Double Fine and Sega have worked together to craft, not a masterpiece, but a very memorable and humorous experience in The Cave. Ron Gilbert- a familiar name to players of the Monkey Island games (most “The Secrets of…”), has also laid his classic mark of quirky humor and intriguing puzzles upon this game as well, much to everyone’s enthusiasm. The Cave also represents a meshing of both new and old ideals in gaming, as well as a more streamlined approach to how to create an inventive puzzle game without thoroughly puzzling the players…too much anyways. True to the title of the game, the entirety of the game (or at least a good chunk of it) takes place within the recesses of a dark cave, which is filled with content and mayhem as well. Be sure you have the patience though, because this game is enormous and will require multiple backtracking sessions in order to complete on schedule, or in order to find your creepy little character’s items to progress. In this aspect, The Cave reignites classic gaming with mostly success.
The interesting thing is that, no matter ow beautifully dark and impressive some of the 2D environments look, the characters are the true backbone of the game. Each character has a different special ability, and only two to three of the seven or eight playable characters can be used on a single playthrough, meaning that some paths are closed to you until you open them up on another go- and also meaning that you can never experience 100% of the game at one time. A neat little trick by Double Fine in order to force you to replay the game again and again. (A minimum of three times in order to find everything.) Another intriguing character (albeit a non-playable one) is the character of the Cave itself. Yes, the Cave is alive, and actually quite deep (pun intended). The evil presence of the Cave narrates your journey throughout the game, and constantly enjoys drawing other people deeper and deeper into it’s maw. The environmental puzzles lead on the story a little bit, add to the need for narration, and also create linked little puzzle sub-sets for each individual character’s locale as well. You’d be shocked what you can find deep down in this cave…
Another thrilling old-school technique appears in the form of the ingenious puzzles present at all times and on all stages within The Cave. Not only are they both physically and mentally demanding, (well, not always for you, the player) but these puzzles also breath life into what would otherwise be a stale experience and a repetitive sequence of progress and backtracking. Each new area opens up a new puzzle type for your selected character, from altering time in order to incorporate a butterfly effect thousands of years later, to meditating on the way forward or taking the plunge and dashing on ahead through traps and trials. While it is not entirely old school, and occasionally hints the answer to you unlike the conniving Antichamber- it still often takes awhile for the more challenging scenarios to click in your mind, which can be frustrating for some.
I must admit however, even with my countless measures of extreme patience, and after have completed both Portal games numerous times in various modes, that The Cave can be very infuriating at times. Many times, you will enter a chamber thinking that you haven’t yet been there, only to realize that so many of them look similar that you’ve completely lost the way forward. There is no fast-travel system, so that means you must do any backtracking on your own and hope that you remembered exactly where the particular object you needed was. This is even more tantalizingly true when you realize that you must over time control not one, but three characters the same way, do the same type assignments, and also find the same challenge switches as well. While the lack of a true inventory means that everything is streamlined and efficient, this also means you must think heavily on which single item to carry, and should you grab the wrong thing…well woe be to you, you’ll be backtracking for the right item again. As with earlier adventure-based games, the backtracking can kill the pacing and mood unless you have an iron will, so it’s really up to you to decide if you can handle the game or not. It doesn’t entirely kill the mood, but in quick succession it could…
The only bright spot in terms of backtracking is you don’t necessarily have to do it alone, as you can have three friends with you locally to suffer through the tedium as well. Just don’t think it’ll be like Portal 2’s cooperative mode, because you all must be on the same screen together as with some other recent games. The good thing is however, that The Cave tries to mesh some old school moments into new gen things, and overall, it meets it’s major goal- and brings a fun experience to the screen for you and your friends as well. Try it for yourself.
Concept: Solve puzzles, explore a dark and ancient cave, and listen to the humorous narrations throughout your misadventures.
Graphics: Each character looks remarkably different, has their own set of skills that blend well with their environments, and is rendered extravagantly.
Sound: The soundwork is quality and the ambient score accompanies it justly.
Playability: The controls aren’t as tight as many would most likely want them to be for a platform puzzle game such as this, but they get the job done.
Entertainment: Pacing keeps the game from being amazing, and the backtracking kills the mood, however, the atmosphere is perfect.
Replay Value: Moderate
Overall Value: 8.0