The Cave Review (PC)

excellent
key review info
  • Game: The Cave
  • Platform: PC
  • Gamepad support: Yes  
  • Reviewed on:
  • Written by:
  • Show system requirements
Deeper underground

As soon as I move for the key I need to get in order to progress in The Cave, a careful crossbowman aims and fires at me quickly, faster than I can move my character through the small room we are both in.

I have a plan to distract him using the Knight and his invulnerability, but the time I have to move with my Adventurer still feels too limited.

This must mean that something is wrong with my way of thinking because The Cave really doesn’t emphasize quick reflexes and fast movement.

So I take the time to run through my brilliant distraction plan and find the only glitch that has been frustrating me and, as soon as it is eliminated, I am free to get my key and move one step closer to unlocking all the secrets contained inside The Cave.

The game is developed by Double Fine and features a core story created by Rob Gilbert, the main game maker force behind Adventures of Monkey Island.

It’s also a great example of how mixing platform movement, elegant puzzles and smart story and dialog can create a beautiful adventure experience that’s perfectly suited for a modern audience.


Story

The narrative basis for the game is pretty simple but it opens up a lot of possibilities: the location of the game is actually sentient and all the seven characters a player can control want to explore the Cave in order to get their heart’s greatest desire.

It’s clear from the start that there’s a darker element to this fantasy scenario and as the game progresses, the voice of the Cave and certain storyboard paintings are used to flesh out the universe of the game and how each of the included characters is linked to it.
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Beast trap
Comic look
A lot of the narrative is revealed via the game design and Double Fine does a great job of infusing both the locations and the members of the player party with a lot of character, even if their complexity level stays pretty low.

Each of the seven characters also has a themed area that he explores on his own and they are designed to show off the desires and dark secrets that the Cave keeps alluding to during the voice over.

Don’t expect the same kind of narrative twists and turns that series like BioShock or Dragon Age offer, but The Cave manages to keep players interested and delivers quirky revelations as it progresses.

This is a morality-driven game, something that the industry rarely attempts to create and almost never does right.

The game also takes a number of tropes that gamers should be familiar with and really turns them on their head, often with very funny results.

I have rarely laughed out loud while playing this game, but I have often let out a chuckle or two, especially when the sentient cave commented on my character’s actions.

The only problem with the general story setup is that a gamer who wants to see what all the seven heroes have to offer actually has to play through the game three times, which is hard given the linear nature of The Cave’s layout.


Gameplay

The Cave mixes platforming with puzzles, which means that gamers control one of their characters at a time and need to move through the complex tunnels and rooms of the game while also putting their other party members in certain positions to eliminate obstacles that impede progress or get required items.
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Team drop
Cave explanation
The game does not actually have a tutorial, but Double Fine manages to quickly teach gamers the important moves and the only thing that players need to keep in mind is the special powers for each of their heroes.

Platforming rarely relies on very exact moves, but players should try to avoid falling from great heights and spending too much time underwater, with one exception.

At times, the limitations feel weird and some deaths are entirely unfair, but Double Fine has integrated a very good autosave feature in The Cave and I have never felt bad about losing significant progress.

The puzzles are also well designed, with clear solutions that require a little thinking and work to discover and then actually solve.



They do become a little repetitive as The Cave progresses, but they are never obscure enough to frustrate.

It’s also interesting to note that the development team at Double Fine has chosen to offer just one save slot for The Cave players, meaning that once started, the story of one particular trio of characters needs to be taken to the end or abandoned in order to start over from the top.

Gamers can also choose to plug in more than one controller in order to cooperatively tackle the story and the puzzles.

The one big criticism I have is that The Cave requires quite a bit of backtracking at times, which is annoying when you know the solution to a puzzle and need to move back a couple of screens’ worth of tunnels to get another stick of dynamite or something similar.

At first, it’s a minor nuisance but after a while, running around becomes more important than the puzzles themselves and I have often felt that a simple inventory system would have helped The Cave quite a bit and would have allowed players to focus more on the actual puzzles and the story.


Graphics and audio

The Cave looks incredible – the rare game that manages to mix high fidelity for its character and environments with a unique style well suited to the genres of the game and serves the storytelling purposes of the development team at Double Fine.

There’s a lot of character to each of the potential protagonists, who communicate much of their abilities and their personality via their looks, especially for the Twins and the Future Traveler.

The cave as an environment is also beautiful, nicely varied in order to keep players interested, but also consistent, using themes that resonate with the overall story that Double Fine is telling.

The only problem I have with the graphics is that interactions between characters and some objects seem disjoined, unfinished, and that the drawn style used at some points during the story seems at odds with the rest of The Cave.

The audio aspect of the game is also well put together and contributes to the unique atmosphere of The Cave.
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Unique power
Dragon feast
The music is very understated and only becomes noticeable during the most interesting moments of the game and the entire sound design meshes well with the graphics and with the overall whimsy tone of the adventure title from Double Fine.

One special note for the actor who performs the lines of the Cave itself, who manages to deliver a lot of emotion and some interesting hints about the story of the game.


The Good

  • Character choices
  • Sentient cave
  • Puzzle design

The Bad

  • A lot of backtracking
  • Some weird character interaction

Conclusion

The Cave is not a game for everyone, but given the quality of the story and the dialog and the low price, this is the sort of adventure and puzzle mix that needs to find an audience outside the hardcore public.

Ron Gilbert is a legend of the genre and his partnership with Tim Schafer has produced a solid experience with interesting mechanics and a unique style that sometimes come together to produce moments of video game magic.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of downtime between the surprises and the problem of backtracking might make some players abandon the game prematurely.
 
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story 9
gameplay 8
concept 9
graphics 8
audio 9
multiplayer 8
final rating 9
Editor's review
excellent
 

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