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The 3rd Birthday review: New year's Eve

David Wolinsky

Despite what many game developers believe, people don't actually get amnesia all that often. Just because it's been 11 years since Parasite Eve 2 doesn't mean the series' following has completely forgotten about the two titles narratively linked to, and preceding, The 3rd Birthday.

So here's the warning for PE die-hards: This isn't Parasite Eve 3 and makes no attempts to be that. No, this is a whole new animal, an unusual but workable "tactical-action RPG" unfolding as linear missions carried out by the returning Aya Brea.

Gallery: The 3rd Birthday (Gamescom 2010) | 8 Photos

After a mysterious, otherworldly threat devastates New York City during Christmastime, former FBI agent and newly amnesiac Brea's abilities to travel through time and possess humans are put to the test by a cabal of military scientists. Much of the game is spent hopping into a soldier's body, and then, when he's about to die, projecting her soul into another poor sap's unwitting flesh. That process is called "overdiving," and much of the game hinges on it. It's essentially Quantum Leap and Back To The Future with a lot more blood geysers.

Before the mechanic loses its luster there are some neat uses of it, like subduing a large gray beast's legs with round after round of pistol ammo, then overdiving into a sniper's body, squeezing off a few shots into the weak point on his back, and then repeating that process. It can also be exciting in moments when Aya is ambushed during exploration, prompting her to bounce from soldier to soldier -- or in some situations, helicopter to tank turret -- in different rooms to hold the line. But familiarity sets in, and boredom with it.

Firefights quickly fall into a comfortable routine of repetition, which isn't helped by the three or four generic enemy types that are recycled throughout the entire game. When you get sick of shooting at blue scorpions whose midsections resemble stegosauruses, you'll instead need to shoot "the orbs," which are akin to Gauntlet's enemy generators. Most of Aya's missions necessitate crushing these orbs and, to amp up the challenge in doing so, almost all the enemies have an alarming amount of health -- even on the easiest difficulty.

Similarly frustrating is the doorknob-like intelligence of Aya's wingmen. Her reinforcements will rarely attack, as though they know their only purpose is to be possessed, ransacked for new guns and then sacrificed. Don't expect her colleagues to actually bag many enemies on their own, either.

Fortunately, The 3rd Birthday boasts some shiny graphics, along with a laughable story to wring out a few chuckles and keep the repetitive pacing going. The cutscenes are chock-full of armchair psychologist ruminations on why people would want to time travel (to prevent personal tragedies), and clunky stabs at new truisms (my personal favorites being "you don't need a past in order to have a future" and "science is never wrong"). Plus, there are plenty of laughable line readings (a father who lost his daughter plaintively sighs, "What I wouldn't give to eat ice cream with her one more time."). These all play out in scenes that only vaguely resemble NYC, but at least there's an impressive sense of scale.

The story's progression feels somewhat arbitrary, with each mission having little to no surface bearing on the overall narrative. It has clearly been designed as a portable title; with the action never greatly varying, it's easy to slip into and out of at a moment's notice.

So, no and sorry, series stalwarts, this isn't Parasite Eve 3. It's something else that's new, and while not thoroughly original, it's at least consistently enjoyable during its short ride.

This review is based on the PSP final code of The 3rd Birthday, provided by Square-Enix. David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and interviewer who regularly contributes to Adult Swim, GameSpy, and also to the environment by not polluting! He's also a size 10 and a half. You can read more about his shoes at @davidwolinsky.

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