Review

The Cave Review (Xbox360)

See the name, Ron Gilbert, linked to a game and you'd be right to be excited. Most famous for his work on Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island and, most recently, DeathSpank, Gilbert knows all about combining intriguing puzzles and twisted humour to great success. Such success can never be guaranteed though, which is quite quickly made obvious while playing The Cave, a frustrating let down of an adventure game.

The premise is quite sound. Based around a magical talking cave that enables its inhabitants to learn something about themselves and the dark facets of their personality, players are initially presented with the choice of seven characters. During one playthrough, up to three of these characters can be picked, each offering a different path through the cave and, with it, different challenges and puzzles. It's a clever idea, one of a handful that the game offers. Even if it is slightly baffling why the game doesn't offer six characters rather than seven, meaning players who want to see everything on offer will have to replay the game a third time, just for the sake of that last character.

The Hillbilly can hold his breath which proves very useful in his themed puzzle

Originality continues in the abilities of the seven characters. Covering a diverse range of backgrounds, with the choice of controlling a Knight, Hillbilly, Scientist, Adventurer, Monk, Time Traveller and Orphan Twins, each soul comes with their own talent. The Knight offers the ability to become briefly invincible while the Scientist can hack certain objects and the Twins can turn into ghosts. Such abilities shine through in their own focused puzzle section, only available when using that character, or, at least it should shine through. In reality, few of these puzzles are actually as interesting as they should be.

The many puzzles, some only available through the use of certain characters, some included at all times, appear obtuse at first and quite complex. In reality though, they are usually far too simple for their own good, albeit wrapped up in extraneous filler. The Cave doesn't challenge the grey matter, so much as present you with a list of objects and told to combine them in some irrational way. Such irrational logic, of course, is far from uncommon in the puzzle gaming genre, but there's little satisfaction to be gained here. All useful objects are highlighted by text, offering their name, and thereby telling the player that this is important for some reason, taking out much of the intrigue.

The hotdog is one of the more lighthearted ways of solving a problem

There are glimmers of quirkiness and originality, such as the Time Traveller focused puzzle that requires moving between three time zones in order to manipulate objects from the past to change the future, but to get there, you have to suffer the more tedious challenges. One such moment is a mine cart based puzzle, an obstacle that arises no matter what characters are used. This requires returning three mine carts to a very angry miner. At first, it might seem quite baffling but it's a classic example of a stupidly simple puzzle, hidden by filler and repetition. It's just not very well designed, much like the majority of the game's puzzles.

Of course, The Cave isn't just a puzzle game. It's not a Point and Click adventure game, it involves running around and platforming, too. Except these elements feel more like a way to extend the game further than it needs to go, plus the platforming itself is floaty and cumbersome. Most offensive of all is the extensive backtracking that's required in order to solve anything, as perfectly demonstrated with the mine cart puzzle. Controlling three characters alone is time consuming. Akin to something like the classic The Lost Vikings, players frequently control one character to solve something before moving back to the others to progress. At times, the game teleports the other two characters to the location for you, but all too often, it's down to the player to swap out and run to the relevant location. Given the size of many sections of the game, this can take a while and it gets dull fast. Take out the backtracking and I suspect the game would be significantly shorter than it appears to be. None of this backtracking would be an issue if platforming was fun in any way but the aforementioned floatiness and sensitivity issues rear their awkward head. Problems with a jerky frame rate also become noticeable. Co-operative play may go some way to counteracting such issues but odds are that there will always be something that you and two friends would rather be playing than something so dull.

The hotdog is one of the more lighthearted ways of solving a problem

Tedium is a big issue here, with even the storyline failing to save The Cave. Cave paintings scattered around the game unlock images unveiling the story lines of each character but they're not overly emotive, struggling to be anything more than just a casual distraction.

Given the pedigree of Ron Gilbert and Double Fine Productions' past works, a lot of people will be understandably excited by the prospect of The Cave. On paper, it sounds appealing, with its variety of characters and plethora of reasons to replay. It looks charming and, at first, the humour hits the spot. Problems lie with its inability to give you any great reason to replay it. It's just all too disappointingly shallow.

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Comments

By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Jan 22, 2013
SirRoderick
Well it's a SEGA game anyway, so I'm not too bothered. Those bastards deserve a couple hits to their portfolio after the whole Shining Force madness.

The devs however, I do sort of expect better from :/
By nocutius (SI Elite) on Jan 23, 2013
nocutius
Too bad, this looked interesting from the trailers.
Ah well, at least it has co-op so I might get this when it gets cheap if we have nothing else to play at the time.