If you are a gamer of, shall we say, “a certain age”, then the news that Ron Gilbert has returned to the adventure genre will be music to your ears. Not only is Ron “back” (although he never really went away), he has teamed up with fellow ex-Lucasarts colleague Tim Schafer to produce a new twist on the point and click adventure for Schafer’s Double Fine studios: The Cave.
So what is The Cave? In plot terms, The Cave is the destination for a bizarre group of adventurers, each of which are exploring its depths to find some personal treasure. Not only that, but The Cave actually narrates their stories as they make progress on their quests, not quite to the same degree as the narrator of Bastion, but he chimes in every now and then to prod the story along.
The game itself plays as a sort of platform game crossed with a point and click adventure, so instead of actually pointing and clicking, you are running around and collecting items to solve all sorts of challenging puzzles, from working out how to win at a rigged fairground attraction, to performing an Arthurian sword-in-the-stone routine. The unique twist is that you control three characters at the same time, out of a cast of seven, each with their own unique abilities. For example, the Time Traveller can teleport across short differences, the Scientist can hack consoles and the Hillbilly can breath underwater.
Each character is mapped to left/up/right on the d-pad so you quickly switch between them, wherever in the level they are, which feels a little clunky at first but soon becomes second nature. For example, one early puzzle has one character at the bottom of a level laying a trap for a creature, while another character at top operates a lever to capture it, so you soon get used to the idea of swapping between different characters at key moments to solve the many varied challenging puzzles the Cave contains.
The Cave itself consists of a series of levels that are a mix of four “standard” levels that are always the same (Gift Shop, Mine, Zoo, Island), plus a unique level for each of the three characters you chose at the start of the game. The mathematicians amongst you will have already worked out that to see everything the game has to offer is going to require at least three playthroughs, so be prepared for at least *some* repetition.
Repetition also plays quite heavily in the gameplay itself, as you will frequently find yourself/selves traipsing back and forth from one end of a level to the other, maybe multiple times as different characters. Of course, any hardened point and click aficionado will be used to this type of thing, so you will probably already know whether this is a negative point or not.
One welcome addition is that the game can be played co-operatively. While this sounds great on paper, especially as you are already controlling multiple characters, in practice it can be a little frustrating. There is no split-screen mode, and you both have equal control over the character/camera switching, so you can frequently find the camera following one player when it needs to be following the other. Again, a quick stab of the d-pad soon sorts things out, and before long it won’t be a problem at all.
The worst part of the co-operative mode, however, is that, by design, certain areas are only accessible by certain characters. The worst culprit for this is the Twins’ Mansion. Only The Twins can get into the building itself, and they have a large number of puzzles to solve in there before the other player stranded outside can do anything. Again, you may find this more annoying, but when we played it, the “stranded” player kept chipping in with ideas and suggestions so still felt involved.
The game has a distinctive art style, with well designed and interesting characters, each with their own dark secrets that are slowly revealed as you progress through the game. Each character’s unique level is based around their past, so you are in effect playing their personal histories as they explore The Cave. On top of that, there are glowing symbols hidden throughout the game, which reveal “cave paintings” that string together to reveal their back story as well. Of course, missing some of these collectables may also add to your playthrough count, depending on how much of a completist you are (maybe now is not the time to point out that each of the seven characters has both a good and bad ending as well).
Finally, commendation also needs to go out to the dark humour that runs throughout the game. I was frequently chuckling to myself over a comment The Cave made, or to a surprise twist played out on one of the collectible cave paintings.
So The Cave, then – much like this concluding paragraph, it isn’t perfect. But if you are looking for a funny, clever, and challenging way to spend a few hours, you can’t go wrong with this.
Reviewed on PS3