Some games stir up extraordinary hype from the moment of their announcement. One of them was certainly The Cave – the effect of a surge of inspiration by Ron Gilbert, the man responsible for Maniac Mansion and the Monkey Island series. Big name in the industry, interesting premise of mixing a platformer with an adventure game, the promise of a memorable story filled to the brim with humour… a perfect recipe for a masterpiece that will go down in history of gaming. Unfortunately, the reality did not live up to the high expectations. The Cave is a surprisingly bland production that did not utilize its full potential.
At the very beginning we meet the eponymous hero – the cave himself. He is an exceptionally sarcastic entity, giving us scathing comments from time to time with his deep, manly voice. During the short introduction we are informed that many a brave soul is prepared to venture on a journey down into the depths just to get what their hearts most desire. Near the entrance to the Cave we see seven characters to chose from: The Knight, The Hillbilly, The Time Traveller, The Adventurer, The Scientist, The Twins and The Monk. While pointing at each of them we get a very short presentation of him/her and the description of what they are after. The game doesn’t tell us this explicitly, but we end up with a team consisting of three heroes, ready to go spelunking.
During the voyage, we find wall paintings, which upon activation show us the fragments of the character’s story. What’s more, each hero has a level devoted solely to him. As we get to know the plot more and more, it turns out that our teammates have a thing or two on their conscience and his/her desires are based to a large extend on hurting people one way or another. In theory, all of that sounds really interesting, but I have several problems with this game. For starters, all the stories are really predictable. After seeing one of them, we can easily guess how the others will end. My first one (and in my opinion, the most interesting) was the tale of the Knight which twisted the banal quest of getting the princess’s hand into something grotesque and clever. I was mildly interested also in the Twins and the Hillbilly’s misadventures, but I didn’t give a toss for the stories of the rest of the cast.
That’s actually connected with the second gripe I have about the plot of The Cave. I found it really hard to become invested in the story and feel some sympathy towards the heroes, since they’re basically devoid of any personality. I understand that the characters were probably meant to be nothing more than a set of archetypes, just like in a medieval morality play, embodying various human vices. The intention didn’t succeed, though, because instead of an entertaining tale we get a bundle of boring clichés. It’s a real shame, because The Cave had a real potential in it. The humour does not save the day. Yes, I can’t deny that occasionally we get something truly funny. I was completely disarmed by the names given to the torches: Flamey-Wamey (Doctor Who, anyone?) or Ouchy-Burny Thing. The Cave himself often cracks some jokes, coloured heavily with irony, which usually serve also as a hint what we should do next. Still, most of the times I had a feeling that the game tries far too hard to make us laugh, and thus the result is quite the opposite.
Speaking of a different issue, lack of any sensible tutorial is quite painful. If I didn’t check the manual in the menu before launching the game, I wouldn’t know how to find my way around, not even speaking about using unique abilities each of the character has. Anyway, we can control the heroes either with the mouse (like in a more typical adventure game) or with the keyboard keyboard (platformer-type). For me, the latter was much more convenient but to each its own, I guess. We witness the whole action in a ant-farm perspective, seeing a large chunk of the level. We animate only one character at the time, but we can switch between chosen character at will. You have to do it quite often actually because only teamwork will guarantee success. I would really welcome the option to call the remaining members to us though, since they always stay behind, sometimes far away at the beginning of the level. The necessity to gather them manually is a real pain the butt.
As I’ve mentioned before, each of the characters has a special, unique ability. For instance, the Time Traveller can phase through certain barriers and the Hillbilly can breathe under water. That’s why each playthrough is slightly different, since we can approach the problems from different angles. The problem lies specifically in the “slightly” part. Out of eight levels in the game, five always stay the same with the same puzzles to solve. The remaining three are specifically tailored for the characters that we chose. To get to know the whole story we have to beat the game three times, needing to get through the familiar, and thus boring, levels. True, the gameplay differs a little due to character’s abilities, but to be honest, outside their own levels, most skills are pretty much useless. Brace yourself then for a tedious backtracking, which is painfully discouraging. I didn’t feel like going to the Cave again. It may seem that having seven characters to chose from is a brilliant idea to increase the replayability, but the repetitiveness completely killed that concept.
The puzzles in The Cave are not really difficult, but they demand a little bit of thinking outside the box. For the most part they involve manipulation of the surrounding (like flipping switches or pushing boxes around) and using the items we can pick up on the way. Each character can carry one object at the time, but this restriction is not really that annoying. Well, unless you’ve been carrying a completely useless stuff for half the game, then you can began to rage. The game doesn’t really require any dexterity, which at the same time disqualifies it as a platformer, since the fans of the genre would be bored by the repetitiveness and lack of challenges to speak of. The only thing that needs a bit of fingery aptitude is the occasional synchronisation of our character’s endeavours, since many times we need to solve a puzzle in certain order to succeed. If we die in the process, no big deal. The Cave will resurrect us right away.
In the graphics department, I can’t really complain about anything. The slightly cartoony backgrounds are really great and cleverly done. Pity that the gameplay itself is not as diverse as the visual side of the game. Especially impressive are the levels devoted to particular characters. Seeing a Victorian mansion or a Tibetan temple merged into a cave, is quite unusual but very pleasant sight. You cannot deny that the game boasts some really pretty scenery. Music though, doesn’t appear too often, but when it does, it fits to the mood. Usually we hear ambient noises, which build up the mood nicely. Occasionally the Cave himself speaks to the player and his voice is quite pleasant. Too bad though that our heroes never speak. I’m certain that the game would gain a lot if only the characters had some kind of depth.
What can I add further, really? The Cave disappointed me. I was expecting something ground-breaking, but instead I got a bland hybrid, which can’t satisfy neither the fans of adventure games nor those who love platformers. I treat The Cave as an unsuccessful experiment, which failed to turn the great premise into something interesting. If Ron Gilbert weren’t involved in this project, I’m sure The Cave would have gone practically unnoticed. Maybe the game does not deserve to be buried somewhere deep down in the dark corners of the Earth, but it’s really nothing to write home about. Still, if you get it on some kind of sale, feel free to check it out yourselves.
– pretty graphics
– it’s quite fun to play on the first take
– seven characters with different abilities to chose from
– repetitiveness and backtracking
– disappointing story
– dull platformer elements