Genre: Adventure Developer: Double Fine Productions Publisher: Sega Classification: G Release Date: 23rd Jan 2006 Platforms:
Average of 4 Ratings
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If The Cave was published under a different company, without relying on the pedigree of Ron Gilbert, it would pass by with nary a mention. It is a forgettable platformer/adventure game with little personality. Which is surprising seeing as it’s about a cave that can talk.
The humour is stilted, stuffy and without zing. It’s somewhat witty in a writerly way, but I doubt that you’ll ever actually smile let alone laugh. The talking cave’s purpose in the game is to let you know when you’ve reached an “a-ha!” moment in a puzzle. Gaining the key or finding a battery that needs recharging incites a pithy one-liner to make certain you’re aware that you did something right.
Knowing whether or not you’re doing something right in The Cave is an issue. The entire game is lacking in information. As a design philosophy - sit back and let the player discover things - this can be fine in itself, but there are certain fundamental elements that will have you scratching your head and hitting up Google. Firstly, it’s not made clear that the three characters you choose at the beginning are the three that you must play with for the entire game. It’s not even made clear who the characters are and why they’re standing around waiting to be controlled.
They suffer in their broadness. “the Hillbilly”, “the Scientist” etc. Do people not have names in this universe? For a game that purports to lead you through the personal stories of these characters, their blandness is incredible. How am I meant to care about the Hillbilly’s affection for some carnival woman when he is constituted from heavy stereotype? I don’t give a toss about any of these people, no matter how many “story” panels I find inside the cave.
Bereft of story motivation, all that is left for The Cave is its puzzles and these also disappoint. Structurally, you are forced to do simplistic things in as complicated a manner as possible, although that is fairly true of most adventure titles. The cave itself is a sprawling subterranean maze that is initially quite interesting to explore. The graphics are nice and cartoony, with a pleasing animated gait to characters. Then you encounter ladders … These are everywhere and characters move down them at the slowest possible speed. It is possible to drop down a little bit on ladders, but this action sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, which describes the entirety of The Cave’s controls, actually. Sometimes things work, other times they don’t - who knows?
Exploration can be fun, but when you have to constantly switch between three characters and travel back over old ground - often multiple times if you’re finding a puzzle confusing - it soon becomes labourious. On consoles this can ostensibly be lessened with the ability to play cooperatively, or so I hear. On PC (our review platform) there is no co-op option. Which is strange, because there is a “Drop Player” option in the pause menu - which, incidentally, removes the option to “Save and Quit” if you press it ... The Cave on PC is an unprofessional and inferior product.
It’s somewhat obvious that Ron Gilbert and team - let’s not kid ourselves in thinking that a game is entirely created by one person - want the experience to be abstruse. They want the player to experiment and find out thing for themselves. Unfortunately, they erred too heavily on the side of non-interference. For instance, you have no idea that each character actually has a special ability unless you accidentally stumble across it with a button or key press - and these abilities are essential in some of the areas.
I played through the game with the Scientist, the Hillbilly and the Time Traveller. At certain points in the cave, character-specific areas load (usually after a long fall). What this means is that you’ll need to replay the game if you want to see each character’s stage. Areas are tailored to the special ability of that character - so the Time Traveller uses short teleportation bursts to get past shut gates and stalactites, the Hillbilly forms an oxygen bubble around his head (naturally) to breathe for longer underwater and the Scientist hacks computer consoles. None of these abilities feel essential or even very fun to use. They are simply the given tools that are used to approach the frustrating locks that The Cave’s design presents.
Puzzles are logical enough, if founded on slippery humour. You’ll kill a dinosaur to create oil in a later time period (not so sure of the science on that one), use a disappearing dumbbell to trick a fairground weight-guesser and place a wet floor sign to deal with a pesky scientist trying to stop you launching a nuclear warhead. Whacky, zany fun, right? Not really. It’s all so ploddingly plain and boring - especially given the backtracking nature of character swapping - that even when puzzle payoffs come all that you feel is relief mixed with the realisation that you never want to have to do that again. It’s not awful, just very average. You’ve done this before in older, better games.
To be fair, there is a certain pleasure in realising how The Cave’s puzzle logic works, but it is fundamentally flawed, relying on the heavy padding of backtracking and character-swapping. When broken down into base components, each puzzle is a time-waster with little payoff beyond the opening up of the next area, where it all starts again. If more work had been done on making these characters broader and less cardboard, player investment would increase and the gears and cogs of the puzzles would fade into the background.
As presented, The Cave feels like My First Adventure Game. Perhaps you find pleasure in the mechanics of “whacky” adventure situations. If so, The Cave will keep you interested across several replays in order to see every area and find each story panel. There is some dark-ish humour but it never goes far enough and borders on embarrassingly bad in most places. Those attuned to adventure titles will feel their puzzle sensibilities tickled but definitely not itched.
Hey, Nirvesta, I'm afraid I don't follow your line of thought here - you agree with the points made, but you feel he was too negative delivering them? Is that correct? I guess, if a game's humour doesn't carry for you (and it's a humourous game) it's plausible that the game might be tainted to be more negative while still hinging on the same crucial flaws or boons, right?
This is a clear example of a poor review where the reviewer makes some good points but spends too much time talking about how **** they feel playing something. Your opinion is perfectly fine, but please try to avoid making the reader think that you're just a grumpy person who views things as such. As I said I agree with most of the points made on the game, but I disagree with how you've said them.