This week, Zero Punctuation reviews The Cave.
You know, I'm never happier than when I've got my hands fastened around a big curvy controller pressing all the buttons like they're pimples on the buttocks of a beautiful dance partner, but there's still a lot of time in my day for entirely mouse-driven games, 'cos games that you can play with one hand free are for the man on the go. Probably why I've been playing FTL so much lately, 'cos at any one time I could be playing that in one window, watching a speed run of Ecco the Dolphin in another, stroking two dogs with my feet and jerking off one horse. And between stud farm profits and dog satisfaction, that's a good net gain for a gameplay session. And if you've got big hands and could persuade two horses to stand close enough together, you could double your money. But I digress.
This is partly why I liked point-and-click adventure games a lot, back when people actually owned Amigas unironically, particularly the peerless LucasArts ones. So when an adventure game is put out by a couple of LucasArts veterans, I'm all over that like a herpes infection on an otherwise perfect evening out.
The Cave is an adventure game by Double Fine, not to be confused with the Double Fine adventure game that Kickstarter has already allowed to make more money than the rehab clinic next to Lindsay Lohan's house. A different Double Fine adventure game, this one written and designed by Ron Gilbert, he of the superlative Secret of Monkey Island and of course Maniac Mansion, the adventure game in which you control three protagonists from a starting pool of seven, but that's enough nostalgia. The Cave is an all new adventure game in which you control three protagonists from a starting pool of seven. What a fat lot of good the last twenty five years must have been! Oh, but Ron knows when I'm just being facetious for comic effect.
Seven strangers, who are either stereotypes or hipsters ironically effecting stereotypes, have come to a mysterious magical cave where, legend has it, can be found the one thing they all desire most. So I guess they can't be hipsters after all, because in that case, the cave would have granted them all a swift punch in the throat. The twist is that every character has a dark history that is gradually revealed throughout the game, although it's hardly a twist by the seventh one.
It soon becomes clear that The Cave is an adventure game in the traditional LucasArts sense in the same way that having Iron Man 2 explained to you by a hairy drunk in a bus shelter is just like seeing the actual film. There are inventory puzzles in that every character can hold one item at a time, but once each labyrinthine puzzle area is fully explored, solutions are really fairly obvious. A key, a door. A banana, a monkey. A dildo, a velvet-lined dildo storage container. Chiefly, the game's more accurately described as a puzzle-platformer, with a lot of the actual puzzle aspects involving the positioning of dudes in the right spots to combine efforts in order to open up more areas and hopefully the keys, bananas and dildos therein.
It can still be wholly controlled with the mouse, but this led to occasional frustration in the moments when precision jumping is called for as the movement is slippery and inaccurate. And yes, this game has come out on Steam, XBLA, PSN, Wii U, graphing calculators and handfuls of Scrabble tiles on metal trays, you can use whatever control method you like. But I needed to only use the mouse so I could use the other hand to keep a tally up every time the games repeated itself.
There are three fixed chapters and one chapter focused on each of the twats you brought along. This is the only thing that your choice of characters changes. While going through one character's stage, the other two are basically department store dummies that occasionally have to weigh down a switch. The unique ability they all possess is used once to access their unique stage and after that, occasionally to bypass a puzzle, but otherwise are about as much use as a fish having the mystical ability to talk to camels.
In Maniac Mansion, the situation remained the same but the combination of skills you had changed the puzzle solutions. The characters selected in The Cave merely locks out half the potential content. The first thing you do after beating the game once is to restart the game with different characters just to see another three levels. I don't see why we had to pick at all! We could have just gone through all seven chapters in one game with two bricks on hand for the switches. As it stands, seven characters leaves one red-headed stepchild left over after two playthroughs. So if you want to see their chapter, you need to play two of the previous characters again and all the fixed chapters a third time. Are they trying to ensure good reviews through Stockholm Syndrome?
The traditional adventure game is story-focused, but The Cave can best be described as story-unfocused, since its story exists in a sort of intangible miasma in its general vicinity, kind of like Richard Gere's relationship with his acting talent. Each character's chapter is supposed to confront their character with their great sin which are also revealed through sequences of collective artwork found throughout the caves. But in-game, the characters never talk or react and besides their unique abilities are totally interchangeable. So it feels like trying to confront a bowl of porridge with its sin of being a very unexciting breakfast.
Maybe if the characters had spoken and had unique dialogues with whatever of the characters you'd pick, that would have at least added some replay value. And for the Double Fine and Ron Gilbert entities who both count good dialogue among their major strengths, it's quite a baffling deficiency. 'cos there are a few funny lines from the NPCs who haven't had their vocal cords frozen from all their massive guilt, but they exist in a vacuum like Paris Hilton's consciousness.
"Yahtzee, this is starting to sound like you don't like The Cave much." Errmm...uuuuhhhhhmmmm...non-committal noises, no. But I'd have disliked it less if I hadn't found out that it had good and bad endings. I assumed not 'cos there's no way to get through each character's stage without committing their sin. Then at the end, you collect your prize and as you leave the cave, you get your last two artworks confirming what a massive shit you are.
But it turns out you can get good endings. Not by, say, not committing the big sins during the character chapters, but by attempting to give the big prize back three times just before you leave at the very end. And it wouldn't have occurred for me to do that, 'cos it's just rude when you think about it, and certainly not three fucking times, you might as well wipe a bogey off on their face. But sure enough they take it back and you get the good ending. So if one had already seen the bad ending, could one reload the most recent save and do that final unintuitive little thing to get the good endings? Could one bollocks! So off you go to replay the whole fucking thing to make one tiny little change at the end.
So to get full completion, you have to go through the game six widdle-plopping times? I wouldn't even have sex six times and having sex only takes like ten seconds!
Smile like the gates of hell: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I'd hate to go to be confronted by my sins because most of them have been masturbation related
Stalactites are the ones on the ceiling, right