Some of the best ideas take decades to come to fruition. Back in the days of LucasArts, Ron Gilbert came up with the first concept of The Cave while still at the recently sold company. Going back a little to Maniac Mansion’s multiple protagonist adventure; The Cave explores the deepest and darkest parts of our own psyche. But what if we were to put the game itself into The Cave? What would we find beneath its exterior?
As the disembodied voice of The Cave tells you, venturing into its labyrinthine caverns will reveal the worst in humanity. You select three out of the seven intrepid explorers that each have their own reasons for venturing into The Cave: such as the Knight on a quest to save a kingdom from the clutches of a Dragon, or the Twins who simply want to go outside and play. Each one though has a dark secret hidden deep within and it is finding out more about these characters that proves to be the big drive for continued play. Trouble is, however, that in order to play through the new scenarios for each character, you must slog through interconnecting puzzles that are the same each time around. Familiarity is an advantage when getting through the game quicker, but it comes at the cost of originality.
The Cave operates in a similar approach to that of a classic point-and-click adventure, giving you obstacles to overcome that require devious puzzle solving skills. These can range from sequences you must complete each play-through to character specific ones themed on each dark secret. It is possible to die in the game, either because you fell from too great a height or got too close to a big nasty creature, but this has little consequence because you can’t permanently die. Solving each riddle is therefore a fairly relaxed affair for the most part, though one or two quick reflex puzzles might catch you off guard.
For the most part, controlling the three characters reminded me greatly of Maniac Mansion and its sequel Day of the Tentacle, so getting used to operating three characters at once was never a confusing prospect. I can certainly see this as a problem for those not used to the style of game though. Each character specialty is situational, but essential – a touch that only helps illustrate each one’s uniqueness. On the other hand, the more frustrating things were the painfully slow climbing animations and the finicky way the game handles dropping off ladders and ropes. Plummeting to your death from a great height is one thing, but when characters move as slow as a slug scaling a tree, it all gets a bit too much.
None of this stops The Cave from being a really charming adventure, in spite of the gloomy and unsettling ambiance. Characters have a distinct style in their design and movement, with each ones’ unique ability being appropriately themed. But the real highlight is The Cave itself, a sentient and presumably cynical entity that narrates your journey to the bottom with plenty of sarcastic comments along the way. Even the Cave Paintings that provide insight into the adventurers ooze with an allure that is rarely found – creepy but still utterly charming. What is a bit of a shame is that, in the case of the Xbox 360 version at least, there are some moments where the game slows down to a crawl to make performance a sluggish affair.
Your first adventure into The Cave is one of wonderment for the art style, discovery of intelligent puzzles, and a large amount of fascination in uncovering the truth behind your explorers’ backgrounds, but subsequent dips into this pool see the structure unravel to the point where you can repeat some of the same puzzles, just to expose one or two new areas and reveal the fate of one of your intrepid pioneers. Couple this with some frustratingly slow climbing animations, performance issues, and clunky co-op mechanics to unveil a game with some teething problems.
Does that mean Ron Gilbert’s brainchild is an abysmal failure? Of course not. It has the trademark humour that the man is known for, blended with seven uniquely different voyagers that ooze character – despite never saying a word. At around a tenner on every platform, The Cave is one adventure that you should probably undertake eventually. Just be sure to keep an open mind when deja-vu sets in.