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Parasite Eve (PlayStation) artwork

Parasite Eve (PlayStation) review

"It's the night before Christmas, and the visage of the Statue of Liberty is solemn. A panning camera slides briefly across the New York cityscape, but pauses to contemplate this peculiarity. A sparse snow is falling, and Liberty's lips are puckered in a pout, her head tilted downward looking worryingly at the ever-present hustle below, a thin blotch cascading from the melancholy right eye and down the cheek. Is it a tear? "

It's the night before Christmas, and the visage of the Statue of Liberty is solemn. A panning camera slides briefly across the New York cityscape, but pauses to contemplate this peculiarity. A sparse snow is falling, and Liberty's lips are puckered in a pout, her head tilted downward looking worryingly at the ever-present hustle below, a thin blotch cascading from the melancholy right eye and down the cheek. Is it a tear?

The eeriness of this sight, simply cryptically haunting as it may first seem, will prove to have been an ominous indication of the hellishness and devastation to follow. But we leave it and our uneasiness behind, and join NYPD rookie Aya Brea as she arrives at the opera.

So begins Parasite Eve, an exciting, singularly unique, survival-horror flavored RPG, heavy in run-and-gun action and rich with creepy and frantic cinematic interludes. While it’s easy to get bogged down in the dialogue, packed with paranormal biological theorizing and discovery, the freshness of the adventure proves to be of tremendous value; a genre forever associated with the small-town silent loner as eventual world savior sees some exciting variation with this gruesome urban thriller and its sexy, ass-kicking heroine.

Aya’s arrival at the opera (alongside her egocentric date, who is given just enough time to show how full of himself he is) is followed by one of the more terrifying scenes found in a video game, both for its suddenness and for the mayhem it catalyzes. It isn’t pure entrails-to-the-wall gore, but the grisliness of the event is unforgettable. The actors on stage speak a few lines, and the lead opera singer begins her song. As she’s singing, she makes quick eye contact with Aya, sitting dead-center in the large auditorium. And then, something happens.

The actors on-stage, standing behind the opera singer, BEGIN TO SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST. They glow to an orange and then burst into flames, melting their flesh and sending them running in circles in a psychotic, helpless frenzy. The audience is soon subject to this epidemic, and they too begin to catch fire. But the singer continues her sad song, evidently indifferent to the madness, her voice ringing out depressingly over the alarmed cries and shouts of the scrambling spectators.

Aya Brea looks around frantically, unsure of what to do. Her first course of action will be to move -- a man seated in one of the balconies above, flames slowly tearing at his flesh, unleashes a blood-curdling yell and flips over the railing, plummeting downward and crushing the seats below, the young woman diving out of his path just in time. And the song goes on, serving as a frightening backdrop for the slaughter.

I’ll likely never forget it -- hundreds of people, bursting, crying out, tumbling, and the uninterrupted melody of the opera singer. From then on, most of your confrontations with the main enemy are signified by the return of that high-pitched theme. And while things will not continue to move at quite so frightening a magnitude as is experienced in the early going, this will prove to be a fast-paced adventure, rife with interesting characters, the dreary scenery of New York and some intense battles against an evil capable of more than the mere destruction witnessed back at the opera.

As you’ll learn (in much more technical terminology), the bizarre auditorium slaughter was the work of an evil at the cellular level, and the fight will prove to be one between not merely Aya and the unknown, but between the very structures that compose the present human species and their defiant, shocking rebellion. Why didn’t Aya herself burst into a deadly blaze? This is obviously one of many questions. In a quest that will prove to be often enigmatic in its answers until the final realizations, it is the terrifying opera singer’s simple reply that her own cells hold reciprocal irregularities to her benefit that will be typical of the storytelling. While the dialogue can get daunting in its genetics-laden language, and the tale of usurper mitochondria concluding on their infinite superiority is more the stuff of midnight TV movies, it unravels quickly due to the fast-paced action and shortness of the quest.

Aya’s efforts to learn more and prevent the nefarious plans of ‘Eve’ are broken up into six days, each of which will fit the same general criteria: visiting a new location (Central Park, China Town), gaining more background information behind the biological theories (and learning more about her own life), and facing some very ugly beasts mutated because of recent events. You’re free to come and go as you please (the police department serves as a ‘home base’ you’ll report back to throughout the adventure), but actual progress in the story can only be made by going to the correct locations and performing the right tasks in sequence. Perhaps most disappointing is the lack of deviation or side-tracking from the main quest; when a game boasts action, a heroine, and an atmosphere as eerily compelling as this one does, the feeling is going to be that there should be more of it, especially with the seemingly stunted, linear adventure at hand. We’re left simply taking what we can get.

Aya’s inherent sexiness will not be enough to serve her; thankfully the battle system is unique, strategic, and compelling. When our heroine comes across a mutant hellspawn, the claustrophobic dramatics take over—she is confined to scrambling about the small corridor where she encountered the beast, dodging the vicious attacks of her predator until it is her turn to attack with whatever weaponry she may be wielding. The action-style battles are critical in keeping up the pace and excitement with which the horror is already moving, and thankfully, no momentum is lost at the fault of overly lengthy, slow-moving battles.

It is incredibly important (especially later in the game, when enemies and their onslaughts become more devastating) to recognize the patterns in the creature’s attacks, so that you are responding with your own at the right time. Firing her gun leaves Aya wide open and unable to move until she has finished the attack sequence (and reloaded her weapon, if necessary). And in ordinary circumstances, you’ll have to choose between attacking or healing Aya with your single command for your turn; fire at the enemy now, but can you survive long enough so that you can replenish her life next time?

There are literally hundreds of firearms for Aya to discover, a huge selection of handguns, rifles, shotguns, machine guns, and other types of handheld weapons. Each has varying firing rates, delay and reload times, and levels of power and range. However horror-like PE seems from the exciting action and sickening monsters, the RPG elements in it refuse to be ignored: just as Aya gains levels through battle and statistically improves, so can the weapons, when bonus points, earned through level-ups, are allocated to them. You can also equip and remove unique attributes (special freezing or poison bullets, acid rounds, and improved rates of fire) with any gun you choose, and spells (“parasite energy”), a role-playing mainstay, also prove an important resource. This tuning-up of the weaponry is one of the most interesting elements of the game—if the trials and tribulations of the sultry Aya and her somewhat cheesy sci-fi exploits aren’t fully captivating, customizing her firepower will certainly prove engaging.

Utilizing those weapons is an exciting endeavor as well—many of the beasts in this horrific menagerie are frightening in size. Giant, upright walking rats, coiling worms and snakes, overgrown centipedes and cockroaches, and mutated ‘Mixedmen’ -- appendages jutting out from the body from all sides—provide nauseating examples of Eve’s power. Staying alive in the real-time action of the battles against these monsters requires Aya to stay light on her fight, and to pick her shots carefully.

Sadly, all of this action will fly by—Parasite Eve is an adventure that will open and close inside of ten hours, kicking us out of its dreary New York landscapes and dismissing us from its unnerving themes all too soon. This is the quintessential atypical RPG—fast-moving and action-packed. It may be over too quickly, but it leaves some indelible memories that serve as a testament to its somber mood and up-tempo madness: the Statue of Liberty, casting a disquieting stare down at her city, serves as an unforgettable mood-setter to an enjoyable, eerie expedition, and it will be a long time before the lurid opera house scene is suppressed from memory.

dogma's avatar
Community review by dogma (January 08, 2005)

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