Wrecks, Drugs, Rock ‘n Roll
I’ve been constantly chasing that Fantasia high after becoming obsessed with it at an early age. To this day, the experience has been oft overlooked in media; movies and video games that create visuals to further the story being told through music — not the other way around — are few and far between. In recent memory, only Sayonara Wild Hearts comes to mind; luckily, fans of similar musical experiences have another game to explore, as Of Bird and Cage is an intensely dark rock opera featuring a captivating story and anxiety-inducing gameplay wrapped in an interactive music video.
Developed by Capricia Productions and published by All in! Games, Of Bird and Cage is described on its Steam page as “a unique metal album presented through a two-hour-long story-driven game” that invites players to enjoy music in a brand-new way. Featuring incredible talent including: Kobra Paige (Kobra and the Lotus), Davidavi ‘Vidi’ Dolev (Subterranean Masquerade), Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (ex-Guns N’ Roses), Rob van der Loo (Epica), Ruud Jolie (Within Temptation), Danny Worsnop (Asking Alexandria), Casey Grillo (ex-Kamelot), Rocky Gray (ex-Evanescence), Mike Lepond (Symphony X), Tina Guo, and Snowy Shaw (ex-King Diamond, ex-Therion), Of Bird and Cage asks players to re-evaluate the beloved fairytale Beauty and the Beast and see it for what it truly is: Stockholm Syndrome. A short but bittersweet (heavy on the bitter) experience with multiple endings to explore, Of Bird and Cage is an evocative and emotionally exhausting tale that will grip players long after the credits roll.
Of Bird and Cage focuses on a young woman named Gitta, a tragic figure who’s had nothing but hardships and heartache throughout her whole life. Having grown up in a household filled with abuse, drug use, and neglect, Gitta dreamed of spreading her wings and escaping her wretched life; unfortunately, all she could manage was a dead-end job with a creepy boss, a drug-dealer boyfriend, and a drunk dad who, on a good day, didn’t beat her. Her only respite could be found in-between hits of a designer drug as she played her troubles away at a dive bar’s open mic night, until one fateful night when even that was taken from her. It was that very night when she saw a familiar face in the bar, the catalyst who would send her on a tumultuous journey filled with kidnapping, murder, forgiveness, love, hatred, and revenge that would change her life forever.
I’m going to cut right to the chase and talk music: Of Bird and Cage is POWERFUL, all caps. Heavy metal headbangers with captivating vocals serve to not only set the mood but tell the story. This is most obviously felt through the lyrics, with each vocalist depicting their respective character’s mental state, but the rhythm and beats do plenty of painting on their own, the characters’ movements often tied to one or the other. Someone might break down a door or brutally execute another right on beat, story and music locked in-step as your knuckles turn white from gripping your seat. As for those lyrics, they start off awesome but slowly evolve into something that feels less like a musical and more like an opera in terms of delivery and off-beat rhyming, and as long as you frame it that way, it works just fine.
Gameplay in Of Bird and Cage is mostly puzzle-based, which boils down to essentially getting Gitta out of one predicament or another. What starts out as a barfight turns into a run for her life, further evolving into trying to escape from her kidnapper’s lair and even saving other victims. At certain points of the story, Gitta will be faced with a decision that will nudge her down the path to one of four endings, such as forgiving her kidnapper or killing those who did her wrong. Those choices will determine what puzzles Gitta is forced to do, such as barricading a warehouse in preparation for a shoot-out with cops or trying to escape a chloroform-fueled mental prison. Said puzzles have time limits, indicated by a meter at the bottom of the screen draining from left to right. If you don’t finish the puzzles before the song ends and the meter reaches zero, you’ve failed the round and sealed your fate: accept what comes next.
Through all this, Gitta is still addicted to GSBV. This means that, if her heart rate starts to reach above 70 BPM, she hallucinates — instead of regular environments, she sees everything on fire and flashes of scary images, like past and present abusers or other traumatic memories. Players can calm her by either taking any GSBV they have on hand to lower her BPM or by looking at birds or bird imagery, as the feathered creatures calm her nerves. Trying to play without drugs isn’t impossible, but it definitely adds to the already heightened emotions in this intense experience.
I’ve gleaned through other reviews and YouTube videos that people wish they had more time to complete puzzles or felt frustrated by the lack of environmental cues while rapidly running out of time, but the truth is, this is pretty close to how you feel in these abusive situations. The way to freedom could be extremely straightforward, but due to depression, drug use, mental and emotional abuse, and/or just general anguish can make one feel powerless, even when performing simple tasks. It didn’t strike me as bad design and from a story-telling perspective I liked what I was seeing, but the gaming aspect can absolutely wear thin, especially when you’re already on pins and needles trying to anticipate what’s next.
If there’s one thing I think Of Bird and Cage got right above all else, it’s the almost fairytale-like storyline that can play out in these types of relationships to the point where neither party recognizes how toxic it is. I’m reminded of Sublime’s Wrong Way — an older man with a younger woman, both with enough emotional baggage to fill an Airbus A380, talking revenge and maybe even acting out on it. “Happy are you sad, want to shoot your dad // I’ll do anything I can it’s the wrong way.“ If these people were hard to understand, consider yourselves fortunate that you’ve never run into such a couple — I have, and what played out on screen in Of Bird and Cage was something they openly talked about doing to people who they felt wronged by until their bitter, revenge-filled divorce a decade after one of them was done abusing the other. It’s absolutely toxic, it’s absolutely a version of Stockholm Syndrome, and it was perfectly portrayed in this roller coaster of a rock opera.
It’s hard to sum up what I just experienced through Of Bird and Cage. I loved what I played, but I mostly loved what I heard and how the visuals reacted to it. Even though there are multiple endings, I don’t know if I have it in me to play it again — if I’m not exhausted by the emotional ride, I’m definitely worn out by the difficult puzzles and hidden secrets. This dark depiction of Beauty and the Beast works, but only if you recognize what you’re getting into: a musical experience focusing on an abused psyche desperately trying to break free from known shackles, only to fly right into a cage that represents both prison and freedom. And all that rock royalty lending its (copyright-free, streaming-approved) voice to this exhilarating tale of revenge and regret? Don’t pass up this game.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: All in! Games; Developer: Capricia Productions; Players: 1; Released: May 20, 2021; MSRP: $14.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Of Bird and Cage provided by the developer.