How do you write a preview (oh man, or a review) of an adventure game that features seven different characters traversing a sentient cave riddled with puzzles and traps without giving spoilers away? I really don’t know. Thus, I aim to tackle Ron Gilbert’s newest Double Fine joint, The Cave. Everyone’s experience is certainly going to be different, whether from party construct or puzzle difficulty. I could just talk about the game from a technical standpoint, but that robs the title of so much of its charm. In other words, I’ve stumbled into a hot, steamy mess.
One thing is for sure, though: I’m a bit of a Double Fine fan boy. And, luckily, The Cave is a Double Fine game through and through. It’s a funny, smart, hand-crafted game that — in typical fashion — has no real analogue within the developer’s library of past releases. Always moving forward. Ironically, The Cave does this by clamping down the defibrillators on the once-dead chest of the adventure genre.
I guess I’ll just hop on in. The Cave first tasks you with making a party of three members from a total of seven. You won’t be able to control them simultaneously, rather you’ve got to switch between them and use their special abilities separately. You could think of it like swapping between units in an RTS — only the games are totally different and the tasks are too. Either way, you’ve got your party of three.
From there, there is no path. The game will be entirely different depending on your makeup. Each character brings his or her skills to the table for exploration. Also, each one has a specific “home world” to play through within the cave itself. For example, my scientist had a level set in a lab to play through while we had to pass the knight’s entire section because we couldn’t enter it. Obviously, there will be tons of replay value here. But what about them puzzles?!
Speaking generally, the puzzles have all been good-but-not-great. I’ve never felt stumped beyond saving, but sometimes I was genuinely smiling at the solution (I miss the days where you had to take notes -err, screenshots). I’m about halfway through by my completely unwarranted guess, having beat the intro and the first and second characters’ dungeons. The pacing is nice and crisp, never plodding along like an unmotivated slug as some adventure games do. I like when a game respects my time.
And that’s the biggest boon so far: The Cave respects your time and imagination. With so many options and combinations and solutions, you don’t ever feel preached to or funneled along. With Gilbert’s pedigree, this should come as no shock. It is good game design 101.
Barring much more, I will say that The Cave brings the goods regarding presentation. The design is chunky and cartoony in a good way, the environments all distinct and legible. Surprisingly a bit of a resource hog, it has the telltale markings of a Double Fine title whether it is the writing, humor or art (actually, it would make a perfect handheld game for some similar reasons). The music is great, the wit is apparent and the monumental amount of craft is just inspiring. And, just like all of Double Fine’s games, I simply cannot see how someone would not enjoy it.
So, let me get back to The Cave and I’ll get back to you with a review. As of right now, all systems are a go.