I stumbled across Of Bird and Cage by chance, giving it more than a fleeting thought because I believed it was a BioShock Infinite reference at first. Although I had heard nothing about the game, this initial impression was enough for me to check out the trailer, which held my attention tightly as the premise unfolded. An experience that focused on the music, a dark story of serious themes, the threat of consequences all played out in an artistic production channeled through an interactive narrative. Of Bird and Cage should have been an excellent experience, but it instead reaches the level of concept album gone wrong quickly.
This is a unique game that has users playing through a metal album in a little over two hours. The story has incredibly dark connotations of addiction, sex, abuse, death, and more. Of Bird and Cage is bleak because of the reality it touches on in this hyper-realized experience. I’m not sure many players will claim to relate overall, but certain old wounds could be scratched open for those who have brushed against these issues, making it a rough adventure. The atmosphere strikes just right at some points with its mixture of the mediums, like something out of the early World of Darkness material mixed with the drama of a rigid after-hours soap opera. The choices feel as they have some weight, and the story changes a bit depending on how well the player does, along with what decisions are made. Still, the implementation of that doesn’t match the glorious ambition for the majority of the experience.
The game nails its music, putting importance on the sounds and how that drives the narrative further. The voice acting isn’t too bad, and the sound design is worth noting in certain spots. Visually the game doesn’t do anything spectacular with the locations themselves but helps to build a world for the music and story to adequately unfold, allowing the words from the songs to breathe a bit of life into this crummy rundown factory, the oppressive work environment, a poor trailer full of bad memories, and a typical dive bar. In between these areas are moments of creative expression that are almost spots of absolute creativity as they move with the music and the player’s reactions. The world is there, the tension is real, the music is pulsating, but the gameplay does not back up the good ideas, and much of what works could still use tweaking, but the rest may need a larger overhaul.
Much of the game will remind players of various Telltale titles or even David Cage offerings like Heavy Rain. However, I wish the developer, Capricia Productions, had paid more attention to what made those games flow. Once the introduction is done, and the music truly begins, the game is off with no intention of slowing down. There’s a reason the game can be completed in around two hours because the sections are all timed or driving the player to advance, making the pacing hurried and a bit of a mess. It’s impossible to explore much, and there are lists of objectives for most sections that are not easy to carry out, especially in an initial run. I know that the idea is to play Of Bird and Cage multiple times, challenge myself to do better, make different decisions, use the items, and unveil new possibilities, but this isn’t a welcoming approach. It’s almost impossible to know what to do on a first playthrough, leaving this nagging and unsatisfied feeling after every major event.
The timer almost kills the game. Combine that with the insanely stiff quick time events, weak gunplay, dreadful driving, and a few nearly impossible jumping portions, as well as maze-like environments, searching for items, and it’s just a storm of disastrous interactions while the beat plays on. The controls are too sensitive in spots, and the artificial intelligence is lacking. The biggest disappointment is that some simplification of these mechanics and getting rid of the timed events may have allowed much of these issues to be overlooked. On top of these shortcomings, there are plenty of bugs, invisible and dropped objects, and I had a couple of crashes. I especially enjoyed when there were two of the same character at some points, and when I won a fight, only to have the game keep punching me even though my opponent was laying on the ground unmoving, which didn’t end until the following cutscene.
I went into this excited to see how a game that focused so much on sound and its music would work for a visually impaired person like myself, expecting to give my eyes a break this time around, but I received the opposite and now remember not to want for such things. I’m a bit shocked by how bad this game is for people like myself. This is not only about reading and processing quick time events, having time to scan and understand important choices set on a brief fuse, but there is so much going on visually in some parts that it was almost overwhelming. The text on the loading screens is also incredibly small, and several actions in the game are rushed to keep up with the tempo of the music. I quickly realized that I disliked how the game made me feel for not being acutely sighted enough to keep up, and it is woefully unhelpful in the accessibility department past providing basic unalterable subtitles.
This game is beautiful on the outside, ambition personified, but it, unfortunately, can’t stand up under the pressure of its own premise and might be better experienced as a music video. I despise how frustrating a second playthrough began to feel when I was trying so much harder to enjoy it. Even when I knew what was expected and what I could do in their world, it became harder to find the enjoyment. Sadly, Of Bird and Cage doesn’t even handle some of its better mechanics (like the drug use) well, dropping it for the story and losing some of that itch for greatness it almost had.
There’s still a lot to appreciate about Of Bird and Cage, such as the music, the tone, the desire to do something like what we almost saw. Hopefully, this isn’t the last from the developers as I respect the drive, but slow down, pull it back, work with the good ideas, and don’t let the music go flat again.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 6 equates to “Decent.” It fails to reach its full potential and is a run-of-the-mill experience
Disclosure: critic received a copy of the game via the publisher for the Of Bird and Cage review. The game was reviewed on PC.