It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Interactive media is the wave of the future, after all. So a metal album that’s also a game that is also a “deconstructed” version of the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast seems like it’d probably be pretty metal. You’ve got the epic fantasy element, you’ve got the already ready for video game soundtrack to drive you forward in the narrative–it sounds like the metal version of a rock opera with you in the driver’s seat. Pretty cool. That’s the concept of Of Bird and Cage, and while it’s been a little bit since I’d dabbled in metal, I was there for it.
Of Bird and Cage opens with a brief prologue which introduces us to the protagonist of this whole debacle, Gitta. Gitta grew up in an abusive household, with an alcoholic father that regularly beat her mother in front of her, leaving her to wonder if it was her fault. Cue angsty metal opener.
You’ll play most of the game as 25 year old Gitta, now a waitress at a diner with a full plate of problems and a desire to sing. So, you head to the local bar to inquire about the open mic night. Pretty regular stuff. You’ll soon find out from a bar full of horribly cranky folks that the open mic doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t stop you from getting up on stage anyway, in a quest to hook up the random band equipment even though, through the scrawled dialogue that always appears around Gitta to tell you her thoughts, you find you don’t know how to play. That’s fine though, because you also have a handy demo CD already made that you’ll be tasked with convincing the dark and broody leatherclad sound guy to play for you, which you’ll do pretty readily and will introduce the unstoppable metal album into play.
If this already sounds crazy, it’s only the warmup. Pretty soon, you’ll start to have some crazy visions. Again. You’ll find you’re addicted to a designer drug and you’ve just run out. Oh, and your dealer is here at the bar, pissed because you already owe him money. Oh, and he’s your boyfriend. Things escalate quickly in Of Bird and Cage, don’t they? Your fantastic dealer boyfriend wastes no time getting abusive with you in the bar full of patrons, and the patrons, including Dark Brooding Sound Guy, actually fight him off.
Then the flashbacks begin. It’s here you’ll get a good look at Gitta’s horrible life in a series of scenes. Gitta sings about her love for her dealer boyfriend who treats her like crap and makes her pay for the drugs, she sings about her crappy diner job and her boss who hates her, she sings about…well, everything. Towards the beginning, there’s some tracks that made me think the album would go good places, but it turns out more like someone who just so happens to sing everything they think–and she’s not the only one. As Gitta tries to make money at the diner by pouring coffee like a person who just gained use of their arms for the first time, the bill comes due.
I won’t spoil the entire ridiculous and incomprehensible story for you, but at some point, and it’s hard to tell what point that is due to all the back and forth time jumping, Leather guy returns, heroically luring you with drugs to a back alley where he introduces you to his buddy chloroform and stuffs you in his trunk, for a drive out in the country to learn how to shoot a gun. Yes, really. See, this guy, Bres, also known as Beast (ah, there’s the Beauty and the Beast connection) is somehow the good guy. A “complex” fellow who wants to murder your friends and is happy to beat you up a little when it suits him who will eventually “save” you from said dealer boyfriend when he somehow shows up at the warehouse you got abducted to to get his money, and sing about how you’re his forever. Romantic.
There are four different endings and a branching narrative in Of Bird and Cage, which means the choices you make can change the outcome, but no matter what you do, it’s not going to be pretty. Everyone loves punching everyone else, and that’s not even the half of it.
You can make choices that shape the narrative, and that’s the whole idea of Of Bird and Cage, I think, but everything from poorly implemented quicktime events to overall floaty, shitty mechanics means that even when you want to choose some sort of less terrible choice, you might not be able to. You’re often thrown into quests with no guidance, then given a countdown to find items to complete those quests and solve various puzzles in your environment.
As Gitta, you mostly move and manipulate things like you’re just barely ambulatory, and driving and shooting are not really any better. Everything you do in game is a struggle, and not just because you’re a 25 year old drug addict who’s gone from one shitty toxic abusive relationship to another in the space of five minutes.
I kept moving through the album and the acts of Of Bird and Cage hoping there’d be some turning point, where Gitta gets it together and wrests her life out of the influence of all these toxic males, but it doesn’t really happen, or didn’t on my “medium terrible” runthrough. There are uncomfortable hostage situations, weird dream sequences that overstay their welcome and a series of “empowered” confrontations with the people who hurt Gitta where she can choose to get revenge or not, but none of it feels good or freeing in any way, and instead you’re forced to go along with her into a space where she feels like just another villain, no matter what you do.
I understand the inherent darkness in metal. I understand violence in video games as an outlet–though this is definitely the kind of game your parents would have gone absolutely nuts about back in my day, but as a total package, there’s nothing redeeming about Of Bird and Cage. The story is incomprehensible and as riddled with plot holes as the landscape of Gitta’s world is with bullet holes, and even when you want to make good choices you’re trapped by poor mechanics, confusing puzzles and a constant punching battle, to say nothing of the rapidly deteriorating soundtrack, which adds a sort of B movie amusement level to the proceedings, but just reinforces the craziness that is Gitta’s world and choices, and only serves to narrate with the finesse of an emo 13 year old who just learned about metaphors. At its best it’s cringey and at worst it somehow deconstructs Beauty and the Beast far enough to have the beast be some sort of irresistible brooding antihero who turns into the hero simply because he saves her from another violent, toxic male before also being violent and toxic to her. Not everything has to have a happy ending, and there’s three more endings I could have gotten, but even with a heavy dose of Gitta’s designer drugs, I don’t think I’d dive back into the world of Of Bird and Cage.
Of Bird and Cage is out now on PC via Steam.
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