Friday, April 29, 2011

Graphic Horror: Game Reviews

Another very slow month for fans of horror games comes and goes with not much to show for it. There is one notable exception for hand-held gamers, a blast from the past, but that’s it. Luckily the future does look a bit brighter for scary games, but for right now we’ve got to be happy with what we get. Good thing then that what we got this time was pretty darn spiffy.

THE 3RD BIRTHDAY, by Square Enix, Rated M, PSP

THE 3RD BIRTHDAY is the third game of the PARASITE EVE series. If you’re not familiar with the PE games that could be because the first one was released for the original PlayStation back in 1998 and the series has been in hibernation for two generations of game consoles. But does this much anticipated and all but forgotten threequel live up to the expectations? For the most part that’s a big old yes.

Square Enix’s cinematic survival horror RPG has New York City under siege by mitochondria that have turned against mankind. What are mitochondria? Remember the groan-inducing midi-chlorians from the STAR WARS prequels? Yep they’re sort of like that, only real. Well these intelligent and angry cells mutate people and animals into monsters, and some get as huge as buildings. Into this horrific world a young, beautiful female cop named Aya Brea comes. Ok, not really comes, as she’s already been here twice before. Anyway, in addition to her good looks and handy skill with guns, Aya has genetically mutated mitochondria of her own, only hers is a bit friendlier with her then most people with the tainted cells. This means that Aya has lost her memory (that’s bad) but has the amazing ability to “dive into” the bodies of her enemies and explode them all over the place if she wishes (and that’s very good). Doing this is a great way to get rid of the twisted monsters (called aptly enough, The Twisted) that she must constantly put down.

As Aya had done battle with these mushy, mutating beasties before and beat them back to save previous days, this game starts off with everything normal. Then on Christmas Eve huge tentacles burst out of the ground all over New York City. The slimy appendages wrap around skyscrapers, block streets and even take over the Statue of Liberty. Luckily since this world is sort of used to these Lovecraftian monstrosities, NYC has the Counter Twisted Unit, of which Aya is the star agent.

There is perhaps one more thing about Aya I should tell you. While she never gets out and out naked, she is often running around in skimpy, strategically torn clothes or takes nice long showers with the clouds of steam just barely covering up her naughty bits. Now while I didn’t have a problem with any of this, I know some gamers, especially female or those who would describe themselves as feminists, have. While I can somewhat see their point, as Aya is often more cheesecake than brainy, I also think such grievances are much ado about nothing. But then again, I have a Y chromosome, so what do I know?

Oh well, on to the game play. The shooting action is in third person and is surprisingly good and tight for a hand held game. The graphics are as good as they can be on the PSP, but that means they are about on par with last generation’s PS2. The RPG elements include a very customizable skill/power tree to play around with and a nice selection of weapons to blast critters with. The story can be labyrinthine at times, even to vets of the previous two games, but with bit of extra effort most things become clear. The boss battles are lengthy, intense, and memorable. Also, as I hinted at before, the baddies have more than a touch of H.P. Lovecraft in them, so if you’re a fan of the Cthulhu Mythos you can squint a bit while playing this game and pretend it’s a high octane, two gun take on one of HPL’s stories. While that definitely had me grinning on more than one occasion, the real star of this show is Aya’s Overdrive ability she can use from time to time to jump into the bodies of the infected monsters and explode them in satisfyingly gory ways. No matter how many times you do it, it just never gets old.

I was quite happy to spend some time with Aya and her genetically freaky friends and I’d like to see some more of the same on a more powerful platform, like say the PS3 or the Xbox 360. Until then, this little game for the little PSP portable will have to do. Thankfully it does do it well.

I give THE 3RD BIRTHDAY 4 B-day presents out of 5.

--Brian M. Sammons