If you’ve ever played a point-and-click adventure game before, you probably know who Ron Gilbert is. As the creator of Monkey Island, he’s been a pretty big figure in the history of the genre, developing the first two Monkey Island titles and also Maniac Mansion. More recently he’s been involved with one of Kickstarter’s biggest success stories — Double Fine’s wholly gamer-funded adventure game — and is gracing our monitors this month with his newest baby, The Cave.
The Cave tells the story of seven unique characters who set out on a quest of discovery in the titular cave, an ancient mystery that has the power to grant one’s greatest desire. Among them are the Knight, the Monk, the Scientist, the Adventurer, the Twins, the Hillbilly and the Time Traveler — not exactly your standard character motifs for this kind of game, but that’s what makes it interesting! Each has a specific special ability as you traverse the cave, which will grant you access to their subsections of the cave or make some portions easier to play through. They each also have a goal in mind in the cave, such as the Knight’s quest for a legendary sword or the Hillbilly’s quest for love, and depending on which combination of three characters you choose to play as, you will see these individual quests to their end.
Yes, that’s right – three characters per play-through. I’m not a huge fun of replaying games personally so this did grind my gears a bit, but your exploration of the cave changes dependant on which characters you have in tow. Whilst there are a few portions consistent across each playthrough, for the most part you won’t be repeating things until you reach your third play and have to do reruns of two characters’ quests, anyway. In all honesty I did find this a bit tiring, and as such haven’t finished the final playthrough to round off the Monk’s quest. If a single playthrough or some achievement unlocked a ‘party hot-swap’ in the vein of the Lego games’ Free Play mode, I probably would have found it a lot easier to dive back in.
Over the course of the game you have two goals – the characters’ individual quests, and collecting cave paintings scattered throughout. The cave paintings expand on each character’s story, giving you a little more backstory about why they are there. All this is accompanied by the Cave itself’s narration, which is as snappy and funny as you’d expect from one of Gilbert’s games. Overall the character arcs have quite a black comedy flavour to them, with none of the seven turning out to be quite so wholesome or heroic as expected.
The sound and graphical design serves the game well – sound effects have real weight to them and tie to the environments excellently, while the backing music engenders the feel of each area without being overpowering. On top of the unique locations, the colour scheme shifts subtly as you enter each character’s zone, giving a lot of variety to what could be a very monochromatic cave environment.
I only had a few small complaints with the game, but nothing world-shattering. Playing on PC the controls seemed a bit awkward, with the key bindings feeling a little too crowded. Having the standard WASD movement layout with the characters’ special ability tied to Q was a bit hard to manage, as several of the powers (such as the Hillbilly’s underwater breathing ability) require that the key be held down. Additionally, sometimes if two interactible elements were too close together, such as a key item pickup and a cave painting, the ‘activate’ button would always default to a single action, even if you attempted to be closer to one item than the other. These situations would necessitate picking up the item with the mouse instead, a jarring shift from being able to play the rest of the game entirely by keyboard. No doubt both of these issues would be far less troublesome playing with a controller, but for a genre that had its hey-day on the PC I was a little disappointed to have such obvious issues barring a comfortable playthrough.
All in all the game is quite enjoyable, and even with a few niggles you should happily be able to replay it enough to experience all seven characters’ tales. The distinct and detailed art brings a welcome dash of style to the proceedings, and casts a hopeful light on Double Fine’s Kickstarter-funded “Project REDS” later this year. If it holds even half the funny moments of this game, we should be in for a good time.