Of Bird and Cage – A Frustrating Headbanger
Of Bird and Cage is one of the stranger narrative experiences I have taken part in in a video game. By the end of the first chapter of Act One I had found that our protagonist Gitta was a drug addict, that her boyfriend was her dealer and made her pay for the drugs, she worked for a sleazy boss and her father was a raging alcoholic who is strongly hinted to have killed her mother. Gitta survives by waiting tables in a diner, waiting for the day she is discovered at an open mic night, and gets a ticket out of the nightmare that is her life. It is a pretty dark and depressing place to start your journey, but buckle up kiddos, because it is going to get a lot darker before you reach the final credits.
I mean it when I say dark. Gitta will be beaten, kidnapped, beaten some more, hunted by the police, take hostages and potentially kill everyone that ever crossed her. While the narrative journey is based on the story of Beauty and the Beast, this is as far from a love story as you can get. It is only your own choices and actions that control just how dark the journey will get for Gitta.
What is ‘Of Bird and Cage’ defining strength is also its biggest weakness. Capricia Productions have set out to make an operatic metal masterpiece, a game not only accompanied by a dark orchestral metal soundtrack but one that is defined by it. Created with a great number of musicians from a wide range of metal bands, the soundtrack in Of Bird and Cage is completely original and suitably kick-ass. Just like an opera, the music and the lyrics are what drives the story, with the music often building up to a crescendo before the next cut-scene.
This brings us to the game’s biggest flaw. At any point, you are only given ‘X’ amount of time to complete objectives before the next part of the song forces the narrative further along. On occasion, this is fine, as you have completed your objective and are ready for the story to progress. Far more often you will find yourself running out of time and failing to complete your objectives. While the game will continue regardless, failure to complete objectives can have an impact on the game, making following sections harder or having an adverse effect on the story.
While a lack of time can be a contributing factor in failing to complete objectives, obfuscation of just how you are meant to complete objectives or interact with items and the world can make it even more of a challenge. Sometimes the objectives are as simple as finding a single item. Another time it is to get the power back on in an old abandoned warehouse you find yourself trapped in. The only problem is that to get the power on you need to find two pieces of wiring and two batteries scattered around the warehouse and then use those items to fix the junction box. Apparently, this is something drug-addicted waitresses have the skills to do.
The music-based time constraints are not the only thing that holds the gameplay back though. At the beginning of the game, you are told that Gitta is a drug addict and if she gets too worked up, she will start to hallucinate the world burning around her and need a hit to return the visuals to normal. There is only a limited supply of the drug to be found, and while you can make it last if luck goes your way, in all likelihood you will be plunged back into this withdrawal state at early key moments because you are struggling to figure out what to do, ruining the chances to complete the already obtuse objectives. What is stranger is the second half of the game removes all need for drugs, instead the flames appear due to Gitta’s growing insanity and are decreased by finding spray-painted birds located throughout the game world. It seems like the team just decided to throw away the drug addiction angle because it was no longer convenient to the story, relegating it to a faded memory that hopefully, the player will forget all about in the hellscape that is Gitta’s life.
The hand-to-hand combat is the worst part of the game though. Several times through the game you will have to engage in fisticuffs with assorted male characters, all of them the kind of person who makes your life crap. All of these fight situations are governed by a meter that fills towards win or loss as you both take and dish out punishment. At no point in the game did I ever actually come close to filling up my win bar. The best I could hope for was to get the bar filled a little bit towards the win side and then just block until time runs out, cheesing the win and seeing a cutscene where Gitta suddenly dispatches her opponents with ease. It just does not make sense, but then again there are a few sections in this game that don’t make any sense, along with Gitta wearing her work apron throughout the whole game as though it is a fashion choice and not a piece of attire for the sole purpose of her job as a waitress.
Overall this is a game that has promise. The idea of creating a dark opera that players can experience for themselves has me intrigued, and as I mentioned the soundtrack to the game is great, with some of the tunes managing to burrow their way into my consciousness even after I had finished playing. I recommend turning on the lyric subtitles before you start playing though. As I was running around trying to find the objectives I could not fully concentrate on what the music was trying to convey, or the lyrics would be muddled by other game sounds. By turning on the lyric subtitles I was able to attempt to complete objectives while not missing out on the content of the music.
In a traditional opera, no matter what type of music they are using, the viewer is stationary, able to give their full attention to the music and the actors performing it. Combining the operatic aspects into a video game means that the viewer becomes an actor and divides the attention of the player between trying to figure out what they have to do and what is going on in the rest of the scene. It is a balancing act that the team at Capricia Productions have not quite managed to overcome, and yet I want to see what they can do with the format in the future. If they can find that sweet spot then I will be game to play their next title.