[Reviewer's Note: I have to dive into SPOILERS to critique major issues with this story. Read at your own discretion.]
It's not fun to denigrate indie titles with unique ambitions in mind. After all, brazen ideas have a tendency to stick with us much longer than most standard fare. For instance: a description like "adult-themed Beauty and The Beast by way of rock opera" is practically destined for glowing success or wretched failure. Although some credit is due for freshmen developer Capricia Productions in swinging for the fences, Of Bird and Cage ranks among the worst games I've played all year.
You play as Gitta Barbot, a 25-year-old drug addict who's recently been fired from her waitressing gig. The weird designer drug she's hooked on is a means to repress the voices in her head and she's in a rough state after losing her waitressing job. Hoping to escape this crummy situation, she goes to a shady bar in an effort to demo her music. This sets off a series of events that leads to her being kidnapped by a brawny, bearded man.
Once you become acquainted with the basic adventure controls, have some conversations with binary choices, and learn some quicktime event prompts, Cage then establishes its main gimmick: every chapter lasts as long as the background song is playing, irrespective of your in-game progress. So as to avoid clashing levels of audio, virtually all would-be dialogue scenes are expressed through subtitles, pantomimes, and Gitta's internalized thoughts scribbled in the air.
This advertised "symphonic metal" soundtrack retrofitted to a... game musical is a neat idea. The execution is another story. You'd think for a game modernizing an old folktale and interweaving lyricism as the main storytelling vehicle that the music would be decent. Outside of a couple of tunes, I'd rather subject myself to System of a Down repeats over this. Capricia's happy to flex featured artists from ex-Guns 'n Roses, Epica, and more, but most of these tracks rank among their worst.
As you're mentally struggling with the cacophonous rattle, you're also juggling Cage's mechanics. The prologue's introduction of basic ideas expands into this unholy confection of first-person fisticuffs, shooting, platforming, and more. It's kitchen-sink game design and almost nothing sticks to the wall. And since time is constantly against you, repeatedly pushing through fail states eventually crushes enthusiasm. Any stress from the weak signposting for basic tasks is diminished by the fact that screwing up never matters. The show must go on to one of several different endings.
Compounded by this stultifying timer, Gitta's psychological turmoil will manifest should her heart rate skyrocket. QTE screw-ups are the biggest offender in accelerating her anxiety, which in turn causes parts of the world to catch fire and her vision gets cloudy. When paired with the heavier parts of the current song, your eyes will be visually assaulted by split-second flashes of scary faces. Cage's aesthetic turns from rather milquetoast to aggressively heinous when these visual elements become superimposed on top of one another. It’s a deliberate artistic effort to batter players’ eyes to such an obnoxious degree.
There's little credit to give to the mechanical variety too. Everything "functions" in the sense that the game doesn't crash, but just barely above that threshold.
General movement feels too floaty and awkward. This becomes compounded by the game's ill-advised infatuation for fist fights – even when the context surrounding it is ridiculous. The barebones block/attack framework feels unsatisfying due to poor hit detection and sound design, yet it's almost as popular as dialogue choices. The few driving sections are another culprit of controls not feeling right, further exacerbated by one section that expects some precision.
Not to be outdone, the occasional shootout reveals some of Cage's best unintentional comedy. Beyond some of the goofy bugs, just running around gunning dozens of cops becomes funny thanks to godawful AI pathing. They're constantly shooting and running around while you get to act like Jane Wick. Since all fights are solely determined by a winning/losing counter, you're able to absorb everything they have. Just thinking of this average woman still rocking her diner apron
By now, the central point is obvious: most gameplay concepts thrown in barely reach that "functional" threshold; that said, I can give a few morsels of credit. While it's still limited, I like the three-tiered QTE system. Blending one-time presses, repetitive button-mashing, and/or holding buttons for success was a nice touch. Beyond that, various UI touches went a long way too. Not much to applaud, but it's something.
Of all the 'adult' ways to incorporate surface-level plot points of Beauty and The Beast, you'll be hard-pressed to find a worse example.
Some of my most annoying bugbears, like that desperate need to be grimdark with the source material and compounded flashbacks, are here from the beginning. You see, the reason why Gitta experiences these hallucinations stems from past trauma chiefly by her father. This abuse tied in with every other character acting so repulsive, be it boss, drug-dealer boyfriend, boyfriend's drug-dealing friend, and so on, is all awkwardly sandwiched in a prologue that goes between current-day and various past events. It's quite disorienting and also boring since your mind catalogs it all as one big sadgasm.
Once the setup has passed and that bearded man in a trench coat, whom I want to call "Hot Topic Beast," chloroforms Gitta, the plot begins to unravel his nonsense intentions and takes on an ugly energy. The core thematic issue is Capricia's writer(s) unironically take a jejune & flawed interpretation of the source material (Stockholm Syndrome) and cranks it to 11. Having this creepy guy abduct a woman in an alley just to personally ask for forgiveness over a previous wrong from years ago is so... uncomfortable. Then, it gets more absurd after she teams up with Hot Topic Beast against everyone who's previously wronged her. Even with typing this out, it's still hard to wrap my head around these events.
In Cage's world, all named characters are various degrees of awful people doing awful things. It's the equivalent of an emo high-schooler making a "mature" modernized version of an old folktale. How the plot builds from one section to the next doesn't matter so long as our waitress/drug addict gets to roleplay as The Punisher. With these issues noted, I would be remiss to disregard the binary choices. Capricia does technically have an out by arguing you're at the wheel for how destructive things can get and earn a better ending. Regardless of the less-terrible route taken, you're still trudging through a tawdry narrative that leaves a wretched aftertaste.
Of Bird and Cage Review | Final Thoughts
While I'm less inclined to disparage lacking technical chops over poor creative choices for an indie team, Cage suffers from a bevy of minor issues too. Beyond just character models, levels, etc. looking aesthetically bland, any sense of a lived-in atmosphere is incredibly scant. Sure, her thoughts scribbled in the game world or the short trips to her mind are something tangible, but are overshadowed by everything else looking & sounding like a playable prototype by comparison. Emphasis on "prototype" too. While I was only booted by the home screen once, minor bugs – glowing characters, weird visual stutters, and so on – had a nasty habit to overstay their welcome.
While I still extend a teeny olive branch to Capricia Productions' audaciousness, it's absolutely astounding how much they get wrong. The loose adaptation of Beauty and the Beast with rock opera isn't only bad, it's aggressively so. This farrago of level timers, platforming, fighting, driving, a symphonic soundtrack, dialogue choices, and QTEs all feel mashed together with a narrative that’s just as confused and unsatisfying. Of Bird and Cage has a couple of concepts to respect in isolation, but that doesn’t disregard its head-banging assault on good taste.
TechRaptor reviewed Of Bird and Cage on Xbox Series X (Xbox One Version) with a copy purchased by the reviewer. It is also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, & PC.
- Ambitious Gimmick Tying Soundtrack, Level, & Story
- Visually Showing Protagonist's Internal Monologue
- A Couple Of Decent Tracks
- Horribly-Told Story With Some Wretched Implications
- A Gumbo Of Half-Baked Gameplay Mechanics
- Main Gimmick Also Detracts From Exploration
- Rest Of Soundtrack Is Mediocre
- Poor Visual & Audio Design
- Visually Obnoxious Mental Breakdown Sequences
- Steady Stream Of Minor Visual Bugs