Parasite Eve fans have waited for a new game in the franchise for over a decade, and The 3rd Birthday has many of the qualities that made the original games so intriguing. Once again, New York is under supernatural attack, and Aya and a squad of soldiers must stop the infestation. Like its predecessors, The 3rd Birthday is all about mood and macabre, grotesque enemies. The presentation is absolutely spot-on, boasting some of the studio's best CG work and impressive real-time graphics. Whilst watching a lengthy cutscene, I couldn't help but think how much it looked and sounded like a true Parasite Eve sequel.
Unfortunately, playing the game is a whole other story. The demo I played at TGS was entirely combat-focused, and it simply wasn't fun. The game devolves to a very basic third-person shooter: lock on to an enemy, strafe, and fire with one of your four equipped weapons. In the corridor segments, where you're simply moving down one hallway into the next, there was no need for strategy. The shooting gallery-style level design doesn't work as well when you can simply lock on to an enemy and blast away. Considering the survival horror roots of the franchise, I was disappointed by the lack of suspense. There was never a moment where I felt like the game was even trying to scare me.
Perhaps it's not meant to. As evidenced by Aya's new powers, it's likely that this is meant to be a more gung-ho action-oriented affair than the previous titles. The game's main gimmick, Overdrive, is not unlike that of Square Enix's other upcoming shooter, Mindjack. By focusing on another member of your squad, you're be able to hijack his body, taking over his stats and weapon layout. There's a possibility of deeper strategy here. For example, you might distract an enemy and then zap into a partner behind it for a flanking maneuver. But the corridor-style level design simply doesn't encourage that kind of tactical approach.
The TGS demo started with a massive tentacled boss battle, and jumping from body to body wasn't so much a tactical choice as it was an easy way of keeping Aya's health high. Here, rudimentary cover mechanics were on display, allowing me to hide behind a few barriers before the boss swiped them away. However, the demo didn't show off the ability to move from cover to cover, nor did it show off being able to take cover against a wall and peek around the corner -- all features that have been implemented in other PSP shooters.
While the gameplay wasn't as refined as I had liked it to be, I'm still intrigued by The 3rd Birthday. The Parasite Eve world is a fascinating one, and seeing it realized through Square Enix's masterful CG work is a treat. Hopefully, the gameplay can evolve to match its high production values.