Adventure games. They’re fun in their own right, but for me they always seemed slow and exceptionally tedious. Items start piling up in your inventory, movement lacks constant interaction and puzzles can be so confusing, you’d rather walk away from than solve. Ron Gilbert and Double Fine have been able to eliminate some of these problems in some unique ways in The Cave making it one of the few fun adventure games I’ve played in a long time, but some of these innovations also backfire.
The Cave involves seven different characters looking for what they desire most within the titular cave. This talking, sentient cave intends on making their dreams come true, but through the most twisted morality tales you’ve ever come across. These characters aren’t exactly what you would call good people. Most of their back stories, which come from cave paintings found on the walls, involve some selfish motive or ill intended plan to get what they want. Finding these paintings becomes a huge draw in your exploration. Each one offers an entertaining story you’ll want to follow to their very grim end.
The Cave itself offers some humorous banter in the usual Double Fine fashion, but it mostly offers up a few good chuckles from time to time. The banter is still entertaining enough, though, makes the living cave an integral character in the whole adventure.
You can only choose three characters to be brought in to the cave at a time. As you explore you’ll travel through general areas of the cave and character specific areas, both of which involve some platform-lite mechanics. The platforming isn’t complicated and keeps you interacting with the game throughout the entire experience. It doesn’t seem entirely necessary at times, but when it comes to the lack of interaction in some other adventure games The Cave offers up something a little more interactive.
Puzzles seem incredibly complex at times, but more often than not they are solvable. Visual cues often reveal the answers and there isn’t the hour long act of trial and error you need to go through. Once, the answer becomes obvious you’ll feel smart as hell, walking away from each puzzle with a feeling of satisfaction. One of the more interesting puzzles involves a monster and a tape recorder in an underground zoo. I’ll let you wrap your head around that for a moment.
The items used to solve these puzzles are carried by each individual in the three party group. You have no inventory of any kind, only what each character can carry. This keeps you from wasting time rummaging through an inventory system overflowing with items. Most of the items you need to solve the current puzzle are in the area.
What I enjoyed the most was the varied environments The Cave featured. One would think exploring a cave may leave you looking at nothing but stalagmites and stalactites, yet each of the distinct character sections of the cave offer something a little different each time. The Knight’s section takes place within a medieval castle filled with guards, a dragon, a princess and a king. The Monks involves climbing to a mountain top and confronting several very Zen like puzzles in the process.
Water and lighting effects give the cave a very surreal feel to it. Then again I wouldn’t expect any less from a living and breathing cave.
Despite being able to iron out the problems interaction and inventory, The Cave still has problems with pacing. Finding your way through character sections can be confusing at first and even after finding your way around you’ll be consumed by a lot of needless backtracking to solve puzzles. The hillbilly’s carnival section was the worst, having to take items from opposite sides of the level to solve puzzles and then bring them back again. It isn’t as slow as a point-and-click adventure title, but if you don’t have the patience for the tedious backtracking this game isn’t for you.
Despite these setbacks, the game to some degree is still offers some classic adventuring fun. Not to mention you can play with two other people to solve the puzzles together. Ron Gilbert and Insomniac Games have once again demonstrated their talent for adventure games. They may not have solved the pacing problem completely, but if you have the patience, I recommend you start your spelunking today.