A musical concept album is a bunch of songs all connected by a theme; not just singular entities in a playlist. Think of the likes of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ and ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’ by The Streets.
Of Bird and Cage takes that idea but goes one step further, producing a new game that is part thriller/part musical. It’s a strange ambitious project that fans of the artists involved will be relishing. But does it work as a game? Let’s get into that groove.
I always admire innovative ideas and developers who go and take a chance with their game design, championing indie game development. I’ve reviewed a tremendous amount of experimental games over the years and Of Bird and Cage is one of those games that pushes the envelope. Maybe it doesn’t quite hit the mark with everything, but you can’t fault the teams at Capricia Productions, Slipgate Ironworks and All in! Games for trying.
Foremost the concept behind the game is that it is seen as a unique metal album that is showcased through a narrative story-driven game. It features famous rock stars like Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (you know, of ex-Guns N’ Roses fame) and Rob van der Loo (Epica) as well as many more.
In the story, you play as Gitta Barbot, addicted to a designer drug, with a life in turmoil and deep despair. She faces violence from all corners; from her alcoholic father through to her abusive drug dealers. We see Gitta at the start of the game enter a bar, attempting to run an open mic night for her music. Soon she is kidnapped by Bres Lupus and held captive. Soon their lives intertwine and the choices she and he make affect their lives forever.
The story is bonkers, particularly in the way it does a couple of things. You get Gitta’s innermost thoughts appear across the screen as text bites, mixing fantasy, flashbacks, and surrealism all at the same time, very much like a music video. At some points in the game, the cast sing the lines to the songs being heard, and it turns into a full musical. It’s not a linear story as such, but much more like a mood piece. Things happen and events take place, but I honestly couldn’t tell you exactly what goes on. I don’t mind that in my storytelling, but others might.
The gameplay takes place in the first-person, but there are a lot of things to do here. On each level, there is a timer, in the shape of a bar, sitting at the bottom of the screen that counts down. In that time frame, you can explore each level and will have tasks to complete. When the timer runs down, the action of the story will proceed, with the outcome and ending running differently.
Gitta is addicted to drugs and you choose whether to keep taking the medicine. If you don’t, the screen becomes covered in fire and it’s hard for her to focus. You can talk to people, pick up objects, play darts, and drink shots. There are quick-time events galore and, depending on your love for these, may well get sick of them quite quickly. You can then throw in some chase scenes which have you running away from someone and elements of combat; punching and defending that is ropey, to say the least. There’s an even worse driving sequence.
Like I said before, I applaud ambition and risk-taking but I think Of Bird and Cage might just attempt to do too much in its execution. For example, if it could have just stuck to a simple narrative adventure or played out like a standard walking sim with soundtrack blaring over the top, it might have fared better.
Visually though, the game is like a dream and I like a lot of what Of Bird and Cage attempts. Mixing the surreal and the real, it can look a bit old in terms of the character models and some of the lighting, but there is something brilliant that it wants to achieve. And then we get to the audio and, of course, the soundtrack is amazing. It’s much like a rock opera and fans of metal will absolutely adore it. But it’s not all thrashing and fast drums; there are some nice ballads in there as well and it’s a brilliant piece of work throughout.
Of Bird and Cage is a tricky game to review. There are elements which are, frankly, a bit of a mess and there is far too much going on in the mechanics; nothing works brilliantly, and sometimes it is unintentionally funny. But there’s a great, highly-original idea in Of Bird and Cage – it is that which I like, much like a concept album in game form. I love the ambition and audacity to even try it.
It’s pretty cheap as well so Of Bird and Cage might just be worth taking a look at, especially if you’re a metal fan – you’re going to hear a fantastic soundtrack from some legends in the field.
Of Bird and Cage is available from the Xbox Store