Review – Of Bird and Cage
I greatly appreciate whenever a developer attempts to do something totally different. With so many games simply following the few molds of those that have proven successful previously, most of them start to blur together after a while. Some of them are wonderful, like The Stanley Parable, while others fall flat, like Telling Lies. So when I first heard of Capricia Productions’ Of Bird and Cage, an experimental playable metal album, my curiosity was piqued. Would this prove to be a stroke of genius or should it have stayed locked away?
Of Bird and Cage is essentially a dark and twisted take on Beauty and the Beast. You play as Gitta Barbot, a twenty-five year old drug addict with a traumatic past. One day she realizes she is being stalked by a mysterious man, Bres Lupus, to whom she refers to as “The Beast”. After being kidnapped, she struggles with escaping her captor, learning more about who he is and why he wants her, as well as keeping her sanity from falling apart. Will she be able to break free of her prison or will she learn that there’s more to this beast than meets the eye?
The story itself is pretty intriguing the whole way through. At first, it seems like your more run-of-the-mill tragic protagonist trying to make her way in the scary world sort of premise. However, things do get really interesting once Bres enters the scene. There’s a complexity to these two main characters that becomes apparent as their backstories are slowly revealed. It kept me interested enough to see it through to the end, at least. There are also several very different endings you can get, all based on the choices you make along the way.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to deal with the horrendous gameplay throughout the whole experience. Of Bird and Cage is an experimental sort of game, in which you are basically playing one long music video for an entire metal album. It’s a great idea, but it’s not implemented very well.
One of the reasons it doesn’t work is due to the fact that each level is timed so it can coincide with the song accompanying it. This might have worked if the levels were designed in a very straightforward and linear fashion (and some are). However, there are quite a few sections that are based on exploration and discovering hidden objectives. These portions are a nightmare. Most of the time it’s not very clear on what exactly you’re suppose to be doing or what to look for, so a lot of your time is wasted looking around. If you can’t complete your objectives before the timer runs out, you fail, which can have disastrous outcomes on your storyline.
This also greatly hinders your ability to look for the collectibles in each Act. There are a few kinds of things to look for: CDs, story-related items, birds, drugs, and visions. I was only managed to collect a few of each because there’s just not enough time to explore your environments. Often times you’ll have to quickly choose between finding the collectibles and completing the main objective. Although, in many cases you’ll still fail to do either.
Another way the level designs don’t work is due to them trying to fit in with the music. There were a couple of sections where you’ll have to search for something, but the lights will flash and strobe to the bass or drum beats. As you can imagine, this is incredibly distracting and makes it hard to see what’s around you. Once again, it’s a cool idea, but it just doesn’t work for this type of experience.
The actual controls in Of Bird and Cage are atrocious. Instead of sticking with a more simplistic walking sim with morality choices, they tried to make this an action game. Gitta can walk, run, jump, punch, take drugs, pick up items, drive, and shoot guns, all horribly. Every one of these gameplay mechanics feel half-baked. The jumping is either floaty or completely ineffectual. When shooting, having your cursor directly in the middle of your target is no guarantee you’ll actually hit it. Trying to pick up and move objects is a huge chore as well.
Then there’s the hit detection when fighting, which seems to have a mind of its own. One time I punched next to the guy’s head and it registered as a strike, but another time my arm went through the enemy’s throat and nothing happened. Another time I emptied twelve rounds from my pistol directly into someone’s face and he never faltered. Although, I’m guessing that’s a bug unless he’s the world’s most annoying bullet sponge.
This game is also filled with QTEs, much like what you would find in a Telltale game. Luckily, these do seem to be pretty responsive and the time in which to press the appropriate buttons/keys is fair. They can at times feel out of place though when they’re thrown in the middle of a combat section for no particularly good reason. Even more fun is when you’re playing with a controller and it gives you the button prompts for a mouse and keyboard instead. This happened to me a couple times throughout my playthrough. Failure to successfully complete your QTEs, win your fights, shoot your targets, or place items where they belong have negative effects on your overall story, which adds to the frustration of the whole thing.
Of Bird and Cage isn’t even enjoyable to look at. The graphics in here are rough, to say the least. They look like something from the PS2 era, although some of the lighting effects seem halfway competent. The character models are laughably ugly at times and the animations are so stiff they make the characters in Dragon Age: Origins looks like ballet dancers. There are also crazy amounts of pop-ins throughout every scene. Sometimes the textures in Bres’s leather jacket will appear halfway through a sentence, while the trees in the forest require you to be a few feet from them before they decide to show up. I’ve seen better graphics and animations from fan-made games in Dreams.
It’s not all terrible though. The one bright spot in Of Bird and Cage is the music, which I would hope would be the case for a playable album. This is clearly where all most of the budget for the project went. The soundtrack is a collective effort of several rock/metal musicians, such as Ron Thal (ex Guns N’ Roses), Ruud Jolie (Within Temptation), Rocky Gray (ex Evanescence), and many others. Kobra Paige (Kobra and the Lotus) shines as Of Bird and Cage‘s protagonist, Gitta, with a powerful and emotional performance.
My one gripe with the sound design is that in the beginning, much of the dialogue is spoken normally instead of through song like later on. While these musicians are outstanding in their musical talents, they are clearly not proper voice actors. This makes the line deliveries in the early sections sound very amateurish. Thankfully, most of the game is presented in a symphonic, rock opera-styled manner, which was definitely the right way to go for this type of game.
Of Bird and Cage is an overly ambitious project that clearly bit off more than it could chew. I’m not sure why the team at Capricia Productions felt like they needed to include every type of action-based game mechanic in this two hour long adventure, but doing so was a detriment to the end product. Streamlining it to be more of an immersive walking sim with various morality choices would have fit the flow of the game better. I appreciate what they were going for, I really do. I adore this concept. However, sometimes a great idea doesn’t translate well to a video game (Waking is another good example of this). That being said, I would love to see them try this concept out again, with both a larger budget and a more realistic gameplay format. For now though, I would highly recommend just buying the killer soundtrack.
The graphics are rough, with incredibly stiff animations and horrible pop-ins.
The controls are dreadful. Everything about the gameplay feels half-baked and the hit detection is all over the place.
The soundtrack is excellent and this game’s only saving grace. The dialogue is amateurish whenever it’s being spoken and not sang in accordance with the song.
While the soundtrack is fantastic and the story is intriguing, the horrendous controls and confusing level designs greatly hamper the experience.
Final Verdict: 4.5
Of Bird and Cage is available now on PC and Switch.
Reviewed on PC with an i7-9700k, RTX 2070, and 16gb RAM.
A copy of Of Bird and Cage was provided by the publisher.