THE CAVE

Genre:   adventure-platformer

Developer:  Double Fine Production

Publisher:  Sega

Released:  January 2013

PC Requirements:   see review

 

 

by gremlin

  

What is it?

Anthropomorphism is a common thing in games; we have any number of animals given humanoid form and nature to act as our avatar in the setting of a game. But never before have I come across a geological structure as a principal (albeit not our avatar in this game) character. The Cave does just that. The eponymous Cave provides both the environment and the narrator in this new game from Ron Gilbert (creator of Monkey Island) now working at Double Fine (Psychonauts).

The Cave is an unusual game for me, because it looks more like a side-scrolling platformer than an adventure game. But who's to say what I'll discover in the company of Ron Gilbert's seven miscellaneous, spelunking explorers.

Is there a plot?

The Cave introduces itself as a place that has been explored for thousands of years by people searching for what they desire. It's a sultry sounding, seductively voiced place. But first you must choose your representatives on this journey. You have to choose three characters from seven possibilities to descend into the Cave. There's a knight, a hillbilly, a time-traveler, a scientist, an archaeologist, a pair of twins (okay, there are two of them, but they come as a package), and a monk.

You can pick any combination of characters and the game will cope. There are some parts of the story that you have to handle whichever characters you choose, and a section of the game that requires the specialist talent of each individual in your selection. This means that there are 35 different possible ways to play The Cave. I don't think I've ever seen an adventure game with such an enormous degree of re-playability.

How do you play?

The Cave is not a conventional adventure game; to some adventure gamers it may appear to not be an adventure game at all, with the 2D vertical layout of the Caves' tunnels (think 'wormery' or vertical slice through a nest of ants). The game has a lot of '2D platformer' about it with lots of running around and jumping over gaps and climbing ladders, and so on. However, in the end, the game is about solving puzzles aided by subtle (and not so subtle) clues from the environment and the Cave itself.

Controlling the game is simple - point and click with the mouse, or keyboard controls with left (A), right (D), jump (space), drop (C) and activate (E) keys. You can switch between your chosen characters with the 1, 2, and 3 keys, or by clicking on them in the bottom left corner. As I've already alluded to, each character also has a special ability (activated with the Q key). These are abilities such as walking through locked doors, or hacking computer terminals, or swimming underwater for an extended period. For each of the levels specific to a character, their special ability is key to solving that level. And if you don't have the character with you, then you cannot enter their level; there will be a simple bypass route.

Throughout the game, you have to use your three selected characters in combination to solve puzzles. A lot of the puzzles are concerned with finding the right object - each character may carry one item at a time - but others are about using the right combination of switches, or getting one character to set something up whilst another pulls a switch. For these latter puzzles, you need to switch characters quite quickly, at which point the keyboard controls are easier to use. The timings are fairly generous, but not overly so.

Notable Features

The graphics in The Cave are quite unusual. They are a cartoon style, with references to Edward Gorey and other morbid, surrealistic cartoonists, mixed with the dark, damp passages of the cave, mixed with mines, and various not-very-cave-like environments, like an Edwardian mansion, a pseudo-medieval castle, a funfair straight out of Tim Burton's imagination, and more. It's a very well constructed world, and the game runs smoothly, and largely without bugs... except as noted below. It's unfortunate that the bug I did find was quite nasty.

Any other novelties?

Although I played The Cave on a PC, it's also available on various consoles, in which case you have the option of a co-operative mode where two players can work together. However, the game will only focus on one selected character at a time, so there's no issue with split screen views.

Overall, though, the prime novelty of The Cave is the simple ability to choose three of seven characters to work with, and the variations that offers in the adventure.

Oddities

To say that The Cave is an odd game throughout would not be too unreasonable, but unfortunately there are some actual bugs in the game too. I managed to drop an umbrella and I never managed to find it again. So I cannot now complete the Twins' Mansion level... and as there is only one save slot, that's it, game over.

This is not to say that you cannot complete the game - I've certainly completed The Cave with one combination of characters, but I'll have to start from scratch now that I've broken my current selection.

Conclusions

In terms of originality, style and sheer chutzpah, The Cave is right up there with Ron Gilbert's previous work. It's such a shame that there are some game breaking glitches, and no way to step back (say perhaps, to the start of the current level) when you've come across one. The grade of the game really does suffer when you have to throw away a couple of hours of gaming because an umbrella falls through the floor.

Grade: B-

What do you need to play it?

Requirements

  • OS: Windows XP SP3 (Windows 7 recommended)
  • Processor: minimum 1.8 GHz dual core CPU
    (recommended Intel Core 2 Duo at 2.2 GHz, or AMD Athlon 64 at 2.2 GHz)
  • Memory: 1 GB RAM
  • Graphics: minimum 256 MB GeForce 8800, Radeon 3850, or Intel HD 2000 Graphics
    (recommended 512 MB GeForce 220, Radeon 4550, Intel HD 3000 Graphics)
  • DirectX«: 9.0c
  • Hard Drive: 1.5 GB HD space
  • Sound: DirectX Compatible Sound Card

(I used a home-built 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium (SP1) PC running on an AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual 5200+ processor, with 6 GB RAM, and a Sapphire Radeon HD4670 512MB video card, with on-mother-board, built-in sound card)

The Cave is available for download from Steam or Adventure Shop, and is also available for MAC, LINUX, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii U.

 

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February 2013

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