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+
120 Comments
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Posted by theimmortalbum

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.

Posted by HatKing

I was a little worried about the game after seeing the feature. Good to hear it's not quite as bad as I expected.

Posted by Morningstar

Awww =(

Posted by Veektarius

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.

Posted by RazielCuts

Collusion!

Online
Posted by Xeirus

@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.

Posted by benu302000

After watching the quick look, I believe it. I had some neat art, but other than that didn't seem like there was much there there.

Posted by Video_Game_King

Cohere's a word? Well, now that Google Chrome's spell check is siding with you, all sarcasm has been purged from my post.

Posted by RetroVirus

I suspect a lot of enjoyment would come from whether the humor is more hit or miss for each person, and I can usually forgive a game's mechanics if I'm enjoying everything else it is doing. I'll have to play it to find out, I guess.

Posted by mellotronrules

thanks for the honest review alex! i imagine this will be much like brutal legend- a game i thoroughly enjoyed, but was ultimately carried by it's style and charm as opposed to it's lackluster gameplay. still going to pick this one up, but might wait for a doublefine bundle on steam.

Posted by TheMasterDS

That's a shame, I was sort of curious after the Quick Look ex. I'll pass though hearing it's underwhelming in the end.

Posted by jozzy

I kind of expected this after seeing the QL, was surprised at so many super positive comments on that thing. Good to hear the puzzles are generally better than my impressions of the QL, and that framerate issues are not mentioned here, so I assume that was down to the co-op or the capturing.

Posted by Lukeweizer

I'm still going to throw $15 at Double Fine for this.

Posted by Alex

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

Staff
Posted by Fattony12000

PAID FOR REVIEW.

Posted by Blimble

I think I'll check this out when it is on sale

Posted by posh

alright, well I'll reserve judgement until i play it but it looked to me like a really great game. surprising review

Posted by OllyOxenFree

Game seemed interesting to me. May buy it on sale and play it with the brother soon.

Edited by IronRinn

@narujoe93: Holy shit, dude, seriously?

I know these kinds of responses can be annoying but you have a typo in the third to last paragraph "Too may of The Cave's puzzles are solved by repeated backtracking."

Very good review, as always, dude.

Posted by NoobSauceG7

But they changed his hair from white to black!...

Honestly after the quick look it did look a little boring but had some character, I kinda feel bad for double fine since are good guys and just want to make good games for people, but an ok game is just ok. Thanks Alex.

Posted by CptBedlam

@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 just reaffirms my belief in GB's integrity. If Alex found the game to be average, then it gets in average score. That's how it works.

Posted by Heartagram

@Video_Game_King said:

Cohere's a word? Well, now that Google Chrome's spell check is siding with you, all sarcasm has been purged from my post.

How do you not know that cohere is a word? Not trying to troll I'm legitimately curious.

Posted by Dallas_Raines

But i thought you guys were friends with Double Fine...?

Edited by Stimpack

Anyway, it's true that an interview should not factor into the review process. That being said, it still looks interesting to me and I'll probably get it.

Posted by MattyFTM

Pretty sure I can look past the flaws and still have a great time with this game.

Moderator Online
Posted by Video_Game_King

@Heartagram:

I'm aware of coherent and coherence, but never thought that you could go backwards from those to a verb.

Posted by paulwade1984

looked bad in the quicklook. reviewed average. Only right that Alex reviewed it after the serious sucking up in awe of the game dev legend from Patrick and ryan yesterday.

Game looks like they made litle big planet into an unfunny adventure game (read fetch quest).

Posted by Illyr

Still down for this game, its only 11 bucks.

Posted by OllyOxenFree

@Dallas_Raines said:

But i thought you guys were friends with Double Fine...?

Surely you're joking. Being buddy-buddy does not warrant perfect reviews. Rule #1 of being a critic is not to let friendships get in the way of saying the truth. That's what people reading reviews depend on -- a truthful opinion.

Posted by ghostNPC

Good to have honest reviews continue on the site. Hoping the community doesn't go crazy like with Brad's review. I don't want this site to turn into IGN.

Posted by Heartagram

Well me and alex are pretty much opposite in every way other than we both play video games and watch movies so I'll probably still check it out. Although I'm kinda worried that without people to play it with it may not be too much fun.

@Video_Game_King: Gotcha I guess I just assumed it was a pretty common word. I don't type it a lot though I guess so I could see how maybe you wouldn't have heard it.

Edited by Dark_Lord_Spam

Some of the more unfortunate design flaws (e.g. backtracking, obnoxious platforming) became rapidly apparent during the quick look. Still, I'm a sucker for great presentation, so I'll probably pick this up when it's on sale.

Edited by ReaganStein

The use of "cohere" just seems so awkward...

Edit: of course it IS a word as previously pointed out, but it seems like a pretty terrible word choice

Posted by JesterPC238

It looked like an interesting and funny romp, but nothing revolutionary. It seemed like Ron himself was less than pumped about the game on the QL, and I know that's not just how he is, I've seen him speak/met him before.

I'll still probably check it out, a co-op adventure game would be great to play with the girlfriend.

Posted by Sammo21

Already paid for on Steam either way (along with dmc). Still looking forward to this. Costume Quest got high marks and I thought it was rather average, but still fun...so I am sure this will be fun as well.

Posted by Phatmac

I noticed that the back tracking parts of the game would be a problem during the Quick Look. It seems like that problem isn't solved. I'll get this game when it's cheaper as I like supporting Double Fine games even if they aren't that good.

Posted by jozzy

Similar review from eurogamer (7/10)

http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2013-01-22-the-cave-review

Posted by yoshimitz707

@Video_Game_King said:

@Heartagram:

I'm aware of coherent and coherence, but never thought that you could go backwards from those to a verb.

It's OK moon man. English isn't your first language.

Posted by Eidderf

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.

Posted by s10129107

I am sad.

Posted by Dallas_Raines

@ghostNPC said:

Good to have honest reviews continue on the site. Hoping the community doesn't go crazy like with Brad's review. I don't want this site to turn into IGN.

I give it a year before the crew is getting death threats over positive reviews.

Posted by Ariketh

@Lukeweizer said:

I'm still going to throw $15 at Double Fine for this.

Same here.

3 stars isn't a bad review either.

I knew from watching that Quick Look that backtracking was something that I was not going to enjoy about this game, but for the most-part, it seems like it's interesting enough to be worth playing.

Posted by Revolution_Red

Review is exactly what I gathered from the QL. I'll grab it sometime for a nice little co-op romp with some friends, but it won't hold me for long in singleplayer.

Posted by louiedog

If you want this on PC here are 3 pre-order deals. It's a Steamworks game so you get a Steam code no matter where you buy it. I hope the mods don't mind. There's no referral link or anything. I don't benefit from this. A mod on another Whiskey site (when that was a thing) got pissed at me for posting a deal like this once so I'm a bit gun shy.
 

GetGames 22% off $11.69

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Green Man Gaming 20% off code (GMG20-PJFEW-Y16HK) $12

Posted by SavePoint

I also thought it looked pretty average in the quicklook... a lot of backtracking and seemed to have an issue with some of the platforming like constantly getting stuck on a ledge and not being able to drop from them. But I think Ron was already well aware of that as right in the beginning he was disclaiming it was definitely not a platforming game.

Posted by mrfluke

Year of the Navarro continues an I love it Will wait for this game to go on sale for like 800 pts

Posted by chilibean_3

Seems to fit what I was thinking it might end up being like after watching the Quick Look. There are some really cool looking things about that game though.

Posted by 2HeadedNinja

@paulwade1984 said:

looked bad in the quicklook. reviewed average. Only right that Alex reviewed it after the serious sucking up in awe of the game dev legend from Patrick and ryan yesterday.

Game looks like they made litle big planet into an unfunny adventure game (read fetch quest).

dude, you need to chill out a little ... "sucking up in awe of the game dev legend from Patrick and ryan yesterday" ... really?

Edited by Gunharp

@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?

Posted by C0V3RT

I'm still in. Double Fine is one of the handful of developers I have no problem through money at.

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