The Cave Review
The Cave has been gestating within Ron Gilbert’s mind since the days of Maniac Mansion, but despite the vast amount of time between the two it doesn’t quite live up to the popular point-and-click adventure despite offering a few giggles of its own.
In many ways the latest outing from Tim Schafer’s Double Fine harkens back to the point-and-click games Schafer and Gilbert built their careers on, but The Cave manages to stumble into a few of the genre’s obvious pitfalls making for something of an uneven experience.
The Cave itself is a mystical, labyrinthine structure that lures in seven unsuspecting characters, each with their own story to tell. The Cave itself narrates the experience to the player in Double Fine’s customary humour-filled manner and asks that three of the cast are chosen to explore its dark depths, as well as the dark depths of themselves.
Each character is a vital piece of the puzzle and choosing who you initially take into the depths, while not hindering your progress (as each of the characters you leave behind will provide the replay value) will dictate the sort of experience you’ll have.
The Cave is about puzzles, though you’ll go through traditional platforming hoops to get to them. Each character has a unique ability and figuring out how to proceed is usually a matter of logical lateral thinking, but considering Gilbert’s history, you’d think things would rarely be that simple.
Each of the caves areas are visually distinct, but are still very… um, cave-y.
- Knight: has the ability to turn invincible meaning he can survive long drops and pretty much anything else, too.
- Hillbilly: For some reason the Hillbilly can hold his breath underwater for as long as he likes making him perfect for exploring the cave’s deep waters.
- Scientist: The Scientist can hack into computer terminals.
- Adventurer: The Adventurer has an Indiana Jones style whip-hook that means she can traverse deadly pits of spikes as long as there’s something to hook onto.
- Twins: Just like the twins in The Shining these two can freak you out by grabbing switches and then leave a shadow of themselves before wandering off to do something else.
- Monk: The Monk can use telekinesis to levitate objects.
- Time Traveller: The Time Traveller can ‘phase’ through bars blocking entrances or certain smaller objects gaining access to areas the others can’t.
You’re only allowed to take three characters into the cave, with the experience appearing to mould to whoever you take past the first stage presenting character-specific levels interspersed with some general hub-like puzzle areas.
The Cave itself continually reminds you that everyone has the capacity for darkness and depending on how you solve certain problems you’ll eventually be presented with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ endings. But, it’s invariably easy (and a lot more obvious) to discover each character’s evil side.
Exploring the personal worlds of the cast allows that character to come to the fore. With an obvious ability to use in certain areas puzzles are enjoyably logicial, often forcing you to think about the bigger picture and how each cahracter can contribute.
There are times when characters can be at opposite ends of a level (even across different time zones) and answers to the problems are rarely easy to come by.
But, and this is an inherent problem with the sprawling structure of The Cave and the puzzle structure itself, it requires an unhealthy amount of back-tracking.
The Cave isn’t really built around experimentation to figure out its problems, but that’s usually what’s required of them. Discovering how a problem can be solved needs each character to moved around individually and this can take its toll.
Moving different characters around the same location becomes tedious very quickly. There are moments when the two characters you’ve left behind will catch up with you, but these seem restricted to the times that you enter a new area. Other than that you’ll spend much of The Cave’s playtime backtracking across the same area as you attempt to discover the answer to a practical puzzle.
It’s an irritation that can’t be avoided and it can begin to grate, especially on multiple playthroughs. What doesn’t grate, though, is Double Fine’s trademark glib humour that takes full advantage of the characters (or the players) situation.
It might be character psychology 101, but discovering each tale and the good and evil outcomes gives The Cave an interesting edge. It’s just a shame that the laborious puzzles will eventually wear your resolve down.
Further issues arise through a slightly stuttering framerate, sometimes glitchy character movements and a few other graphical problems that gives The Cave a ‘rough around the edges’ feel to it. There were a number of times we found that our characters became stuck and one instance of them falling through the world entirely.
These niggles detract from what is a genuinely funny game that stretches an interesting concept over head-scratching puzzles. It might be easy to gloss over such issues in Maniac Mansion, but we have the benefit of hindsight and forcing players through such awkward and strangled designs belies how far we’ve come.
Version Tested: Xbox Live Arcade