Of Bird and Cage
Developer: Capricia Games
Publisher: All in! Games
Website: Of Bird and Cage I Play the music (ofbirdandcagegame.com)
Genre(s): Action, Indie, Music
Platform: PC – Steam
Age Rating: Mature Content Warning
Release Date: 20/05/2021
A code was provided for review purposes
A Premise with Promise
As a fan of emotive music and story-driven games like the Life Is Strange series and Tell Me Why, I was excited to see a title like Of Bird and Cage appear on the market. It seemed to promise a blend of deep narrative and powerful music. After watching the trailer, my interest had well and truly been piqued. Check out my rapid review below to find out if this musical endeavour delivered on its promises.
Teach Me the Ropes
There are two overarching ideas behind Of Bird and Cage. The first is that music is used heavily to deliver the story, in conjunction with the visuals. The second is that your choices direct the course of the plot to one of four endings. The beginning of the game (Prologue) immediately introduces you to the second aspect and drops you in at the deep end with the controls. I had got the impression that I was watching a semi-interactive cut scene and was not ready to make my mark. Thankfully (since there was a ‘story changing action’) I was able to replay the prologue from the main menu. There is also a more detailed tutorial level that follows this.
Of Bird and Cage lists full controller support on its Steam store page. I took advantage of this and played with a controller throughout my playthrough. The tutorial level was a good move since a lot of the actions you need to complete to ‘win’ or ‘lose’ a scenario involve a rapid combination of tapping, pressing and holding down various buttons on the controller. Getting the opportunity to practise this in a low-stress environment helped for later levels. Other ways of controlling your character include walking/running, jumping and interacting with items in your environment.
Glitchy and Clunky
From early on in the game I had issues with menus, pausing and even getting the game to load. For clarity and context, my computer meets or surpasses the recommended (as opposed to minimum) requirements for this game. Indeed, it runs games of a higher spec without issue. The kinds of problems I encountered included: the screen freezing on a loading screen every time I pressed the button to go to the main menu from a level start page; having to load the game two or more times almost every time I played as it would get stuck on a black screen; pressing pause and nothing happening; the options ‘exit’, ‘restart’ and ‘main menu’ not working from the pause menu. I contacted support for Of Bird and Cage about these issues and at the time of writing I have only received an automated acknowledgement receipt.
Gameplay itself feels awkward and clunky. Some tasks involve dragging or moving items. Every time one of these tasks came up my frustration levels soared. You have to position your character in just the right spot to get the ‘x’ to appear over the item so you can press X on the controller, then slowly (oh so slowly) start moving the object. Movement and interaction, in general, did not feel smooth. I often found myself having to press buttons several times before an interaction would register. Consequently, a few times I accidentally skipped forward through parts of the game and was left clueless as to my objectives. In addition, a couple of times keyboard controls appeared on the screen instead of controller ones, causing me to ‘lose’ scenarios.
Each level is split up into timed sections. There are no chilled parts in Of Bird and Cage for exploration or to decompress after intense scenes. This is a game that runs at a steady hundred miles per hour. The closest you get to a calm level is the main tutorial. I thought that this left the game lacking in balance, and I found it wearing jumping from one dramatic moment straight into another. Even some scenes that would have worked better as pure cut scenes had some level of interaction for the player. In my opinion, these would have held more emotional weight as solely visual experiences.
Rock Opera Extraordinaire
Music is the real selling point of Of Bird and Cage. It’s also the most polished aspect of the game. Even if this genre of music isn’t your thing, it’s easy to appreciate that the songs come from seasoned, professional musicians. The soundtrack contributes to the overall intensity of the game and, in my case, made some levels more bearable.
Visually, Of Bird and Cage is not ground-breaking. There is a touch of the endearing about the character design and backdrops, but largely I found character and vehicle movement to be quite wooden. Often, when characters were supposed to be singing, voices did not sync very well with their movements or mouths.
The main character, Gitta, is a drug addict. When she has not had her fix, she sees fires and other hallucinations. As the game is played from a first-person POV, you see what Gitta sees. Sometimes the screen is so full of negative contrast images, scrawled words and blurry objects that it’s very difficult to work out what to do. The music augments feelings of confusion and pressure as you try to clear the tasks from your level checklist.
What’s My Motivation?
I frequently found that the combination of blurry vision, clunky controls and the short amount of time allocated made it difficult to identify items needed to complete each level checklist. In addition, these factors made it nearly impossible to discover where to move or place items to achieve these goals. There was next to no guidance given about where to drag objects, unlike the helpful arrow telling you where to place the instrument case in the tutorial.
Throughout my playthrough, I felt like an outsider looking in. I found that my vision was often obscured so significantly that it prevented me from developing any feeling of connection with the characters. Glitchy and clunky gameplay also prevented me from feeling immersed in the action. Since the game progresses whether you complete your assigned tasks or not, it felt as if little importance was attached to my actions in the levels. This made it incredibly difficult to feel invested in the story.
However, some actions do count towards the ending you receive. In a very Life Is Strange-esque manner, sometimes an icon and message would appear at the top of the screen to let you know that a ‘story changing action’ had just taken place. Rather than feeling reeled in by elements of the story and a desire to curate my choices carefully, I felt bewildered by an onslaught of semi-connected events. Consequently, I found it difficult to feel that even ‘story changing action’ choices mattered.
To say that I felt mildly confused about the ending I received is an understatement. Yet, since that’s how I felt throughout most of this indie, it almost seemed logical. Almost. My favourite part of the game was the credits. I don’t want to give too much away here, but what I will say is that I enjoyed the original presentation, player interaction and the accompanying musical track. Personally, I’ll be leaving my experience of this game there, on a high note. For those of you who love alternate endings, Of Bird and Cage has four. Knock yourself out.
After the Credits Have Rolled
When it comes down to it, Of Bird and Cage misses the mark in quite a few areas. It’s an indie title that had all the ingredients for a great game, but its execution falls short. Clunky controls and glitchy gameplay let the title down immensely and the oft-indistinct vision mars the experience considerably. If it weren’t for these aspects, you could forgive the bizarre, half-connected plot twists as quirky and macabre. The soundtrack does lift the game somewhat, but in the end, I think some improvements need to be made before this great premise can translate to a decent final product.
Rapid Reviews Rating
2.5 out of 5
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.