grumbel's The Cave (PC) review

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  • grumbel has written a total of 93 reviews. The last one was for The Swapper

Cool concept, flawed implementation, still fun

The Cave is a modern puzzle platformer, but unlike the recent wave of puzzle platformer it's not based around some single gameplay mechanic or physics puzzles, but instead follows mostly the traditional point&click adventure model of picking up items, combining and using them. The platforming itself is just a way to navigate the cave, but doesn't provide any challenge by itself. When a character dies he will instantly respawn right next to where he died.

The game starts out with seven characters, from which you chose three to travel down into the cave. The characters have different special abilities, the scientist can hack, the time traveler can teleport, the knight can turn invulnerable and so on. The core abilities of all characters are however basically the same, everybody runs the same speed, jumps the same height and so on. There is no Lost Vikings-style combination of different talents.

The game itself is structured into character specific sections and generic sections. The character specific sections only unlock if you have selected a character and make use of the characters special abilities, while you play the generic sections no matter of what characters you selected and the characters special abilities don't come much into play in them at all.

Unlike a typical point&click the game does not feature any kind of dialog trees. All your characters are voiceless and cartoony in style, which gives the game a somewhat similar feel to Gobliiins, except with less slapstick. The cave itself acts as narrator for the game and there are some NPCs that will talk on their own.

On the art side the game looks fantastic, the cave is presented in a colorful style and each section of the cave as a distinct thematic look to it. There is also a whole lot of detail in the backgrounds that you don't normally see in these kinds of games.

Overall this is a bit of a mixed game. On one side the core concept is sound and a lot of fun once you get used to the overall mechanics. However the game is not exactly short of flaws. The most basic flaw is that the game just doesn't do a very good job of introducing you to the mechanics. All the characters special abilities for example are never really introduced, you just have to play around with them and try to figure out what they do, which given how rarely they are actually needed can be quite tricky. The game also lacks a map function, while sections aren't that big and backtracking isn't possible, you will still repeatably run into dead ends or take the wrong turn when the path forks. If you drop an item, as you only can carry one, you also have to remember where you dropped it, as the game won't help you find it again.

While the overall puzzle design is quite nice and definitively brings back some memories of old LucasArts titles. Some of the puzzle design is just a little bit to tedious in it's setup and to time critical, meaning if you don't solve a puzzle successfully, an item might get used up in the process and require you to backtrack and reacquire a new one. Given that the puzzle design is completely binary, you either solve it or you don't, this can be frustrating.

The cave itself, the narrator of the game, also feel drastically underused. He will just fall completely silent for long stretches of the game and neither provide you with funny commentary on your actions nor with helpful hints on how to solve a puzzle on which you might have been stuck on. When he talks it's well done, but there could have been so much more to it.

The biggest flaw with the game is however the overall structure. The character selection of three out of seven sounds interesting in theory, but the characters all act basically the same for most of the game. Their special abilities are almost completely irrelevant, so there really isn't any point to just having three characters. Furthermore the only thing that the character selection changes is if their specific section is locked or not. This means that you only get to see like half the game on a single playthrough. If you want to see everything you have to play the game with a different set of character. This by itself wouldn't be so bad if the game had a NewGame+ feature, but it doesn't. Playing with a different set of characters will play exactly the same as with your first set of characters. The cave won't make any jokes referring to your earlier playthrough and all the puzzles will be exactly the same. This means you will have to replay the non-character specific sections of the game again, with absolutely nothing new to discover. And on top of that the games seven character means that you have to play the game three times in total to see everything, the last time you will have to take two characters with you that you already have played with, so you have to dig through a whole lot of repeated content just to get to that tiny character specific section.

The overall story of the game also happens to be rather weird, as there really is none. All the characters have their own little backstory that you get to explore over the course of the game and while those stories aren't very detailed, they are fun enough in their arch typical black humored way. But none of the stories connect together, they are completely separate and there is no overarching aspect to them. When you reach the end you expect some kind of twist or conclusion, but the game just ends instead. Even the NPCs are all meaningless, they add a bit of flavor to their section, but after that you never see them again.

In the end I did have a good bit of fun with the game, as there is a lot to love about it and it's style, but it also feels like a missed chance to create something greater. The structure of the game doesn't really make any sense the way it is and the lack of NewGame+ is just weird given that the structure of the game literally forces you to replay the game multiple times to see everything. It's kind of a typical Double Fine game in the end, parts of it are so much better then what the rest of the industry produces and other parts just feel weird or downright broken.

The game takes around 5h on a first playthrough and around 2h for any repeated playthroughs.

Other reviews for The Cave (PC)

    Adventurous (but Repetitive) Spelunking 0

    Plato’s Allegory, The Cave tells us that people have lived their entire lives in caves that they do not understand, and that it is the philosopher’s job to try to describe it to us. Ron Gilbert’s game, The Cave is a lot simpler, mainly that the titular cave holds something that everyone who enters desires. That object of desire is different for each adventurer, and what they do once they are in the cave affects what fate befalls them. This newest entry from Double Fine, a company best known for ...

    1 out of 1 found this review helpful.

    Fantastic Ideas Poorly Executed 0

    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 ...

    1 out of 2 found this review helpful.

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