet.

Still too early for a definite opinion but I wouldn’t urge anyone to run out and buy that game at this point. If it improves I’ll let you know.