The Cave Review
The brainchild of Maniac Mansion’s Ron Gilbert, The Cave is the latest adventure game released under the Double Fine Studios banner.
Featuring seven playable characters and a deep narrative, it’s an ambitious title that tries to explore many emotions and ideas that run as deep as The Cave itself. But does it rise to the same level of greatness as so many of the other Double Fine games that came before?
(See Video Review below)
While it maintains the same charm and humor we’ve come to know and love from Double Fine, The Cave has a surprisingly dark undertone to its overall story. The game stars seven different characters, each with their own unique back story and personality. Thanks to unfortunate events and overwhelming emotions such as greed or jealousy, each of the game’s characters have committed some sort of heinous act in their past that you’ll explore while moving through the different levels in The Cave.
At a glance, the narrative is interesting. It’s meant to explore the dark sides of human behavior all while bringing to light ideas of choice and consequence. And to a degree, it succeeds. However, the game never really connects you to the characters in a way that makes the results of their drastic actions meaningful or interesting, and you yourself have no options or opportunity to take a role in the choices, instead taking a much more backseat, spectator-only place in the story. Because of that, it felt somewhat lacking and disjointed in its execution. Which is disappointing, because it really had the chance to be uniquely compelling.
The Cave blends together ideas of platforming and puzzle solving to make an action/puzzler hybrid that feels interesting and approachable for both the seasoned adventure game veteran and the newcomer to the genre. At the start, you’ll take only three adventurers with you throughout the cave, each with their own special abilities.
Interestingly enough, it’s the puzzle solving that is both the most interesting and frustrating part of The Cave. Puzzles are well thought out and use a variety of mechanics to help you solve them, but team management and backtracking leave them feeling tedious and time consuming in a way that is neither fun nor engaging. Your first playthrough will see you re-tracing your steps over large maps constantly, crossing long stretches of levels over and over again as you try to take the appropriate steps in order to solve a complex puzzle. And being that there are seven characters in The Cave, you’ll have to play through the game three different times in order to see each of the character’s levels and stories play out, meaning that only the most patient of players will actually enjoy multiple trips through the cave’s depths.
The basic platforming mechanics in The Cave work well enough to get the job done, but no solid rules are established early on to help you gauge exactly how far a character can jump or even how far they can fall without dying. It might sound like a petty complaint, but there are puzzles throughout the game that require a firm idea of both of those mechanics that will see you growing frustrated when you keep falling to your death and having to re-start a sequence time and time again.
Puzzles maintain a fair level of difficulty that is neither a cake walk or impossible to solve, and do a great job of using clever cues in order to help you figure out their solutions. Unfortunately, the satisfaction you’ll get once you’re finally able to complete a puzzle is eclipsed by the sheer annoyance of having to backtrack across a level multiple times as you attempt to solve it. A better party management system or better utilization of the environment might have made for more interesting puzzles, but as it stands, the gameplay in The Cave is too tedious for its own good.
While it might be lacking in its other aspects, the overall presentation of The Cave is fantastic. The game features a gorgeous painted art style with interesting character design and slight changes to the overall aesthetic for each of the character-specific levels throughout the game. It’s a breathtaking mix of colors and design that make it visually interesting and help the game adopt a very unique and almost macabre personality.
Voice acting in the game is sparse, but excellent. The Cave itself is a voiced entity who favors black humor and comments on the different situations and choices the characters find themselves in. All other voices in the game are NPCs found within the depths of The Cave and deliver quirky and convincing performances that make them endearing and lend a level of polish to the game’s overall execution. One of the biggest oversights, however, was not giving the main characters a voice. Leaving them silent amidst a group of voiced characters felt unsettling and awkward in a way that wasn’t compelling and failed to connect me to them in any way. Had they been given more of a voice, I can’t help but feel like I would have been a bit more invested in them as a character and in their respective narratives.
The Cave is a solid action/puzzle platformer hybrid that tries to do some unique and innovative things with its story and gameplay mechanics. And for the most part, it succeeds; The Cave uses uniquely dark undertones not characteristic of a classic Double Fine game that feels unique and intriguing, the varied art styles are gorgeous, and puzzles use smart mechanics and are largely satisfying to complete. However, the game’s inability to connect players to the narrative in a meaningful way and the tedious nature of puzzle solving and platforming keep The Cave from rising above an unfortunate level of mediocrity.
(Note: This review was conducted on a PlayStation 3 after five hours of gameplay. The Cave is also available on the Xbox 360, PC, and Wii U.)