Giant Bomb Review

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The Cave Review

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Ron Gilbert's lightweight morality play offers up some cleverness and challenge, but never completely coheres into a memorable whole.

At its best, Ron Gilbert and Double Fine Productions' The Cave is an intriguing oddity. It's the closest thing I've seen to a straight-up morality play in a video game, a sort of cautionary tale of greed, lust, hatred, and whatever other deadly sins you can dream up, told through the mechanics of a classic side-scrolling adventure. And at times, that concept actually proves interesting. There are more than a handful of moments in The Cave where the mechanics, the odd storytelling structure, and the game's visual style all cohere into something a little bit wonderful. Unfortunately, it's the other portions of the game you'll be spending more time with, and they're a bit less entertaining.

The Cave is a dangerous and violent place. Yet, no aspect of it is more vile than the protagonists who seek to plunder it.

Built with the skeletal structure of a classic 2D adventure game, The Cave largely eschews that genre's tendency toward larger, overarching narrative, and instead focuses squarely on the bite-sized tales of seven protagonists, each of whom have come to the eponymous cave for fame, fortune, or some other manner of selfish pursuit. You can only pick from three of the available characters--who include, among others, a money-hungry scientist, a jauntily wrathful hillbilly, an aggressively lazy monk, and a pair of creepy, murderous twins--and once you have your team assembled, you'll have to individually navigate them all through the myriad nooks and crannies of the cave.

The Cave employs a story structure that allows its individual character stories to be woven into a larger level progression. Many sections of the game play out every time, regardless of who you choose. But in between those sections are whole levels tailored to specific characters. These are where your team's individual stories of grave robbing, parricide, or timeline altering chicanery play out.

All the while, a narrator eggs you on, pointing out the various character flaws and misdeeds of your misbegotten spelunkers like an omnipresent Rod Serling. In the game's fiction, this voice is The Cave. It is a cave with consciousness, personality, and sarcastic opinions. This is where the bulk of the game's comedy comes from, given that none of the playable characters ever speak. Mostly it's cute, clever stuff, though I can't say it ever elicited more than a few chuckles out of me. More often it's the kind of funny you acknowledge for being funny, rather than the kind you laugh out loud at.

Granted, I'll chalk at least some of that non-laughter up to my concentration on the game's puzzles. Each section of The Cave is replete with traditional adventure game puzzles. Acquiring and combining items is often the key to progression, though which items go where is often obfuscated, as one might expect. Some puzzle sections are unquestionably tougher than others. The knight character, for instance, offers up a mostly breezy level section that only requires a bit of navigational attention be paid. The time traveler, however, jumps between periods in time and offers up the kinds of causality-related puzzles that often lead to people just hating things with time travel in them.

Again, many of these puzzles are clever, challenging little buggers, but not unpleasantly so. Only the time traveler section really goes off the deep end, whereas the other levels often just require some solid critical thinking and understanding that every object and highlighted area is usually there for a reason.

The unfortunate side-effect of The Cave's level designs, however, is that they're often incapable of keeping up with the player's brain. Too many of The Cave's puzzles are solved by repeated backtracking. Which isn't to say that the environments are too huge to quickly run through again and again, but that makes it no less tedious. Especially after you've had your "aha!" moment, and find yourself having to run back and forth several times, including sections where you have to get all three of your characters into just the right place, before you can actually proceed. That last issue is negated somewhat when playing the game's offline-only coop mode (in which the camera still only focuses on one character at a time). But the disconnect in time between realizing the solution and actually bringing the solution to fruition still frequently feels overlong. In this regard, it can be difficult to really get into a rhythm with The Cave.

The art and comedy of The Cave certainly fit snugly into the traditions of the Double Fine catalog. It's just not their most engaging work.

The game's multiple-playthroughs-required design doesn't necessarily help this problem. While I did have fun going back and checking out the new levels I had access to on my second playthrough, I was less enamored with having to play through the non-character-specific areas I'd already done. And I don't expect I'll be going back for a third go-around, either, due to the odd numbering of characters available. Having to replay two stories really doesn't sound appealing enough to warrant checking out that last one I haven't seen.

Which is a shame, because on my initial play-throughs, I enjoyed large swaths of what The Cave had to offer. It's a sharp-looking game, the voice acting is largely on-point and funny (if occasionally obnoxiously repetitive), and there are at least a few solid hours worth of puzzle-solving to be had here. It's just that those hours don't really add up to a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, ultimately relegating The Cave to an interesting curiosity that sadly doesn't have much sticking power. Its moral finger-wagging never really amounts to more than thematic window dressing, regardless of how you end up finishing the game, and its puzzles are just intriguing enough to keep you interested for the duration. There is most certainly fun to be had in The Cave. I just wish its promise of an eminently replayable adventure ultimately proved truer.

Alex Navarro on Google+
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Posted by DonPixel

It looked like weak sauce in the QL. Really Double Fine is so over rated, its always the same: good quirky funny ideas paired with poor execution.

Edited by DonPixel

@Veektarius said:

Shot in the heart. Bring down one of the biggest names of gaming's yesteryear and then slap him with an average review the next day.

This is the lamest of personality cult / fanatism comments I've witness in recent time.

Ron Gilbert is a game developer, not a hero or a mythic figure we own devotion of any sorts.

Edited by Artof_War

@Eidderf said:

It seemed from the quick look that this game was mostly carried on it's style, humour and characters rather than the actual gameplay (though the time travelling character does sound interesting) which seemed like it could be alright for a co-op run through with a few friends but would probably get kind of tedious after a while on your own. It's a shame there is no online co-op since from the sounds of it that could have really helped speed up some of the puzzles

Still if it comes up on a steam sale at some point I may pick it up and it's nice that double fine are still making these little experimental titles.

Agree with you here 100%. I've read a few other reviews with qualms about the jumping mechanics, which I somewhat noticed in the QL.

Posted by weegieanawrench

Great review as always, Alex. The quicklook didn't really grab me, but I'm guessing the way to play this would be with friends rather than switching between three characters.

This kinda sucks for Ron Gilbert, it was his baby for 20 years. Then again, GB calls it like they see it.

Posted by GreggD

@Gunharp said:

@Alex said:

@narujoe93: You're going to be so angry when you watch the video with my ugly ass I posted this morning.

@IronRinn said:

@narujoe93: Holy shit, dude, seriously?

I can't find the comment. User delete their comment? Or... MOD/STAFF CENSORSHIP?!

What did he type?

Basically that he was glad GB "shipped" him to NYC, so he wouldn't appear in videos that much. Essentially, I hate Alex rargle frargle.

Posted by Fobwashed

I'm happy to have read this prior to checking this game out for myself as it has tempered my expectations quite a bit. I was hoping for comedic gold but silver is a worthwhile experience as long as it doesn't drag too much. The characters, generic as they may be, have enough.... Erm... Character, in them to get me interested. I'm still super bummed about the no off-screen play on the WiiU so I'll just wait for it to go on sale on PC or use one of those coupons mentioned above. Happy Alex finally got a game that wasn't a known, awful quantity going in =D

Posted by Twistation

Alex is such a buzzkill

Posted by gbrading

Yup, this is more or less what I thought too from my limited knowledge of the game.

Posted by Pixeldemon

Trine 1 & 2 sorta already did this a lot better, didn't they?

Posted by Metric_Outlaw

It still seems different in an interesting way. I'm still looking forward to playing this but the criticisms you made seem pretty on point.

Posted by Superfriend

Okay, now that this game is out of the way- can Doublefine PLEASE get that adventure game going?

The Cave doesn´t look bad, but it´s typical Doublefine for me: A lot of potential, a lot of charme but seriously flawed in the execution department. Plus, I really feel like this game doesn´t need the half assed jump and run parts. Without them, it would almost be like a Maniac Mansion-lite type game. Three characters, puzzles, weird humor.

Posted by casper_

does this mean giant bomb and double fine are breaking up?

Posted by granderojo

This seems exactly what I expected out of it.

Posted by shodan2020

Oh, i thought this was that kickstarter game. Man, I hope that comes out soon. It's been forever since I kicked that piggy.

Posted by LarryDavis

@theimmortalbum said:

Huh, interesting. I was on the fence until I watched the quick look, then I was for sure buying it, and now I'm back on the fence.

Honestly, I was looking forward to it until that QLEX. It looked really tedious.

Posted by Wlleiotl

Having 7 unique stories in a game where you see 3 at a time feels like a poor decision, to the point where you wonder why they didn't just cut a character

Posted by The_Reflection

No offense to Alex, but I always find his tastes to be widely different from mine, i'll still be buying this.

Edited by Veektarius

@CptBedlam: Whoa whoa whoa, obviously it's how it works. I was just expressing sympathy for the guy.

Posted by iceveiled

A slightly better than average DF game - color me unsurprised. Their games have a certain charm , but aside from Trenched/Iron Brigade, they haven't done anything worth writing home about since Psychonauts. I'm really hoping they step it up for Double fine Adventure. I'm cautiously optimisitc.

Edited by AssInAss

Already bought it on Steam. I have a feeling I'll be more receptive to the jokes since I laughed quite a bit during that QLEX, and hearing tought time travel puzzles has me immediately intrigued. I have no issue with backtracking, unless it's egregious like DMC 4.

Posted by kalmis

Still going to get this for sure!

Posted by noviere

I already purchased it on Steam, and am not worried about it despite the review. For $15, I'm sure I'll get my money's worth.

The back tracking looks like it could be annoying, but I've been playing adventure games since the dawn of time, so I'm used to it. I wish they hadn't gone with the odd number of characters(6 or 9 would've been ideal) though it sounds like different characters will solve the character-specific areas differently(ie: the scientist being really helpful in the hill billy storyline).

At the end of the day, I just like supporting independent developers who produce unique content... even if it isn't always perfect. Plus, Ron Gilbert co-created the first game I ever finished by myself when I was a kid(Secret of Monkey Island). I'll buy anything he makes... except DeathSpank.

Edited by Bourbon_Warrior

Thought this game looked dull in the QL, but they didn't want to say anything because the developers were there.

It looks like a platformer, nothing about this looked like an adventure game.

Posted by Bourbon_Warrior

@Veektarius said:

Shot in the heart. Bring down one of the biggest names of gaming's yesteryear and then slap him with an average review the next day.

This is why I trust Alex's reviews.

Posted by JoeyRavn

I have to be honest: the game didn't look that good during the QL. It wasn't that bad either. I haven't tried it yet, but I have to kinda agree with Alex. It looks like a good game with some noticeable flaws that weight it down.

Stil, Double Fine is one of the few developers I really, honestly like, so I have no problem lowering my expectations once in a while. I'll get The Cave and judge it myself, though I don't think I will be (too) disappointed by it.

Posted by Laiv162560asse

I saw enough in the QLEX to make me still feel good about preordering this for under a tenner. Alex's tastes definitely don't align with my own, based on past reviews, however he delineates his criticisms well here. Those criticisms still seem like things that I would probably consider minor in a game of this type.

As for those not liking 'cohere': please go to hell and preferably read some books on the journey.

Posted by briansanderson

Still want to play this. Will wait for a sale or this summer though now.

Edited by NicolasVH

I've been playing The Cave for a few days now and I'm loving it. Playing alone isn't the best way to play it (always backtracking can be a drag), but it's still one of the most interessting games I've played in the last twelve months. I also genuinely laughed quite a bit with the writing in the game.

For me it's a very solid 4 star game. It's also much more a platformer with puzzle elements than an 'adventure' game.

Posted by DrFlapjack

@Superfriend said:

Okay, now that this game is out of the way- can Doublefine PLEASE get that adventure game going?

They didn't postpone the adventure game to put this out, they have multiple teams working on multiple games. This type of game has never been my cup of tea, but maybe I'll check it out with a co-op buddy.

Posted by Superfriend

@DrFlapjack said:

@Superfriend said:

Okay, now that this game is out of the way- can Doublefine PLEASE get that adventure game going?

They didn't postpone the adventure game to put this out, they have multiple teams working on multiple games. This type of game has never been my cup of tea, but maybe I'll check it out with a co-op buddy.

This isn´t about some other team working on the game. This is about Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer. Those two need to focus as much attention as possible on that adventure game. It needs to be good.

I don´t want to sound overly dramatic, but I feel like a lot is at stake here. Maybe- just maybe oldschool adventure games could come back in some way if this is a success. If it isn´t - well, there will still be "streamlined" adventure games, or games with adventure elements like The Cave. But it won´t be the same.

Posted by GamerChiCcK

I'm still gona try and get this game if my budget allows it. I really liked the humor and the characters in the quick look.

Posted by zoozilla

@Superfriend said:

@DrFlapjack said:

@Superfriend said:

Okay, now that this game is out of the way- can Doublefine PLEASE get that adventure game going?

They didn't postpone the adventure game to put this out, they have multiple teams working on multiple games. This type of game has never been my cup of tea, but maybe I'll check it out with a co-op buddy.

This isn´t about some other team working on the game. This is about Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer. Those two need to focus as much attention as possible on that adventure game. It needs to be good.

I don´t want to sound overly dramatic, but I feel like a lot is at stake here. Maybe- just maybe oldschool adventure games could come back in some way if this is a success. If it isn´t - well, there will still be "streamlined" adventure games, or games with adventure elements like The Cave. But it won´t be the same.

Have you been watching the documentary updates they've been putting out?

Suffice it to say, they are well aware that the Double Fine Adventure is a big deal. The future of Double Fine could change drastically based on its reception.

Posted by tourgen

I thought it was just me. I could barely make it through the quick look. No real danger in the gameplay, no real penalties, no skill required, just didn't look all that fun to play. The animation looked really cool though and the environments were nice.

Posted by project343

Seems like my one concern with this game was a sad reality. It always looked a bit aimless... a shame that that amounts to something that lacks significant coherence.

Posted by project343

@Superfriend said:

Okay, now that this game is out of the way- can Doublefine PLEASE get that adventure game going?

The Cave doesn´t look bad, but it´s typical Doublefine for me: A lot of potential, a lot of charme but seriously flawed in the execution department. Plus, I really feel like this game doesn´t need the half assed jump and run parts. Without them, it would almost be like a Maniac Mansion-lite type game. Three characters, puzzles, weird humor.

You know that there are multiple teams at DoubleFine, right? The core Adventure team has been working hard for a while now. Judging by the recent budgeting concerns detailed in their last documentary episode, I imagine that they won't be bringing The Cave staff onboard to finish that up (mostly because they can't afford it).

Posted by Superfriend

@project343 said:

@Superfriend said:

Okay, now that this game is out of the way- can Doublefine PLEASE get that adventure game going?

The Cave doesn´t look bad, but it´s typical Doublefine for me: A lot of potential, a lot of charme but seriously flawed in the execution department. Plus, I really feel like this game doesn´t need the half assed jump and run parts. Without them, it would almost be like a Maniac Mansion-lite type game. Three characters, puzzles, weird humor.

You know that there are multiple teams at DoubleFine, right? The core Adventure team has been working hard for a while now. Judging by the recent budgeting concerns detailed in their last documentary episode, I imagine that they won't be bringing The Cave staff onboard to finish that up (mostly because they can't afford it).

I know they have a lot of people on staff and multiple teams. I don´t care about the teams. Ron Gilbert needs to be involved as much as possible in the Doublefine Adventure. No matter what people say about him, I think he´s a goddamn genius and he needs to work on proper adventure games. Cut the art, cut the sound, cut the goddamn music- as long as you have Ron Gilbert doing an adventure game. That is why people have backed the kickstarter: Gilbert and Schafer working on an adventure.

Posted by TheHT

@zoozilla said:

@Superfriend said:

@DrFlapjack said:

@Superfriend said:

Okay, now that this game is out of the way- can Doublefine PLEASE get that adventure game going?

They didn't postpone the adventure game to put this out, they have multiple teams working on multiple games. This type of game has never been my cup of tea, but maybe I'll check it out with a co-op buddy.

This isn´t about some other team working on the game. This is about Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer. Those two need to focus as much attention as possible on that adventure game. It needs to be good.

I don´t want to sound overly dramatic, but I feel like a lot is at stake here. Maybe- just maybe oldschool adventure games could come back in some way if this is a success. If it isn´t - well, there will still be "streamlined" adventure games, or games with adventure elements like The Cave. But it won´t be the same.

Have you been watching the documentary updates they've been putting out?

Suffice it to say, they are well aware that the Double Fine Adventure is a big deal. The future of Double Fine could change drastically based on its reception.

That's the Kickstarter game right? Not this?

Posted by Brendan

If 3-star reviews are difficult to write then I didn't get that from this one. Good job Alex, I got a lot out of this.

Posted by Kidable

Not too surprising from what I've seen from the quick look. They did a lot of backtracking and such, and that was with THREE people playing. I can only imagine doing that all by myself. Seems to be worth it for dialogue, environment, atmosphere etc. but probably won't be up there as a big game for Double Fine. Stacking still remains their masterpiece.

Posted by zoozilla

@TheHT: Yeah, the Kickstarter game doesn't have a real title (other than the team name, "Reds"), so it's just called Double Fine Adventure.

Posted by soupbones

I'll be picking this one up on the WiiU - primarily based on the QL. Alex's review sounds fair - and 3 stars means it's good... which is some cases means it's great to some.

Good review - looking forward to playing this game.

Posted by Fram

In this day and age, a 3 star review (ie 60/100 in stupid granular land) means stay away from this game. This is a perfect example of why people should actually read reviews, and that knowing the reviewer's personality really pays off. I know I'm going to enjoy this game, but I know there are caveats too, and the score reflects that.

Posted by Darthozzan

@TheHT: Yes. And they have stated in the documentary (of the kickstarter game) that a large part of next year, and potentially part of the studio's future is hanging on that game. It needs to be good.

Posted by Saga

I was going to get this but I've been reading the reviews online and also watched a review on YouTube. It looks like I will wait until it's on discount.

Posted by bybeach

@Fram said:

In this day and age, a 3 star review (ie 60/100 in stupid granular land) means stay away from this game. This is a perfect example of why people should actually read reviews, and that knowing the reviewer's personality really pays off. I know I'm going to enjoy this game, but I know there are caveats too, and the score reflects that.

I concur. My own opinion is that I regard the existing star system as valid only to this site. The written review is what matters at Giant Bomb. Seems to me this is probably a decent game. I bet some would get quite a lot out of it, others not so much. I do believe this is what I am being informed and why.

Personally, I can have trouble with Double Fine games, yet I like what they try to do and often how they do it so much. So I admit to judging because of past games, and this review sounds right...to me.

Edited by HellBound

@Xeirus said:

@Veektarius said:

Shot in the heart. Bring down one of the biggest names of gaming's yesteryear and then slap him with an average review the next day.

A bad game is a bad game, having an interview with someone shouldn't change that.

Since when is 3 stars a bad game let alone where does it say in this review that it is a bad game?

Edited by MormonWarrior

Seems like The Cave fits incredibly snugly with Double Fine's catalog. It's intriguing, cute, and inventive in concept but ultimately not that fun as a game. Like every single Double Fine game, pretty much. It's too bad because I really want to love their games for their creativity and charm but they basically never deliver when it comes to gameplay. I heard Psychonauts talked up a bunch, and I liked the characters and visuals and stuff but it was a clunky, bad platformer that was a chore to play. Stacking never sat right with me from any perspective. Costume Quest was cute and fun, but I literally played it for an hour or two on Halloween and haven't been compelled to go back. I have Iron Brigade but nobody to play it with so it's at best a kind of fun twist on tower defense with some clever humor in there. I dunno...it really bums me out that their games don't turn out better.

Posted by jarowdowsky

Gotta agree with a few people's comments - looks like this would have worked much better as a light traditional adventure game with an interesting multiplayer angle. Just cut all the platforming, shorten it and sell it cheap. Coulda been a classic.

Edited by project343

@Superfriend said:

Cut the art, cut the sound, cut the goddamn music- as long as you have Ron Gilbert doing an adventure game. That is why people have backed the kickstarter: Gilbert and Schafer working on an adventure.

Tonally, it seemed like cutting anyone from DFA would cripple that game. Art has bare-minimum staff, sound has no proper team, there's like a programmer, a scripter, and Tim. Sure, you could put Gilbert on that team, but the game may not have audio. :P

@MormonWarrior said:

I heard Psychonauts talked up a bunch, and I liked the characters and visuals and stuff but it was a clunky, bad platformer that was a chore to play.

Psychonauts is my favourite platformer. :(

Levitation is the best addition to the 3D platformer since camera control. :P

Posted by Sooty

Are Double Fine ever going to go back to releasing straight up bigger budget games? I don't think I've enjoyed any of their downloadable offerings to date.

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