The 3rd Birthday Review
After a string of tragic events on Christmas Eve 2012, New York City finds itself enveloped by the Babel's massive tentacles in an incident known as the Sacrifice. This sets the stage for CTI agent Aya Brea's return to the Big Apple, as her altered genetics make her the only one resilient enough to rid the city of the macabre Twisted and ultimately bring down the Babel.
One year after the Sacrifice, Brea uses the CTI's Overdive machine to deliver her mind to the past and hijack the bodies of soldiers. This will not only help her complete her world-saving mission, but also uncover the secrets of her own blurry history. This backdrop makes for compelling plot points, and use of Overdive creates opportunities for unique gameplay, however the shooting gallery feel and repetitive mission structure makes this action-oriented approach fall flat rather quickly.
During the tutorial stage the player is introduced to a variety of Overdive abilities. These techniques allow Brea to quickly hop between the bodies of soldiers on the battlefield, assuming their position and weapons; jump inside weakened enemies for an Overdive Kill that causes them to implode; turn the aim of all allies toward a common enemy for a critical Crossfire attack; or go into a berserk state called Liberation that gives Brea incredible firepower and agility. Brea's impressive party tricks are all available from the beginning and would have been better served if they were unlocked over the course of the game. Though satisfying at the outset, the novelty quickly wears thin after executing these stagnant moves ad nauseum.
Whether you're battling through the streets of New York or a dilapidated concert hall, you're typically trapped in an enclosed section that requires you to Overdive and safely position your allies, then blast the constantly respawning foes with firearms and Overdive abilities, all the while destroying surrounding red orbs to open up exits. You're then free to begrudgingly move on to the next section, rinse, and repeat. To add insult to injury, gameplay imbalances make some combat sections a breeze and others downright frustrating even on normal difficulty. There are weapon upgrades and options to manipulate Brea's DNA with Over Energy chips collected from enemies for support abilities that help improve your capabilities, however this light RPG element doesn't reveal its full potential until you've maxed out your upgrades toward the end of the game.
Once you near the cusp of the roughly 15 hour experience, Brea will not only have fully powered weapons and an arsenal of helpful support abilities, but she'll also have access to tanks and helicopters once the game breaks out of dull corridor shooting sequences, adding a much needed dose of variety. Battling through the lulls early on will reward your patience with spectacular boss fights and cinematics leading up to the grand finale.
Parasite Eve fans may find themselves turned off by the frenzied action-oriented approach of The 3rd Birthday, and the execution certainly has its ups and downs. Even though The 3rd Birthday may not be one worth celebrating, we're hoping Square Enix can get it right if it decides to someday bring the franchise back to its console roots.