The Cave Review: Guilty of the Deadly Sin of Being Boring
Lately, developer Double Fine has been trading on the nostalgia attached to its own brand.
Take Double Fine Adventure, a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign for a pretty vague adventure game (we literally knew almost nothing about it when it was getting its crowd-sourced funding) that was more or less sold on the idea of players remembering and liking games such as The Secret of Monkey Island.
The Cave feels that way too — a game predicated on the idea that other games made by Double Fine are amazing, and so too is this one. But where other games in Double Fine’s library, like Psychonauts and Stacking, have done the work to earn that reverence for the developer, The Cave falls well short, failing to bring along anything exceptional. It’s a nice enough game, but marred by lots of design decisions that make it irritating. It’s kinda funny, with some kinda-smart puzzles and a kinda-fun premise. And so the final product is only kinda good.
The Cave (PC [Reviewed], Xbox 360)
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Release Date: Jan. 23, 2013
Seven characters are yours to choose from at the outset of your run through The Cave, and the whole game is narrated by the titular subterranean hollow, which happens to also be sentient and a bit snarky. The people who gather at the Cave do so to search for the things they desire most, and all the characters are awful people seemingly guilty of some terrible transgressions in their lives. They’re also collected from across time and space, from both the distant past and the distant future, which suggests along with the game’s subject matter that The Cave is a place of judgment, possibly a kind of purgatory. (I’m also of the thinking that the stories of the characters represent the Seven Deadly Sins.)
To star the game, players choose three of the seven characters and venture into the Cave, which is done by grabbing a nearby crowbar and prying off the boards that bar entry. Once you choose your three characters, you’re stuck with them, and who you choose affects the story as the game tells it to you. That’s because the Cave is full of areas that are specifically modeled on the backstories and characteristics of the people you bring with you, and while you’ll pass levels you can’t access because you don’t have the right people in your party, it also means multiple playthroughs are necessary to see everything.
You can interpret that last bit — the requirement of multiple playthroughs — in more than one way. On the one hand, it’s good, because The Cave stays organic in that it’s a different experience, somewhat, the first and second times you play through. It’s also a negative consideration because that means you can’t experience the whole game in one shot, and you have to replay roughly half the game to see the new content. To get through all seven characters’ stories, you have to make three total runs through the game, complete with solving several of the same puzzles and passing through the same areas over and over again. That’s not replayability, it’s tedium.
Logistically, the game is set up like a side-scrolling Metroidvania title, requiring players to move both vertically and horizontally to find all the rooms and complete all the puzzles. It plays a bit like Trine, in that you have three characters and each is supposed to have his or her own special ability. The game also is billed as a platformer, but platforming elements are incredibly few and far between and never require any degree of skill; this is a platform only in that it’s a sidescrolling game organized vertically, and so you have to hit the jump button to get to rooms that are positioned above you.