Giant Bomb Review

120 Comments

The Cave Review

3
  • XBGS

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+
120 Comments
  • 120 results
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
Posted by Levio

I had the exact same thoughts when watching that QL as Alex seems to have had from playing: there's fun to be had in the story and puzzles of this game, but there's so much excess time-wasting in it that it's a shame it couldn't have been packaged into a better product. Especially with the 3 characters for each playthrough setup with 7 available characters... that's just poor design.

Edited by Karkarov

@HellBound said:

@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?

Uh 3 stars doesn't say "bad game" but it does say "not a good game". In today's market just being "ok" is really about the worst thing you can be. If you aren't good enough for people to give you positive buzz you should at least try to go the War Z route and suck so bad people talk about you anyway. This game is totally forgettable and that is as bad as it gets for video games.

Posted by aquamarin

The Cave's meh.

Posted by Itwongo

Huh. Guess I'll buy this.

I was expecting a 4 or higher, and was prepared to say to myself "Just as I expected! I will buy and play this game when I have the time!"

But because it got a 3... I want to play this game more. And now.

Edited by Ghostiet
@Karkarov said:

@HellBound said:

@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?

Uh 3 stars doesn't say "bad game" but it does say "not a good game".

According to the GB review system, not really. It's essentially "I don't know". Sure, Metacritic translates it to a number, but it only shows how stupid that entire system is and that reviewers should just move on to idiosyncratic scoring systems, if only to make the aggregates completely irrelevant.
Posted by Daftronaut

I kinda saw this coming from the QL. In those 45 min they already had to backtrack a lot and the fact, that there is no "teleport to main character"-feature seemed really annoying. It was also looking a little clunky, for instance when Patrick dropped the postcard and couldn't pick it up or when they were unintentionally hanging from ledges.

It's too bad, I really liked the concept and Ron Gilbert is awesome. Let's hope for the best for the new DF-Adventure, I guess.

Posted by KruelAK

I was thinking of picking this up, but i'm going to try the trial out first and then go from there.

Great review though, made me consider my direct purchase and to try it out first!

Posted by Menkhor

Excellent review, as usual Alex.

I really appreciate how GB sticks to it's guns even after having a QL EX with the developer too.

Posted by Alphazero

I'm enjoying it so far... and I love the look. Definitely streamlined adventure gaming. Some of the backtracking can be avoided by keeping the three players in different parts of the map, but much of what he says rings true.

Posted by BRNK

Your writing is always a joy to read, Alex. Thanks!

Posted by beatnik11

I think this game has a great artistic style and a really unique charm, but the mechanics look clunky and its very hard to make repeated backtracking fun in any game. It certainly looks interesting and humorous, but this looks more like a game to pick up on a sale

Edited by Kraznor

Played maybe two hours of The Cave thus far, and I definitely relate to the frustration of the lag time between figuring out the solution to a puzzle and then slowly backtracking to all the relevant locations to actually solve the damn thing. If I had one mechanical suggestion that I think would fix most of my dissatisfaction of The Cave it would be "hold down RT to run slightly faster". If you ran at say, 1.3 times normal speed it would make it seem like I can tell the game "I got it, now let's solve this bad boy!" in some meaningful way instead of just slowly jogging to every location. The lackadaisical movement speed of this game is driving me crazy right now. I know its focus isn't on being a platformer, but if they are going to design such large areas with such an emphasis placed on backtracking, the least they could do is help expediate that process.

Posted by HeyImPhoenix

I'll give this one a miss and watch a let's play of it.

Posted by JohnSublime

I think I'll still get it. Monkey Island 1 & 2 was one of my first video game experiences and as that was given to us by a family friend I will jump at any opportunity to give Ron Gilbert my money. The ideas in it sound like they have promise. And if only to explore them for what they are and encourage Ron to keep on going I'll pick it up when I can.

Posted by probablytuna

Might pick this up during the next Steam sale.

Posted by BaconGames

At the very least it's not Deathspank so it's proof that Ron Gilbert is still capable of making interesting games. I think the real problem with the game is the back tracking and, potentially, that feeling that it was solid but could have been better and never congealed into a bigger/better whole. As far as it "fitting" with DoubleFine, I think in creative it does but in gameplay, as Alex said, is not up to the level of Stacking, Costume Quest, or Iron Brigade. Those were solid games backed up by great creative, The Cave seems like an okay game with solid creative. On step below and gets a 3 star review (when all those other games get 4).

Sure it's a bummer because we all want to love The Cave as a sort of comeback for Ron but it's not really (at least for Alex) and I'm not surprised if many others feel the same. With that said, I'm really hoping for a lot more of the crew to play it to hear their opinion. After all it's no surprise that Alex's opinion doesn't necessarily reflect what even the Bombcast finds compelling. Who knows, maybe one of them will fall in love with it and sell it better to the community but I think Alex effectively outlines what he found wrong with it and what one could find wrong with it if you were to play it.

Posted by Nettacki

@Sooty said:

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.

If they can avoid the screwed up situation they had with EA regarding the marketing of Brutal Legend, then maybe they'll come back to bigger budget games.

Posted by chilipeppersman

good review, I feel the same way after playing the game for a little while

Posted by Zevvion

@Daftronaut said:

I kinda saw this coming from the QL. In those 45 min they already had to backtrack a lot and the fact, that there is no "teleport to main character"-feature seemed really annoying. It was also looking a little clunky, for instance when Patrick dropped the postcard and couldn't pick it up or when they were unintentionally hanging from ledges.

It's too bad, I really liked the concept and Ron Gilbert is awesome. Let's hope for the best for the new DF-Adventure, I guess.

Wait... you make it sound like it's a bad game. What I gathered from the review it could have been better, but it's still a decently good game.

Posted by loyalroyal1989

After completing this game I have to say Alex nailed the review. This game was fun but not a great game. However I would still recommend it if like me you where wanting to play something on the wiiu in this post launch lull.