Reviews

New Growth – Double Fine’s The Cave

Before Double Fine were given all the money, they were working on The Cave, a side-scrolling adventure game designed by Ron Gilbert, the Godfather of point and click adventures. Sadly for Double Fine and Gilbert, the announcement of The Cave sort of fell on deaf ears as the industry was more interested in the Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter and the goldrush it kicked off.

But work on The Cave continued, and now it’s out.

The Cave opens on a starry night, the camera panning down to where our collection of seven (well, there are actually eight, but the Twins function as a single entity) adventurers wait around a campfire. The Cave itself provides narration – yes, the titular Cave is sentient, vocal and rather witty, in that particular Double Fine way. Within the Cave lies the one thing that each adventurer covets, but according to the Cave, these are people of questionable substance who we shouldn’t even be helping.
You choose three out of seven adventurers and head into the cave, with that choice affecting the areas of the cave you pass through, as each character has their own personalised section. You should have realised that this means to experience the full game you’ll need to play through it three times; in-built replayability if you enjoy the game, or in-built annoyance if you don’t (but feel a pathological need to get all the achievements anyway).

Despite the running and jumping you may have seen in trailers, it quickly becomes apparent that The Cave is an adventure game wearing a platformer’s skin. You run and you jump, but it’s simply the game’s chosen mode of movement with no particular level of skill or reflex required. It’s a good idea, and a valid way of modernising the adventure genre, but frankly I’m glad DFA showed there is still mass support for the ‘old-school’ because the platforming just doesn’t work. The number of times I have fallen to my death due to my character’s inability to grab a ladder or rope is patently ridiculous, not to mention completely pointless considering you instantly respawn (where you fell from, not where you landed) accompanied by a reminder from the Cave that “there’s no death in the Cave.” If there’s no death in the Cave, why are there heights from which we can fall and die? And why is so much of the game spent navigating these potentially fatal shafts?

If the platforming is both average and pointless, it’s lucky that the setting and the puzzles are so well done. Every game from Double Fine has absolutely oozed charm, and The Cave is no different. From the opening starry sky to the eventual return to the campfire, everything looks great, with a strong art style that helps to bring everything together, even as you pass through ten different areas, each with a distinct visual theme.

The platforming is mediocre throughout, but the biggest problem comes at the end of the game. I’m certain I can explain myself without spoilers, but if you don’t want to trust me, just skip this paragraph. See, at the very end of The Cave you, the player, are given a choice to make – a very arbitrary, black-and-white, Saturday morning cartoon choice. Up until this point your only choice has been to complete the puzzle you’re currently faced with or stop playing. If each character’s personal area had this choice built into it, it could have improved the game drastically, it would have backed up the point the game was trying to make and potentially blown the mind of anyone who took the obvious path only to later realise that they’d been a dick. It could have been the first interesting take on Bioshock syndrome since Bioshock.

The Cave is a good game, but a terrible platformer. As an adventure game it’s probably lacking in true challenge for aficionados, but could be a gateway drug for the inexperienced. If you desperately want an adventure game from Double Fine then don’t be put off by the platformer trappings, but also don’t expect the second coming of Bernard or you’ll be disappointed.

Recommendations:

  • Gamepad – The game supports keyboard, mouse and gamepad. You can completely control your characters with either the keyboard or mouse one-handed, which sounds great in theory, but in practice I kept trying to use both simultaneously. If you can get past this mental block either will suffice, but I found a gamepad more natural.
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