Review: The Cave
The Cave is portrayed as a grand adventure, rife with compelling characters, each on a personal journey of discovery. Some begin with good intentions, others are corrupt from the outset, but all are capable of great sacrifice in return for the fulfillment of their loftiest of ambitions. Will it be worth it? Well, that’s for you, the player, to find out.
It’s an intriguing and inviting foundation for a game that I hoped, with Double Fine’s expertise, would reinvigorate the adventure genre. Unfortunately, I didn’t unearth the revolutionary experience the trailers had hinted at in The Cave’s mysterious depths, but for $14.99, maybe a modest tale starring several misfits indulging their most wicked desires in the form of several spasmodic puzzles, isn’t so bad.
Double Fine’s latest adventure begins with a short introduction from, well, The Cave itself, who serves as an omniscient presence throughout your journey. Before long players are given the opportunity to choose the characters who’s stories they’d like to participate in. Much like the Trine games, The Cave allows players to control three characters by toggling between them in real-time. Each character has a special ability that’s needed to complete their specific puzzle, but more often than not, they’ll need the help of their two companions to progress.
I began my first play-though with The Twins, The Time Traveller and The Hillbilly, whom all had vastly different agendas to attend to. It’s important to note that, although the primary puzzles you encounter are determined by the characters you opt for at the beginning of the game, there are certain puzzles that are presented to all players, regardless of character choice. Having said that, the personalized puzzles are far more interesting and extravagant than the mandatory ones and are the primary appeal of the game.
Overall, The Cave’s puzzles themselves are somewhat hit-and-miss. My early experience wasn’t particularly favorable as the first character-specific puzzle presented to me dealt with The Hillbilly’s pursuit of ‘true love’. The puzzle utilizes a carnival environment and requires the player to collect tickets by winning certain carnival games. As you’d expect from a game of this type, players are required to collect objects and interact with the environment to progress further. The puzzle itself wasn’t particularly enjoyable and culminated with a rather abrupt conclusion to The Hillbilly’s story. However, the main issue I noted during my early time with the game pertained to its controls.
To put it bluntly – they are clunky and unresponsive. The Cave isn’t a challenging platformer, but it is a game where you’ll spend most of your time traversing its environments, which could have been far more enjoyable with improved controls. Playing on the PC with a mouse and keyboard only exacerbates this issue, which I realized after beginning a second play-through with a controller. Thus, I highly recommend using a control-pad, as the analog sticks allow for much more precise movement. Using a controller doesn’t completely quell the frustration, but it is definitely preferable to a mouse and keyboard.
Other issues related to movement and navigation include getting stuck in the game’s geometry, which can occur from time to time. Usually I was able to wriggle free, but on one occasion I was forced to re-load the game in order to continue. There was one other instance that caused me to restart, which appeared to result from a camera issue. The problem arose when all three of my characters were in close proximity to each other but on different levels in the environment. When your characters are close to one another, The Cave attempts to frame them all, but this doesn’t always work and sometimes can obscure the character you’re currently controlling. I tried to toggle back and forth between each character to fix the problem, but this resulted in the complete breakdown of the camera. Meaning that I now had control of none of the characters; I could no longer toggle between them and was forced to re-load the game.
As I mentioned earlier, the initial puzzles weren’t sparking my interest, and The Cave’s similarly hit-and-miss narration didn’t help to alleviate my dissatisfaction (although the voice-work for the most part is competent). Thankfully the later and more elaborate puzzles were considerably more interesting. Both The Twins’ and The Time Traveller’s puzzles are memorable, if for nothing else than their surprisingly dark nature. The Cave’s puzzle mechanics are admittedly quite simple, so it’s really up to the individual personalities of each character to entertain the player.
Cave paintings help to establish the identity of each character and can be found throughout the game. Discovering a cave painting allows the player to view a prior moment in a character’s life in the form of an image and caption. Although useful for understanding each character’s motivations, their histories are quite shallow. Granted, there’s some humor to garner from the absurd conclusions of each character’s tale, but don’t expect The Cave to offer you any more information than is necessary to contextualize each puzzle. There is an attempt to inculcate the value of introspection within the player by the game’s end, but its superficial characters lack development and thus any lasting appeal.
Moving onto The Cave’s presentation, there’s nothing overly negative or positive to comment on. There are some attractive environments, a good use of color and acceptable lighting, however, the character designs and animations are probably the strongest aspect of The Cave’s visuals. Each character conveys a distinct level of detail and has their own unique animations, some of which are quite clever and charming. The Hillbilly’s run-cycle is particularly entertaining. It’s simply ridiculous, and merely observing him standing idly by can glean a moment’s amusement. The Knight’s animations are also quite clever and at first seem odd. Most would assume a knight to maintain a commanding posture, showing intent and purpose, but The Cave’s knight is quite the opposite (of course, you’ll discover why if you choose to play as him).
From the outset, The Cave professes to be brimming with mystery and intrigue, but, in reality, amounts to a rather modest affair. It’s over rather quickly (around four to six hours) and, although it’s worth replaying to see some of the other character-specific puzzles, your initial feelings towards the game’s conclusion likely won’t change with subsequent play-throughs. Don’t expect The Cave to be the catalyst for a personal epiphany akin to Plato’s Cave, compelling you to evaluate your foremost needs and wants. But, for those who acknowledge the limitations of a humbly priced title such as this and merely want a few moderately-fun hours of adventure, The Cave serves its purpose.