Video game developers love to invent new genres. Or maybe rather to give new, sexy names to those we already know. How about another one, proposed by an indie studio, Capricia Productions: ďA metal album presented through a short, story-driven game.Ē Itís quite a wordy name for a genre, isnít it? And kinda meaningless, truth be told. Let me explain: Of Bird and Cage is a first-person, action-adventure game driven by music.
- exceptional soundtrack;
- interesting direction and storytelling driven by the music;
- relatively high replayability;
- captivating, diverse gameplayÖ
- Öconsisted mostly of clunky action sequences;
- confusing level design;
- time pressure is often too taxing;
- subpar graphics.
We must forgive the devs the confusing description, as their field of expertise is writing music rather than developing video games. After all, they used to be a band who decided at some point they wanted to create an interactive album. In case you wonder, this is vastly different from your typical music or rhythm games. You donít have to match actions to the tempo of songs. The music is there to give context and depict what you see on the screen. Even conversations are conducted through lyrics.
I want to make it clear: the soundtrack is the strongest element that Of Bird and Cage has to offer. This shouldnít come as surprise, since Capricia Productions consists of people who spent many, many years writing, and performing music. How about Ron ďBumblefootĒ Thal, lead guitarist for Guns Ní Roses for eight years? Or Ruud Jolie from Within Temptation, and Kobra Paige from Kobra and the Lotus? Oh yeah, these folks know a thing or two about metal. And you can hear it in almost every second of the two hours (or so) needed to finish Of Bird and Cage.
Play the music
What does it exactly mean that the game is ďdriven by musicĒ? Every scene has specific duration, determined by the duration of the song, so you always have limited time to achieve your goals. No matter if you manage to complete these tasks or not, the story goes on, one way or another. Sometimes itís an adrenaline-pumping action sequence accompanied by glorious heavy metal, other times itís a long stage in a larger environment where you explore and solve puzzles to the beat of peaceful guitar riffs. With diverse gameplay and music linking harmoniously all these scenes, the plot runs smoothly and itís hard to leave the game until credits roll.
However, this compact composition of music and gameplay is as interesting as it is flawed. First, the majority of gameplay mechanics is rubbish, especially combat. Whether itís shooting or (mostly) fist fighting, the action sequences are chaotic, and you have to deal with things such as dumb AI or broken hitboxes. Fortunately, the result of a fight in most cases has minor effect on the story (if any) and thereís neither health bars nor game over screens. You can simply stand in the corner and block all attacks by holding RMB until the scene is finished. Or not.
Another problem is confusing, unsightly level design. I should probably praise the highly interactive environment but when youíre quickly running out of time, the last thing you need is a dark room full of useless objects where important items are hidden behind some unseen door that, when finally located, refuses to open because of clumsy controls. Or a fire that must be put out, but there are apparently no tools allowing you to do so. Or an obstacle that you should be able to jump over easily, but somehow you missed some small box which should be used first.
Tears and rage
Speaking of time running out, scenes are usually so short that you quickly begin to move using sprint and stopping to read some notes turns out to be a waste of time you just cannot afford (thankfully, they are available to read later in the menu). However, it must be noted that these shortcomings wonít be of big importance if you decide to play the game more than once (you can also repeat selected levels). And there are numerous reasons to do so: four endings to see, 57 achievements to unlock, dozens of collectibles to find.
Endings, or rather the whole narrative, is the part where Of Bird and Cage becomes interesting again. The story is a dark, twisted retelling of The Beauty and the Beast, starring Gitta, a lost girl addicted to drugs (the protagonist), and Bres, a violent man suffering from PTSD who pursues ďBeautyĒ for unknown reasons (eventually revealed to be quite surprising). Their disturbing, destructive relation plays major part in the plot, leading to varied outcomes. Despite all flaws of the gameplay, I was captivated by the story enough to repeat single scenes until Iíve unlocked all endings. And Iím not sure if it will help me sleep betterÖ
Better heard than played
Of Bird and Cage is certainly an interesting, noteworthy experiment. But is it worth playing? Honestly, I canít give a straight answer. Thankfully, you can enjoy the best part of this project, namely the soundtrack, without completing the entire game. Itís available on Steam as a standalone product for just 8 bucks (half the price of the whole package) and this is something I strongly recommend. Consider it a blend of an album and an audiobook, telling a grim story with the glorious accompaniment of metal. It might as well be the greatest music premiere of the month!
Christopher Mysiak | Gamepressure.com