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The Cave Review

Posted by Stephen del Prado On Wednesday 27 February 2013Comments Off

Available on XBLA, PSN, WU eShop and Steam l Published by SEGA l Developed by Double Fine Productions l Classified PG l Supports 1-3 players

REVIEW IN BRIEF > Rather than a fresh and exciting experience, The Cave feels more like a mash-up of past glories from its distinguished development team. The combination of platforming, puzzles and humour mixed with an exploration of its characters’ dark inner workings will feel very familiar to fans of Ron Gilbert and Double Fine Studios. To everyone else, it will stand as an interesting concept somewhat let down by its execution.

REVIEW IN FULL > If we are to compare the world of videogames to that of music, Gilbert and Schafer are classic rock stars, a duo that created some fantastic work together before parting ways to pursue successful solo careers. When we see them reunite after two decades apart, it’s only natural to expect something that distils their experiences to take gaming in a bold new direction. Unfortunately, instead of hailing a dazzling masterpiece, we’re left confused, listening to a Greatest Hits album consisting of remixes and alternate takes. The Cave is familiar, yet different enough to alienate.

…the cave itself is a conscious entity. Well aware of its explorer’s intentions, it provides cynical narration and offers glimpses into each character’s back story.

The premise is wonderfully intriguing. Seven characters all stand poised to journey into the bowels of the cave, each carrying a terrible secret entwined with jealousy, rage and cowardice, all in search of a keepsake item and perhaps a chance at redemption. A twist on this is that the cave itself is a conscious entity. Well aware of its explorer’s intentions, it provides cynical narration and offers glimpses into each character’s back story. This is supplemented by hidden unlockable pictures detailing the sordid events leading up to the arrival of each protagonist. The art style, content and even the purpose of these pictures feels like it is lifted straight from Schafer’s earlier title Psychonauts. The overall graphical style is simple but pleasing to the eye, using sharp exaggerated angles to distinguish itself.

With a cold opening and no tutorial, getting into The Cave can be a challenge. Firstly, it’s recommended to forgo keyboard controls by plugging in a controller and checking out the controls menu. This is the only place which kindly notes that each of the characters has a special talent that will be required in order to get through his/her individual level. The abilities vary in effectiveness and the most useful aid in beating the five standard levels as well. Completing the campaign is quite simple. Each level has an overarching goal which is met through solving some basic puzzles, mostly by using levers and items scattered about.

The overall story and individual character arcs are slowly revealed through both level design and the aforementioned unlockables, none of which will be spoiled here. While some of the multiple narratives are clichéd, a few of them are different enough that the outcome won’t be immediately guessed. It’s safe to say that Gilbert’s comedic sensibility, made famous by the original Monkey Island series is still fully intact in The Cave, if not slightly blacker given the subject matter.

…in order to follow every character’s story to its conclusion, The Cave must be completed three times.

One nagging issue is that some gameplay sections can drag depending on how much backtracking is required. To change this routine up, some of the character specific sections introduce twists to the standard item fetch mechanics. The best example of this is the Time Traveller section, which again borrows heavily from an early Gilbert and Schafer game, in this case 1993’s Day of the Tentacle. Rather than simply fetching items from one side of the level for delivery to the other, the characters must instead use their access to a time machine to exploit the effects of their actions over three distinct time periods. It’s during moments of realisation and clarity like this that The Cave truly shines.

The flow of the narrative is one of the freshest concepts found in the game, but it is also the most frustrating.  After beginning the story, three out of the seven characters must be selected in order to proceed, which naturally leaves plenty of room for puzzles requiring three people to solve. There are 12 levels in total to be played through, seven of which are character specific. The other five must be completed in every playthrough. With some simple mathematics, it’s easy to see that in order to follow every character’s story to its conclusion, The Cave must be completed three times. As most gamers can attest, puzzle games lose much of their appeal after the first run through unless they offer multiple solutions, which The Cave does not.

Don’t be mistaken – this isn’t a terrible game by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just not a revelation. As a lower priced digital title, it’s a worthwhile purchase for long time fans of its creators or gamers looking for a degree of replayability (depending on their fondness for repetitive environments).

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