Believe it or not, Ron Gilbert’s latest game isn’t an adaption of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (shucks!). Instead, Double Fine’s latest is about three spelunkers’ journey into the depths of a talking cave, all of whom are in search of… something. The three characters are picked from seven archetypes, such as a Time Traveler, a Monk, an Adventurer and so on. Each one of them has a Grimm’s Fairy Tale-esque narrative that simplistically explains their reasons for exploring the Cave. These narratives are revealed in each adventurer’s respective puzzle (we’ll get to that in a moment) and various glowing glyphs that, when activated, provide a still image that fills in some of the story gaps. Characters also have unique powers (breathing under water, invincibility) that figure into their story-stage and can be useful in other levels as well.
The gameplay is an intersection between point-and-click adventure and sidescroller. You control all three of your chosen adventurers and usually need all three of them to solve each level’s puzzle because Character A will often need to be in Spot 1 while Character B will be pulling a lever in Spot 2, so that Character C can retrieve the object of desire that’s popped out of a vending machine/battery charger/random hole in Spot 3. The key to playing The Cave isn’t scratching your head over where to put the characters every time you come across a new element in each impressively sized, labyrinthine stage. Instead, it’s to thoroughly scout out each stage and then figure out what needs to be done and who goes where.
These levels showcase Gilbert’s brilliant, darkly humorous writing by skewing the tales associated with the various archetypes. The clearest example is the Knight’s stage, which features our goofy iron clad and not-so-chivalrous warrior, seeking to earn the favor of a apathetic princess (by stealing treasure from a dragon, of course) in order to get a chance pull Excalibur from the stone. What follows is far from typical and serves as a rather amusing, morbid take on the traditional sword in the stone legend.
A play through of The Cave isn’t that long. Mine clocked in just under five hours and each character has their own puzzle, so you’ll actually be discovering new content with each journey – except for three ho-hum, unavoidable levels that serve as mostly filler. Too bad The Cave suffers from one major issue that’s going to keep most players from wanting to jump back in immediately: an atrocious control scheme.
To be blunt, playing this game with a keyboard and mouse often makes for an absolutely miserable experience. The controls have a sluggish response time that proves to be quite the nuisance when you have to reach the other side of the stage and you keep falling into a pit of spikes. Luckily, death doesn’t reset the level—just some of your navigation progress; otherwise, the game would be unplayable.
However, I died over and over again. Not because I didn’t know the solution to the puzzles, but because my character would, for instance, latch onto a nearby ladder instead of running in the direction I was leading him with my mouse – away from a giant, razor-teethed beast. Another noticeable hiccup is the Time Traveler’s “phase through physical objects” power, which renders several of the minor puzzles moot. It’s not really that big of a deal, but it does poke holes in the otherwise immersive atmosphere of the game.
On the positive side of technical issues though, I didn’t suffer from the framerate problems Xbox users have been complaining about.
The Cave is by no means a bad game. But it isn’t a great one either, and the infuriating part of that is that it’s just a few QA testers short of being absolutely fantastic. Every time I reflect on my adventures in the cave, I’ll not only be reminiscing about the Time Traveler’s well-constructed revenge plot and the numerous gags littered throughout each stage, but I’ll also be thinking about how many times my character met his/her demise because of the @$!#$%! controls and how I couldn’t solve one puzzle for twenty minutes because the item I needed hadn’t spawned. The Cave has the heart of a small masterpiece hiding within a buggy, messy shell. It’s not the next Psychonauts or Maniac Mansion, but it might tide you over until then.
- Reviewed On