When I say Ron Gilbert, you ought to instantly bow your head in respect. The man responsible for the seminal Monkey Island series and well known for his working relationship with creative genius Tim Schafer, Gilbert has also contributed to the gaming world through his creation of the SCUMM scripting language that drove the best of 90s adventure gaming among other projects like Maniac Mansion.
Anyway, Ron Gilbert has a new game that’s been at some stage in planning or development for the last two decades, and thanks to Schafer’s company Double Fine, it has finally come to fruition. The Cave is an intensely interesting game – here’s why.
Most adventure games suffer from being aggressively linear affairs broken up with puzzle sections, which can be wonderful for storytelling but harmful for those who prefer a more gameplay driven approach to entertainment. As such, The Cave obliges by positioning itself squarely between the point and click adventures and the platformers in terms of action. It manages to pull off both genres with aplomb, mixing tricky puzzle sequences with pleasing exploration in a lovingly rendered 2D world.
The story is typically bizarre, focusing on the misadventures of a disparate group of adventurers all exploring the titular (and sentient) cave for their own nefarious purposes. Whether you want to be a hillbilly, a knight or a pair of creepy twins, you choose three of the seven adventurers (for a total of 25 permutations, maths fans!) and journey into the abyss. There, you’ll carry out various tasks (grabbing a monster with a robotic claw to unblock a pathway, rescuing a princess from an unfortunate fate) that attempt to bring out the worst in each character’s personality – implied to be not just random occurrences but the direct result of the cave itself.
Honestly, the stories are a small let down in the event. While they’re clever and funny in their own right, they lack the depth and polish that might have been achieved if they’d kept the character roster down to two or three and concentrated their resources. However, if you’ve gone into The Cave expecting the next Grim Fandango, you might be approaching it wrong. It seems that the primary focus of this game is on humour and puzzle solving over brilliant stories and in this respect it does its job brilliantly. Starting the game with a hilarious lampshading of fetch quests, it only gets more fun as you see the slightly evil means people will go to in order to fulfil their desires.
Stylistically, it’s most reminiscent of the game Rochard, inasmuch as it takes place in a series of 2.5D corridors and rooms with a whole bunch of crazy powers at the player’s disposal. The character models are rather simplistic, but it suits the retro style of the game and it’s certainly never bad looking. They also have designs to die for, charicaturish representations of each hero that brings out the most obvious aspects of their personality combined with an animation set that is both entertaining and subtle in equal measure.
Sound is an interesting area in that music is not quite the draw it has been in other historic adventure games like Full Throttle. What’s there is fine and perfectly functional, but don’t expect to come away humming any of the tunes. I also have some criticism of the cave’s voice acting – I’m not sure the voice fits the role and it could probably have done without an American accent. However, in sound effects the team at Double Fine have excelled. The hillbilly’s bare feet slapping sloppily on the floor as he walks along the rocky surface is particularly well done and deserves congratulations of the highest order.
I won’t address the puzzle logic here, since it might spoil things, but suffice to say that’s it’s challenging but simple in equal measure and will put a big grin on your face each time you push past the next target.
Overall, The Cave is a solid effort that does a great job of reintroducing the adventure game genre to mainstream audiences – if you support this move, you really owe it to everyone to pick this game up. 8/10.