What The Cave Got Right
+ Great story
+ Awesome Visual style
What The Cave Got Wrong
– Broken controls
– Frame-rate stutter on the PS3/Xbox 360 version
A Time Traveller, a Knight and an Adventurer walk into a talking cave. While that may sound like the beginning of a joke heard during the drunken hours of a seedy Saturday morning, it’s actually an accurate depiction of my experience with The Cave. Funny man Ron Gilbert’s latest release is a thought provoking platform puzzle adventure, and while it harbours the wit and charm that put this legendary creator on the map, it lacks the cultural impact of his previous work.
The Cave is filled with throwbacks to Gilbert’s iconic works, which is apparent from the character select screen. There are seven characters (the same number as Maniac Mansion) featured in the game, each with a unique backstory and special power. Of those seven, players need to choose three to take into the cave – a magical labyrinth that holds the deepest desires of your chosen characters. For my first playthrough, I set off with the Time Traveller, the Adventurer, and the Knight.
Once entering the cave, players will be tested with a number of puzzles spread across interesting locations, all of which change depending on which characters you are using. With my three chosen characters I visited ancient pyramids, the future, prehistoric times and even a medieval castle. The puzzles themselves are challenging to a point where you tend to feel rather smart when you eventually work out how to press on to the next area.
The use of three active characters has its advantages when creating compelling puzzles. Players can switch between each of their three characters simply by using the D-pad (or numbers for PC gamers), which is often essential for completion. If you have three friends, however, you can each control one of the characters locally which ensures everyone plays their part to progress the story.
Each character has their own backstory which is revealed via cave paintings which are found throughout the game. I quickly learned that my three characters all had questionable motives to be in the cave, and it soon became apparent that they only cared about themselves.
The narrative is what is truly interesting about The Cave. While Gilbert’s trademark humour is front and centre, it manages to be a thought provoking process that leaves you to reflect on your character’s tale. It’s truly remarkable to see a game that isn’t afraid to share a darker message by the time the game is over, with an ending that can either offer redemption or peril.
The game does have some gaping issues, however. The platforming feels wrong, which is a major problem when you rely on those mechanics to explore the game world. Each character feels lofty and the controls are inaccurate. I quickly lost count how many times I jumped off a ladder in the wrong direction, or accidentally grabbed a rope when simply trying to move forward. It’s not a deal breaker, but it really does hurt the experience.
The PC version is by far the best looking of the bunch, with silky smooth frame rates all round. However, the controls are by far the worse, with the keyboard and mouse feeling clunky and often resulting in wrong actions when dragging and using items.
The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions run into serious frame-rate stutter, particularly when arriving at a checkpoint or loading a new area. Once again, not a deal breaker, but The Cave isn’t pushing graphical boundaries, so this should not be a problem.
The pace is also concerning, and one of the major reasons why I cannot recommend the game to the masses. While I personally loved it, I know a number of gamers won’t appreciate the constant character switching when playing solo, the backtracking for items and the quirky humour.
The Cave isn’t a genre defining the experience, but the thought provoking narrative, quality writing, and interesting characters make it more than worthwhile. Fans of Gilbert’s past works or adventure games, in general, will love it, yet the masses will be mixed. Are you willing to do whatever it takes to have your deepest desires? The Cave will test you until you have an answer to that question.