The Cave Review

27Jan

By Ian Crane

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So a hillbilly, a scientist and a knight walk into a Cave...

Published by Sega,the titularly named Cave is the focal point of Double Fine productions newest game, featuring not just the talent of Time Schafer & Double Fine but reuniting Ron Gilbert, who brought you such gems as Monkey Island and (Manic Mansion II:)Day of the Tentacle way back in 1993.

The Cave, 20 years later is as much a homage to those titles and the era of point and click as it is to other more contemporary titles like Little Big Planet and Trine.

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Whilst it wants to be an adventure, puzzle platformer with integrated coop the truth is this is not the most original or best Double Fine game and even Ron Gilbert cannot stop it from being; highly linear, well too easy and despite some mature content and odd splashes of macabre humor (squeaking the rubber nose on the skeleton of a dead clown creates 'an aroused clown'). The Cave is aimed squarely at family friendly, younger audiences.

The premise of the game starts out in that, from the seven different characters to choose from: including a time traveller, two Tim Burton twins and a mad scientist- pick three and enter The Cave. The genius is that depending on which three you pick depends on how you progress through The Cave and which areas are accessible.  A good example is that the Hillbilly can swim under water indefinably and The Twins who can create a 4th copy of themselves to hold levers and stand on platforms.

Whilst the Cave experience is linear, it is also uniquely circular in that by the time you end, no matter which ending you get you always end up back where you started. Therein lies the rub because you can only play as three at a time, only three areas are actually available in one play through. The start puzzle and end zones are exactly the same with tunnels padded out in between so a second or third play through is only about 60% different to the others.

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Also the only reason to have seven characters is to force people to play through a third time, but with two characters you have already used before- defeating the purpose and providing an annoying redundancy that is further exacerbated by the fact that a lot of the “abilities” for use in puzzles are the same or hardly ever required, because in the end everyone should be able to access the Cave at any time. Characters within the Cave never die, there is no perma-death or reloading as in a puff of smoke, wayward travellers will reappear right next to the nearest player.

So then, what is the story of these seven would be heroes and why have they entered a talking Cave?

Again whilst the developers have aimed for the stars, the story never really reaches its full potential and gets as lost inside itself as the TV show is seems to parody.  Each character has a secret desire. That desire is inside the Cave. The desire of each character is represented by an object and each area is themed to the character with a reward of the object at the end. To reach this goal they all must kill at least one other character that appears whom is blocking their path to enlightenment.

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To this end, and it is never fully explained, I have theorised that all seven characters are already dead! The Cave is a place between Heaven and Hell and this links in with the fact that none of them can die inside The Cave (especially as it states it won't let them). The only thing to do in The Cave is collect drawings which change based on who you play, with quirky cartoons detailing their prior life before coming to The Cave.

These cartoons are the real reward to players as they feature the same slapstick art from earlier offering in the 90s and join to form a much bigger picture of what is going on.

Graphically the game is excellent clocking in at around 1.7GB, however whilst there are a few glitches and clipping issues the colours and seamlessness of the areas work well to blend different environments, from a haunted house to a nuclear bomb, a carnival, tropical island and everything in-between. The biggest concern is that there is little control over the camera in regards to zooming out, so it can be difficult to judge the relation of one character in the map to the other.

There is no tutorial, little to no HUD or explanation of how to pick up objects or use them. This is a feature that would work well on IOS devices, but for younger or new player’s frustration may arise in not being spoon fed button prompts, even if the game itself- only operates on two different buttons and the analogue sticks to move.

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Perhaps the biggest mystery is how exactly 20 years later Tim Schafer and Ron Glibert have reunited to make an experience that while different in many ways is so very similar in spirit to their very first games. Whilst we may have imagined spending days, scouring the Manic Mansion or poking Sam and Max, today it takes mere hours to play through, and on repeat puzzles can be done without thinking. The Cave is an amusing quirky game with a deep premise and odd patches of dark humour that never quite crosses the line to create the adult game the (now adult) audience craves.

Compared to the racially insensitive, homophobic and downright anti-Semitic game that was 2011s Stacking The Cave is a relatively safe place to play in with or without a younger family member and hopefully, this is not the last time we get to go there...

8/10