Review: The 3rd Birthday (PSP)

Title: The 3rd Birthday
Format: UMD
Release Date: March 29, 2011
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix/Hexadrive
Original MSRP: $29.99

What can be said about The 3rd Birthday?  How can it be described?  Well, the story was… um… involved (aka – confusing).  That’s something, right?  There’s a fair amount of time travel – referred to as Overdive.  I guess that’s pretty cool.  It’s a 3rd person shooter with controls that actually work on the PSP.  That’s definitely a plus.  It’s certainly ambitious.  Unfortunately, ambition, even with the best of intentions, doesn’t necessarily equate to a solid, fun game.

Playing as Aya Brea, The 3rd Birthday is a 3rd person, cover-based shooter with some basic RPG elements (weapon upgrades and abilities) thrown in for good measure.  The game picks up roughly 2 years after The Twisted emerge from below ground to slaughter and destroy.  They bring with them giant plant-like structures referred to as Babels and have decided to make our top-side planet their own.  In response to this threat to humanity the government forms a team known as CTI – or Counter Twisted Investigations.  It is this team that Aya Brea has become a member of and helps to lead a defensive counter measure against the Twisted with the help the Overdive System.  This machine allows Aya to not only time travel into the past to fight the Twisted head-on in an attempt to alter our future but also the ability to Overdive – or jump – from one body to another while doing so.  It’s an interesting gameplay mechanic and was the main reason I stuck with The 3rd Birthday.

My history with the PSP and 3rd person shooters, in general, hasn’t been all that memorable.  It always seems to be hit or miss.  Surprisingly, the controls for The 3rd Birthday were actually quite solid.  Add to this a fairly easy to manage cover system and things are starting to look up.  Top it all off with the ability to jump from 1 warm body to another at any point and just like that my initial concerns have been all but alleviated.

The Overdive functionality is the mechanic that Square Enix seems to be hanging their hat on and, for the most part, it works rather well.  It allows you to quickly assume the position, health and weaponry of nearby military personnel that are helping Aya on her mission.  These jumps also provide for good positioning of multiple AI “friendlies” that can then focus their firepower on the same target.  Most important of all, Overdive lets you jump into just about any enemy whose health has been reduced to allow Aya to fight from the inside out.  It’s a fast and bloody method of Twisted disposal.  Although there are certain consequences to this Overdive power – most notably in that Aya is more vulnerable after these jumps – it certainly does come in handy from both an offensive and defensive stance.

A common issue I’ve had with 3rd person shooters on the PSP has been with the difficulty of aiming.  Thankfully Square Enix addressed this issue with a reliable lock-on system.  Occasionally, if multiple enemies populate an area your target may not always lock onto the one of your choice.  Cycling through these multiple enemies is quick and easy.  It can cause some confusion at times but the lock-on is mostly a welcome feature.

Without question, The 3rd Birthday’s visuals are some of the best that I’ve seen on the PlayStation Portable; and that’s taking into consideration the high-quality of God of War: Ghost of Sparta.  The unfortunate part of this praise is that it is limited to the cut scenes of the game.  It seems as if Square Enix spent all it’s time applying a high level of gloss to The 3rd Birthday’s cut scenes and forgot to provide even a fair amount of attention to the actual in-game visuals – they’re noticeably bland and often recycled.  I guess I wasn’t expecting too much flair from this game but, after picking my jaw up from the floor after the opening cinematic, I was a little disappointed.

Still, I’ve always been a big fan of the cut scene.  Even the movie that was Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots was highly entertaining.  To me, they enrich the story while providing the player with an oft needed break from the gameplay.  Even though The 3rd Birthday can be incredibly pretty to look at these gorgeous cinematics don’t do anything to help with the understanding of the story.  Like watching a movie that “stars” Megan Fox.  Sure, she’s not bad to look at but when she opens her mouth to “act” you’re just confused.

Where the cinematics of The 3rd Birthday truly shine the audio pales in comparison.  Playing the game with a set of over-the-ear Sony headphones, The 3rd Birthday isn’t lacking decent audio representation.  In fact, I was impressed with the overall quality of the audio detail, depth and bass of the more intense combat levels.  No, it was those “quiet” moments while Aya runs down yet another corridor toward the next room filled with the same Twisted creatures.  During this repetition you’re provided with an accompanying piano piece that, upon initial experience, was interpreted as both haunting and mysterious.  After the first dozen or so times I began reaching for the volume button.

Add to this some terrible voice acting and you’ve got yourself quite an auditory let-down.  Actually, I can’t place full blame on the voice actors themselves.  Yvonne Strahovski, noted for her voice over as Miranda Lawson in Mass Effect 2, steps up to the microphone to voice the part of Aya Brea.  It’s not that she did a bad job, nor any of the other voice actors (well most anyway) for that matter.  It’s similar to the outcome of the  Star Wars prequels (Episodes 1, 2 & 3).  Look at the actors involved with those productions.  Taken out of the Star Wars Universe they are all more than capable of getting the job done.  Why, then, when filling the shoes of Anakin Skywalker, Ben Kenobi and Princess Amidala do they come off as such junior actors.  Clearly it comes down to what the actors are given to act with.  I think we all know that George Lucas can’t write dialogue to save his life.  The same can be said for The 3rd Birthday.  The lines the voice actors had been given are so ridiculous, uninteresting and confusing it’s not surprising that the end result was weak and unenthusiastic.  I almost felt bad for Ms. Strahovsky.  Then again, I’m in love with the woman so she can do no wrong – just saying.

The 3rd Birthday is a confusing story, at best.  It is further muddled by constant time shifting and near incomprehensible bouts of dialogue.  It gives the impression of grand game design but delivers more on a level of a repetitive corridor  shooter.  Although the controls of The 3rd Birthday are fairly solid it just wasn’t enough to make this game any better than average.  I had high hopes and was incredibly interested when The 3rd Birthday was first announced and the trailers were released.  Maybe not completely disappointed with the game I was bored with it.  Unless you have intentions of collecting every last UMD for the current generation PSP (because let’s face it, they’ll be non-existent in the near future) this might be a game worth skipping over until it can be found at a discounted price.  Based on my experience I don’t think it’ll be long before that happens.


Written by Bill Braun

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