About a week and a half ago, my entire Internet social circle seemed to go a-flutter over something called The Cave, ostensibly by Double Fine and Ron Gilbert of various games fame. I’d never heard of the game before except in passing, which made it an easy target for my preferred blind-style review; the fact that I’ve reviewed quite some Double Fine games in the past means they’re easily exempt from the whole ‘indie developer’ rule, too. Plus, some of the concept art available for it looks really pretty. And that’s all there is to it, really.
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, pretty high. Mechanical, also pretty high.)
The Cave opens on a shot of purple sky and crescent moon, mountain visible to the right. ‘Press Start/Enter’, it tells me, so I do.
As the camera begins slowly panning downwards, a sultry and mysterious voice tells me to not be distracted by its sultry and mysterious qualities. It tells of an ancient place, sought by those in search of ‘that which they desire most’. But ‘few find what they are looking for… even fewer ever leave’.
I dig this narrator and his smooth, dulcet tales. Who is he? One of the people in search of treasure? The personification of someone’s deepest, innermost desire? Or is he in fact…
As the downward pan reaches a dark forest, the Talking Cave regales me with promises of the stories of seven strangers, and the dark places lurking in their hearts. In my heart, too, to hear him (it?) tell it. Finally, the camera comes to rest on a lineup of seven colourful people, no doubt the dark-hearted strangers referenced earlier.
Wait, are those buttons? Did we start already? That’s odd; I didn’t get an main menu or an options tab anywhere. I guess The Cave feels I don’t need to be able to change my resolution settings? Well, let’s just see how right it is about that.
Okay, so these seven jerks:
I find I can click on each of them, or use the 1 and 3 keys to cycle through. The first time I select each, The Cave gives me a little blurb. The Hillbilly is looking for love. The Scientist has to make a decision upon which millions of lives lay. The Monk seeks to become the master of his order. And so on, and so forth.
I stop at the Time Traveler. She has hover boots and a well-defined metal backside. I try some keys, and find that the arrow keys allow me to steer her left and right.
I choose left.
Okay, there’s a ‘Shoddy Barricade’ in the way. I punch some more buttons, but nothings seems to happen. So I elect to go right, instead.
Success! The right side of the screen hides a shack, which in itself hides a quite large crowbar. By clicking on it, I can make the Time Traveler carry it around. I cart the crowbar back to the Shoddy Barricade, click on that, and watch the magic happen.
I continue into the cave / The Cave, learning the intricacies of moving, jumping and climbing up ledges. Box-pushing, too, because why not?
Finally, the Time Traveler ends up on a rickety bridge. The Cave’s soothing voice warns me that this bridge can probably not hold three people — in a more roundabout way, of course — but I’d already figured that out from the sign.
Okay, now what? By pushing 3, I get sent back to the character lineup, now sans one. Oh, I see how this is going to go. I pick another character — the Scientist — and walk her over to the bridge.
Another press, and I’m back at the five-man lineup. I pick the Hillbilly this time, walk him to the bridge, jump on…
After quite the lengthy fall, I land in the water with a splash. Whew, good thing there’s water here.
To the left, a locked gate. To the right, a gift shop. It’s here that I meet my first fully voiced NPC: Gift Shop Clerk.
Gift Shop Clerk avails me of his sad tale: the gift shop is out of ‘trinkets’ to sell, therefore the Cave cannot open. Woe is me, and by extension us! Have I made this trip for naught? Will I be doomed to forever stare at The Cave’s locked entrance door, barred for eternity due to a crippling lack of random knick-knacks to sell to gullible tourist?
Well, this is a video game, so probably not, huh? In fact, I’m pretty sure you can already see where this is going to go next.
A minute or so later, I’m in The Cave’s left-side employee lounge, looking for trinkets. The game expands on its core gameplay here, making it an extended tutorial of sorts. It’s basically a mix between a platformer and an adventure game, as far as I can tell: jump, fall and climb from place to place, find objects, carry them to other objects, and rub the objects on each other until something happens. An example:
I find myself needing to get past a sleeping crystalline monster. In order to do so, I need to get a hotdog, throw it in a spike pit, then climb up a certain contraption and activate a machine to grab the monster as it’s eating. To get the hotdog, I need to remove a power cell from the earlier-mentioned device and place it in the power slot powering the hot dog vending machine. But there’s water leaking on the power cell, which causes any character that touches it to get (non-permanently) electrocuted.
I could get a bucket from the first well to catch the water leaking onto the power cell, but that well lacks a crank. But if I take the crowbar from the start (yes, I’m still carrying that) to the second well, which has a crank but no bucket, I can break off that crank, attach it to the first well, get the bucket, get the power cell, get the hot dog, prepare the spike pit, get up to the contraption, ring the bell that calls the monster, pull the lever, and fail. Because I still need to get the power cell back from the hot dog machine.
I can switch between the three characters at any time by pressing 1, 2 and 3. I’m not entirely sure why, yet, because as far as I can tell the characters seem functionally identical: the Time Traveler can ‘walk’ over water if she doesn’t stop moving, but that’s about it. The whole three-character system can be useful for cutting down on some of the back-tracking, though, so that’s neat. Assuming you ‘accidentally’ leave some of your characters behind initially. Which I’m not saying I did.
I do find quite a few odd markings on the cave walls. Like so:
Which go to images like this:
Backstory for my chosen characters, huh? Neat. Oddly, I can activate any marking with any character. I’d have figured I would need, say, the Hillbilly to activate Hillbilly markings, but that turns out to be Not The Case At All.
Finally, I manage to snag the monster, move through the lower part of The Cave’s Employee Lounge, and snatch up some trinkets. I won’t bore you with the explosive details. This introduction has already gone on long enough: it’s time for me to enter The Cave proper, and partake of its marvelous wonders!
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