Release Date: January 23, 2013
ESRB: T for Teen
This review is based on the 360 version of the game
A download code was supplied by the publisher for this review
Those who played adventure games in their heyday are probably mighty familiar with the work of Ron Gilbert, even if theyâ€™ve never heard his name before. He produced popular LucasArts titles such as Maniac Mansion and the Monkey Island series. Since those days, he kicked an idea around in his mind about a cave exploration game. However, nothing came of it for some 20 years.
As you might expect, The Cave is Gilbertâ€™s dream finally realized. Does it manage to enthrall modern gamers, though, or is it stuck within antiquated adventure game trappings?
When it comes right down to it, The Cave excels at having a witty narrative, attractive visuals, and a great deal of puzzles. These hallmarks are definitely expected of an adventure gaming master, but it also seems as though the team was unsure how to cobble it into a modern gaming experience. Regardless, letâ€™s speak to all that The Cave does right first. It is so easy to create a middling experience, but thankfully there is a lot in the game that makes it stand out among the once again bustling genre.
The narrative, or should I say "the narrator," is cruel but hilarious. It is actually the cave which is being explored that offers most conversation points. He laughs at the deaths of explorers, offers hints disguised with snide remarks, and is generally one of the most entertaining aspects of the game. The characters you play as are mute, but NPCs also pepper the game with similarly amusing conversation. Great writing does not dominate the game, though, as in fact much of it is a quiet experience. This helps to make dialogue stand out as more worth listening to.
What of the playable characters? There are seven to choose from, and each has their own use. Interestingly, the game does not grant you access to all the characters in any one playthrough. Instead you select three of the cast and play a game through with that group. The characters chosen also affect the game you end up playing. There are only so many levels overall, but players will see levels specific to each character they have selected. Ones who were not chosen have their level segments left out.
Playthroughs donâ€™t feel disjointed because of this mechanic at all. Instead they feel just as if the game was made with that exact cast in mind. The fact that it ended up working so well is a testament to the developerâ€™s creativity and is very cool to discover. Players also see small stories about each of their chosen characters as they play through the game. Although other characters may seem interesting, it will require other playthroughs to see exactly what theyâ€™re all about.
The seven selectable characters include the likes of a hillbilly, scientist, knight, time traveller, and others. Each has their own special ability which somewhat relates to their role. The time traveller, for example, can phase through solid barriers. Others, like the hillbilly, can hold their breath for a really long time for some reason. Regardless, each team memberâ€™s skills come into use when exploring. Some unnecessary sections of levels will be unavailable though if you lack a character with the right skill to check it out.
Because of the cast, you may find yourself playing this 4-5 hour game more than once. Each story is very distinct for the character in question and they play out in ways people might not expect. That, paired with extra explorable areas should prove a tempting reason to give it another go. Then there is even the ability to have other players take control of the team members. Although the same game is still at the core, single versus co-op experiences change the feel of this adventure.
Playing The Cave is an unusual experience for both adventure fans and gamers who have never tried them before. The adventure roots are obvious in how many puzzles there are to solve with the likes of various objects. However, it plays out more like a 2D platformer than anything else. Each character must run, jump, climb, and fall often to make their way through expansive levels. Typical adventure games feel more compact in comparison to the sprawling cave systems found here.
However, this may be more of a detriment than anything else. You are never provided with a map, which means knowing where things are is fully dependent on your memory. The screen pulls out at key puzzle moments, but otherwise, is fairly close to the chosen character at the time. With that said, it is hard to get a feel of the landscape without fully exploring every direction. There also appears to be no way to manipulate the camera either, which have quelled this complaint.
It seems as though the platforming from location to location will either pull players in or push them away. This certainly isnâ€™t what would be expected of an adventure game, and it isnâ€™t perfectly implemented either. Beyond what was just said, the controls are not as responsive as they could be which leads to some missed jumps or other annoyances. Then, with such large levels, it draws out the time between solving puzzles because it takes awhile to get from point A to point B. Simply having an expansive world to explore does not make puzzles more difficult, and as such, this is another annoyance with the design.
Are the puzzles themselves worth writing home about? They range from easy to fairly difficult with little warning. Although the more complex puzzles come later in the game, there is no hint system included to aid struggling players. In this age, such help is expected as most players are not familiar with truly tough puzzles. Still, if you look beyond that, some are pretty creative. Figuring out what to do feels great, although the feeling may become more fleeting as the player becomes exhausted from facing one challenge after another. One other detriment of puzzles is that, due to the design, certain levels will have the same puzzles no matter how many times you play.
There is so much exciting about The Cave that it is unfortunate to see the game become encumbered by its own lofty ideals. A large landscape to adventure across is cool in theory but navigating it becomes a chore more than anything else. The game is visually appealing, witty, and weird but would probably have done better with a different gameplay mechanic. Regardless, those who want to play an adventure game that doesnâ€™t mesh with expectations of the genre will find an interesting experience with The Cave.
+ A ton of puzzles
+ Replayability is high due to multiple characters
+ Fantastic writing
- 2D platformer play style doesnâ€™t suit the game
- Little means of aiding player (no map or hint system)
- Some puzzles/sections remain static through all playthroughs
Overall Score: 6.5 (out of 10)
The Cave is an ambitious title which succeeds with wit and puzzles but is held back by other gameplay decisions.