venividiludi's The Cave (PC) review

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Fantastic Ideas Poorly Executed

So, being the diehard Gilbert fan that I am, I downloaded and played my long pre-ordered copy of The Cave last night. Managed to complete a first play through in just under 3 hours (includes some time AFK), finished a second slightly quicker, and am now onto my third play. Overall, it's a tough game to recommend. It's a great idea, but it just isn't that well executed and has a substantial number of flaws that combine to really drag the game down. I'll go through the highlights and lowlights in a little more detail:

Highlights:

  • The artwork and animation are fantastic. This is a really beautiful game with a distinctive sense of style. The environments are also peppered with little details which reward taking the time to soak everything in.
  • Some of the puzzles are really fun or are really satisfying to get right.
  • The humour is well played. It's not laugh out loud funny, and it's definitely got a darker bent than, say, Monkey Island or the like, but I genuinely enjoyed the humour in this game. YMMV.

Lowlights

  • The actual movement around the world is a bit more sluggish and less fluid than I would have liked. They clearly spent a lot of time animating the climbing animations, for example, and they do look good, but I'd gladly have dropped frames of exquisitely crafted animation just to get the buggers to move faster. This is especially frustrating because:
  • There is way, way too much backtracking. In general, I'd say I spent about 10%-15% of my time figuring out what to do and the rest actually doing it. Way too many sections require you to take an object at one end of the level and move it to the other. The box in the mansion and the dynamite with the miner are two particularly egregious examples. Also, it's criminal that there is no "come with me" option when moving the multiple characters. I know that they're making a big deal of coop, but when you're playing solo and you not only have to backtrack, but have to backtrack all three characters individually because some puzzle needs them, it gets really tedious. They do occasionally realise this and snap the other characters to you, but not nearly often enough. This is also compounded by:
  • Too much repetition across plays. In each play through you will select 3 characters. You will then play 6 levels, 3 character specific ones and 3 generic ones. Unfortunately, there are only 3 generic levels in total. Also unfortunately, there are only 7 unique characters. So, if you want to play through with each character, you will have to play those generic levels 3 times each, which is unfortunate, since they are, in my opinion, worse than the character specific ones. You will also have to play two of the character specific levels an additional time. Since there are actually two "endings" for each character (the "ending" is just two still images, hence the sarcasm quotes) you'll have to play the game up to 5 times if you want to see everything. This might have been acceptable if the puzzles were sufficiently interesting, however:
  • Most of the puzzles just aren't that interesting. There was a lot of hype about how the different characters would let you solve the puzzles in different ways, but, so far at least, I've never really seen it pan out that way. The only exception seems to be the Monk, whose telekinesis ability will sometimes allow him to grab objects from a distance obviating the need to complete the puzzles which would have provided access to them. There are a handful of instances where a particular character will allow a similar shortcut, but they are few, far between and usually pretty obvious when they are there. I suspect the real reason for this is:
  • Most of the character powers just aren't that interesting. The Monk's power aside, for many of the characters, their power is only useful in very specific circumstances which don't arise that often and are usually heavily telegraphed. "Look, there's a really long water passage, best get your Hillbilly to hold his breath." "Look there's a console, best get the Scientist to do something with it." The Twins power in particular seemed to be 100% useless outside of their character specific level and even there, it's only used twice :-S
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