Traditional point-and-click adventure games have become something of a rare commodity these days in the world of gaming, so every time a new one is released, it makes for a very exciting time to be an aspiring adventurer like me. Contrary to popular belief, The Cave isn’t the byproduct of the Tim Schafer and Double Fine miracle story that wound up raising over 2 million dollars of funding on Kickstarter. No, The Cave is the brainchild of fellow adventure game genius Ron Gilbert, the man who brought us Maniac Mansion and the first two Monkey Island titles all those years ago. Following in true Ron Gilbert fashion, The Cave takes everything that old school gamers loved about those quirky point-and-click adventures, and dresses it up in the graphic sheen and appearance of a 2013 2D platforming game. The Cave is out now on PS3 and Xbox 360 but, for this review, Den of Geek will be looking at the PC version of the game.
So what’s the story behind this magical labyrinth of a talking cave? Many travelers have tried to reach the bottom of The Cave and unlock its telling secrets with little success (in fact, you’ll even come across the skeletons of a few travelers past who didn’t get very far). At the start of The Cave, you’ll be given control of a promising new batch of spelunkers, who each have their own reasons for wanting to descend the depths and achieve the thing they most desire. There are seven different characters for players to choose from: the Scientist, the Adventurer, the Knight, the Hillbilly, the Monk, the Time Traveler and the creepy Twins. But the catch is you can only choose three of them to form your all-star spelunking team, which makes for a mostly different experience each time you play. There are a few sections of The Cave you’ll find are standardized based on any playthrough, but each character has his or her own themed section of The Cave that you’ll have to traverse, and these are often the most thrilling and diverse locations in the game. As you play, you’ll reveal more about each character’s backstory by finding “cave art,” which takes the form of 2D colored illustrations. The illustrations are a nice touch, but they do seem a little lackluster and lazy compared to how great everything else in The Cave looks.
For this review playthrough, I chose to play with the Scientist, the Knight and the Adventurer, because they seemed the best equipped to handle any stalagmite-based obstacles I might encounter in The Cave and because, quite frankly, the Hillbilly and the Twins kind of scared me. Each character has his own unique, special ability, from breathing underwater, to grappling over pits, to hacking computer terminals (yes, computer technology is the least of many wonders you’ll come across in The Cave). However, use of these special powers is usually limited to a character’s specific section and so it does feel like a little bit of wasted potential at times. For instance, they couldn’t have put a puzzle that needed the Scientist’s hacking ability in the Adventurer’s section, since players can choose two other travelers to accompany the Adventurer and that would leave you stuck with nowhere to go. It’s a shame the game didn’t really plan for an area to utilize your three, specific character abilities at once, as this could have made for some seriously head-scratching puzzles.
The voice acting in The Cave is simply superb and the writing is full of wit and charm, with that classic point-and-click adventure brand of humor. But would you expect anything less from a Ron Gilbert game? Most of The Cave’s humor comes from the talking cave’s snide commentary and observations of the world around you, which can range from trying to pronounce the word “ominous,” to intentionally doling out “spoilers” and foreshadowing events still to come. After all, in the first five minutes of the game, The Cave introduces himself to the players by saying, “Yes, I’m a talking cave. Don’t laugh, it makes dating hell.” And that’s really all you need to know to understand what kind of experience you’re in for. The game is very self-aware and Ron Gilbert absolutely nails the whole irony thing in his dialogue. While there is certainly a minimalist feel to how much storyline is provided, I actually would have liked to see more of a story in this case, as the writing is just always at the highest caliber. The art is also gorgeous and Tim Schafer fans will instantly recognize the influence of Double Fine Productions in the visuals. Character models positively bubble with personality and do a great job blending different narrative genres. The water textures are especially stunning. Granted, certain parts of the game can get a little too dim for my liking, but since it all does take place in a cave, I’m willing to let that one slide.
Amazing presentation aside, it’s the classic, core adventuring gameplay that makes The Cave really shine (well, as much as a game can shine in this dank, underground environment anyway). The game functions just like the classic point-and-click adventures from Gilbert’s past, with the polished look and feel of current-gen 2D platform games like Trine or Little Big Planet. Throughout the game, you can switch back and forth between your team of three spelunkers, which plays a huge role in solving many of the environmental puzzles, in addition to utilizing any items you might find (side note: what’s with this game’s obsession with hot dog vending machines??). And just like those old point-and-click adventure games, it won’t be long before you find yourself at an impasse with no clue of how to continue. Trust me; this will happen often. The puzzles are tough, but nothing compares to feeling like a genius every time you manage to figure one out. After getting stuck several times in the first hour of the game, I started to worry that I wouldn’t even be able to make it through a full playthrough in time to write this review! But from my personal experience, The Cave does get a little bit easier the more you play and without giving anything away, all of the puzzles are nicely grounded in logic, so there aren’t any cheap or random solutions to anything. A lot of the early stumbling you’ll encounter in The Cave is because the game lacks any kind of beginning tutorial, and leaves you to figure out many key concepts like how to use your special abilities all on your own.
If all goes well, you can usually make it to the bottom of The Cave in only 4 or 5 hours, but the real replay value of the game comes from multiple playthroughs with an all new team of travelers. That is the only way to see how The Cave will change and access those tantalizing areas you couldn’t get to before. This is good for people who like to get their money’s worth out of a game, but bad for “completionist” gamers like me, who have that constant need to explore every nook and cranny before moving on to the next area. In my first playthrough, I saw several underwater grottos that I couldn’t traverse, because I didn’t have the Hillbilly and his extra big lungs. I tried so hard to swim through those grottos and drowned my Scientist about fifty times in the process. Oh well. But given the downward nature of progression in The Cave, you’ll often take a huge drop that prevents you from backtracking to previous areas, so tread with caution, lest you miss out on any of the subtle secrets The Cave has to offer.
The controls are incredibly simple and a breeze to learn. The PC version lets home spelunkers choose between playing the game like a 2D platformer with their keyboard, or the more traditional point-and-click setup using only their mouse. The game mechanics are usually pretty solid, despite the occasional hiccup when a character gets stuck on a wall or momentarily simply refuses to drop whatever item they are holding. There can be some annoying backtracking in a few of the larger areas, when you’ll need to bring two of your characters over to the third one’s position, one by one; but usually the game will automatically make the other two catch up in moments when backtracking would really be a hassle. I think the game also suffers a bit from not offering multiple save files, as some of us might want to experiment with using several different expeditions of various party members at the same time, to see how each experience stacks up against the others.
It may not be an incredibly complicated game and only more time in its underground caverns can tell us what other twists and turns The Cave has in store, but for what it does include, The Cave develops to perfection. The Cave’s winning sense of humor, its mouthwatering graphics,and its unique presentational twist on the point-and-click genre makes it a must have for any fan of adventure games or fans of talking caves in need of a slight attitude adjustment. So now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a Hillbilly, a Monk, and a Time Traveler and I think it’d be best if I meet them before it gets dark. Happy spelunking!
Story – 9/10
Graphics – 9/10
Gameplay – 10/10
Music – 8/10