Birth Review

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It’s easy to see the title of ‘Birth’ as ironic. It sits on the Xbox Store with a detached hand as its key art, and everyone in the game – from the stray dogs to the bored students – are dead. They’re skeletal, mostly birds, and their empty eye sockets and relaxed poses make them all seem slightly bored. 

But Birth isn’t ironic. The aim of the game is to find and gather together the bones and organs of an old love. Then you can bring them to life, creating something new out of what otherwise feels like a taxidermist’s to-do list. There’s an optimism to Birth that belies the death that surrounds you. 

Birth review 1
Welcome to Birth

Birth takes place on a single street, in a town that is open to interpretation. Is it Heaven, Hell or a kind of Limbo? Swindon? We’ve already made it clear that everyone is birdlike and dead, but there’s also a stillness to the street, as if everyone is on siesta, or you’re engaging with a huge still-life. There’s a pervasive feeling of boredom and fatigue, like everyone is tired of existing here.

The world is mundane until you get into the details. You can use your cursor to tinker with things in Birth: move a cup, pour a kettle, open a matchbox. By poking at the world, creepy crawlies scuttle out, organs throb, and eyeballs roll. Birth is like a dusty surface that covers horrors. Poke around, and you reveal its secrets. It’s the pulling back of the curtains that we loved most about Birth, and gives a second, different interpretation to the title. While things seem dead, life is bubbling under the surface, waiting for you to open a path. 

You’re not doing all of this tampering without purpose. Birth is very carefully and precisely ordered, just like the surface of its world. The street is broken down into three gated areas. To open the gate and move onto the next, you need to have gained all of the bones and organs from the buildings within it. Each building – from libraries to pubs and apothecaries – contains one each, and gaining their bony bounty means that you have completed the building. You need never step in there again. 

Birth review 2
Birth is pretty grotesque

This is all done via gameplay that is halfway between point-and-click adventure and toy. Sometimes, you are just tapping with the cursor to see what will happen, or manipulating the item in front of you to observe what might poke out or surface. Other times, the puzzle is more traditional, like a centuries-old escape room: find a code that needs to be input into a safe, or match the grooves of a key to the right lock.  

Gorogoa is the game that Birth most echoes. The two games set out a similar contract with the player: here’s a room that’s waiting for your input. Push and pull things, and puzzles will appear. Both Birth and Gorogoa stir in some magic-realism to add a sense of the unexpected. You’re never quite sure what your actions will achieve. You’re constantly on the back-foot. And they’re both beautiful, just in different ways. Birth finds beauty in the macabre, while Gorogoa is more romantic. But if you enjoyed your time with Gorogoa, we can say with confidence that you will love Birth equally. 

There’s another parallel with Gorogoa in that Birth is not difficult or long. We took it as a positive, but it’s entirely possible to see it the other way. We didn’t use a guide once, but we equally didn’t think that the puzzles were overly leading us, or were glaringly obvious. That’s because the puzzles are so initially abstract – they often don’t even look like puzzles before you get to them. Break them down into simpler terms and you can make a case for them being overly easy, but they don’t present that way, so we won’t.

Birth review 3
A weird world

Possibly our biggest criticism of Birth is that we had a slight detachment from it. We didn’t get overly invested in it, mainly because there’s no one to talk to, no real narrative thread to tug on until the very end. It’s superb at generating a mood, and delivering a world – or two layered worlds – that we were eager to explore. But emotional depth isn’t something that it cares for, which is slightly unusual for this genre of game. 

But please, don’t take that as a sign that you should stay away. Because Birth, in all of its grotesque beauty, is an unholy delight. It’s a diorama, a series of scenes, that we could tinker with endlessly. When we finally reached the end, we let out a dusty sigh of disappointment. We tried lifting up stuff in our own rooms, hoping that kidneys and centipedes would slither out, but – alas – it didn’t happen. It just wasn’t quite the same.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Dreamlike but utterly believable world
  • Poking and prodding stuff is great fun
  • Simple, strangely logical puzzles
  • Generates a compelling mood
Cons:
  • Story never really grabs
  • Won’t linger long enough for some
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, TXH
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One (review)
  • Release date and price - 28 July 2023 | £9.19
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Dreamlike but utterly believable world</li> <li>Poking and prodding stuff is great fun</li> <li>Simple, strangely logical puzzles</li> <li>Generates a compelling mood</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Story never really grabs</li> <li>Won’t linger long enough for some</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, TXH</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One (review) <li>Release date and price - 28 July 2023 | £9.19</li> </ul>Birth Review
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