Developer: Double Fine Games
Genre: Adventure/Platformer Hybrid
Release Date: 01/22/2013
I don’t really write about video games much anymore. I have neither the time nor inclination. However, The Cave was a game I knew I had to write about and experience. It’s the latest creation from the mind of Ron Gilbert, a man who gave us such classics as The Secret of Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion. Indeed, The Cave harkens back to the golden era of LucasArts adventures games, especially Maniac Mansion, as you choose a team of three characters from a motley cast and send them deep into the pits of… THE CAVE.
I should point out that the cave in The Cave is not only self aware and the narrator of the game, but it is fact an allegory for the lives of each character. Descending into the cave is descending into each protagonist’s own soul as it is laid bare, warts and all. We discover what dark secrets reside in their past, but also what drives them to seek their heart’s desire within the nebulous dreamlike world that is The Cave. Before you start to think the game is one giant metaphysical metaphor, and that it might be too heavy for you, don’t worry. The Cave is also a nonstop laugh fest, combining the same sense of humour we all loved from LucasArts in the 1990s, with the extremely deep meaning and Jungian feel of the story being told. The end result is something truly incredible, and I have to say it’s one of the best games I’ve played in years and is by far my favorite game that Double Fine has put out, even eclipsing Psychonauts. Aside from the Maniac Mansion parallels is one of the most unique, intriguing and engrossing games I’ve ever come across, and it’s one I think every gamer NEEDS to play, even if they don’t get everything the game is trying to do.
So let’s start from the beginning. You have seven possible character choices: The Monk, the Twins, the Knight, the Time Traveller, The Adventurer, The Scientist and the Hillbilly. You create a team of seven from these choices and you’ll find that each one has their own special ability. The Adventurer can grapple things, the Monk has telekenesis, the Time Traveller can phase, the Hillbilly can hold his breath, so on and so forth. My original team of three consisted of the Knight, Monk and Hillbilly. After you pick your three, they must enter the cave and work together to plumb its depths. Along the way, they will have to relive a variant of the most pivotal moment of their lives. What’s interesting is that, depending on who makes up your team, portions of the game, and the order in which they occur, will change. Basically the game conforms to your team, meaning you can play the game multiple times, only to get a different experience. With each character having two different endings and some trophies require as many as seven playthroughs, you are going to be able to get an amazing amount of replay value from The Cave. Sure, some of it will repeat itself, but it will be worth it, because the stories within are so masterfully told.
The Cave is a point and click adventure in its purest form. You click on objects to interact with them, put objects together to solve a puzzle and click on characters to engage in dialogue with them. Unlike most adventure games, though, you can “die” by making wrong choices or from falling too far a distance, but as The Cave itself will tell you, “No one dies in The Cave.” Now, of course, we can conjecture on why this is. Most likely it’s because The Cave is some sort of spiritual afterlife where, much like Sisyphus, the characters are doomed to repeat the same actions over and over again. However, there is a chance that the characters might learn something and thus break the chain of recurring mental and physical torture, and thus finally be able to “leave” The Cave. In this respect, The Cave reminds me of how Shadow Hearts Covenant canonically ends, according to its creator Matsuzo Machida. Much like the characters in The Cave, Yuri gets a chance to go back and change the canonical ending of the first Shadow Hearts. In The Cave, when you get the “bad ending” for a character, you’ll find evidence of their continued torment in your next playthrough, no matter what characters you choose. This is simply brilliant.
The puzzles with The Cave are extremely fun ones. Some, like the attempt to get six gallons of water with only seven and four gallon jugs, are adventure puzzle mainstays. You’ve probably encountered them dozens of times, if not more. Others are unique to The Cave and are a lot of fun to figure out. Most of the puzzles will be quite easy for adventure game veterans. The one I had the hardest time with involved the Monk and trying to carry some lotus petals across a room. If you move too fast or a breeze hits you, the petals are lost and you have to start over. The problem is the PS3’s analog stick is wonky here, and sometimes you’ll take a step forward, but then one back, and so moving across the room takes a long time. It’s an easy puzzle to figure out, but it’s a bitch with the PS3 controller. In retrospect, this puzzle probably will work much better on the PC or with the Wii U GamePad. Still, all the puzzles are great fun and add a lot of depth to the game, because they are all intrinsic to the story being told rather than just thrown in to pad time.
Visually The Cave doesn’t push the boundaries of what any modern console can do, but it still looks fantastic. Everything is animated smoothly and the game’s cast of characters is highly memorable in design. Some, like the ones in the Hillbilly stage are meant to resemble paper cut outs, while others look more or less human. The backgrounds were what really stood out for me. The flowing water, the bubbling lava, there were so many little touches here that real showcased a fine eye for detail, and the game was as much fun to watch as it was to play. My wife pretty much detests the point and click genre aside from Clock Tower, but she watched bits and pieces of The Cave and she enjoyed it greatly, laughing most of the time. She especially loved the Knight’s stage. So yes, The Cave isn’t a game where most of the budget went to visuals instead of gameplay or story, and that’s a good thing. Trust me on this.
There isn’t a lot of voice acting in the game, but what’s here is top notch. The Cave itself is a wonderful narrator, and I went in expecting it to sound like James Earl Jones. It wasn’t quite what I imagined, but honestly, I loved what I heard. Other voices actors include the NPCs in each themed stage, be it the keeper of The Cave, a crusty old hermit, a grizzled prospector and more. There isn’t a lot in the way of music either. It’s there when it needs to be, but more the most part, if there is a background track, you don’t even notice it, as you’re too busy paying attention to the story and the myriad of sound effects that take center stage. Whether it’s a hot dog vending machine, the screech of the crystal cave monster, or simply the sounds of a carnival tune as you ride a Ferris Wheel, The Cave is a subtle auditory delight.
So look what all you get for your fifteen bucks! There’s a multi-layered story that can be read as a comic farce of a complex morality play in which much of the game can be taken as an allegory for redemption that offers far more replay value than any adventure game since Maniac Mansion. So what could be wrong with it? Well, the only problem that I see is that the esoteric nature of the game’s story and puzzles aren’t for everyone. I do think the vast majority of gamers will have a blast with this, but point and click adventure games have been considered a niche genre since post Grim Fandango. They aren’t what you call big sellers outside of Europe. However, Telltale’s The Walking Dead brought adventure games back to the forefront. We just have to wait and see if it was a one-time thing, or a start of a resurgence in popularity for the genre. If it’s the former, than a lot of people will be missing out on an incredible game. If it’s the latter, than I can’t wait to see what is next.
At the end of the day, I can’t think of an adventure game that has impressed me this much since The Lost Crown, and that was back in 2008. The story had me hooked from beginning to end and even now I want to go back and play The Cave some more instead of the dozens of other games I have in my backlog. The bottom line is that The Cave is a wonderful three to four hour experience every time you play it, and with so many different combinations of characters, you get a different experience each time you play. Just the fact that the game can be exceptionally dark and yet so brilliantly funny is well worth the price of admission. What are you waiting for? Go out and pick this one up already.
Short Attention Span Summary
The Cave is one of those games that not only harkens back to the golden era of point and click adventure gaming, but highlights the best of what we can do in the modern age of gaming as well. The story is as deep and allegorical as it is witty and dark. The gameplay and puzzles are entertaining enough that anyone can enjoy what’s here without getting frustrated. There are two endings for each character and you’ll have to replay the game at least five times to see all that it has to offer. There’s not a single negative I can think of save that some people just don’t like the adventure game genre. Honestly, I will be shocked if this isn’t up for multiple awards come the end of the year; it’s THAT good. With only a fifteen dollar price tag, there’s absolutely no reason why you should be passing up on The Cave.