When I heard Tim Schafer – of Monkey Island and Psychonauts fame – was designing an adventure game similar in style to Maniac Mansion, I stared daggers at my colleague for thinking to review it first. Growing up, Maniac Mansion was one of the most frequently rented games in my household. My brother and I painstakingly tried to unravel all of its secrets with a diverse team of characters. Though similar in some of its designs, The Cave departs from its classic predecessor in such a maladaptive manner that it mimics its mundane cast.
In fact, the only distinguishing factor linking the two is the use of three characters out of a possible seven. Like Maniac Mansion, these characters have their own personalities and special abilities with which to solve puzzles, but rather than scouring a maze-like mansion of mentally disturbed blue people, players linearly travel through a self-aware cave that just happens to plant the characters in places their unique abilities can be used. Though the characters must use their abilities to move on, these scenarios rarely require thought or ingenuity. In fact, the only difficult parts of the game occur when trying to figure out how pick-ups interact with the environment. Character abilities are purely gimmicks, and in no way increase the quality of gameplay. Rather, they serve to hinder the overall experience purely out of disappointment.
Linear caverns and simple puzzles may leave a big bruise on this title, but the dreadful gameplay doesn't end there. One way in which The Cave departs from the typical adventure game is in its platforming. Unfortunately, the unimaginative platforming boils down to simple jumps and awful controls. The jumps serve to frustrate as stiff, long leaps don't allow for precision or comfort. Oftentimes, I found myself battling with my character as he leaped over objects I wanted him to jump on. Climbing ladders was also difficult at times. Using the keyboard alone will likely lead to many fall-deaths – which are inconsequential – because the characters may walk past a ladder and down a cliff, rather than intuitively latching onto the object. As if this weren't enough, players will find that they have to back-track a long distance for most of the puzzles with all three of their characters.
But just who are these people, and why are we diving into an eloquent labyrinth of cold stone? The seven characters have aspirations they need to fulfill, and the cave – I guess – is their opportunity to meet their goals. From evil twin children hoping to poison their parents so that they can go outside to an adventurer who wants to kill her comrades in order to hog the gold and glory of finding rare treasures, the characters appear interesting. In order to learn more about their history, players find glyphs on the walls that show a picture and title. These images connect to form the reason behind their evil endeavors, but what could have been a potentially humorous take on protagonists turns into blasé, cliché scripts of revenge and greed. The cave and its inhabitants offer only mild amusement and quiet, inward laughter.
The voice acting might be one of the best parts of this game. Might be. While well done, nothing really sticks out. The sentient cave sounds like what I might imagine an intellectual rock formation to sound like, and the strange lurkers also sound appropriate, but I wonder if the lukewarm script hurts some of these performances. Though the art style is somewhat interesting, the graphics as a whole are sub-par, especially in this age. The Cave doesn't pretend to be a triple-A title, but the drab, simple visuals do the poor-everything-else no favors.
Though quirky, The Cave took an opportunity to revive a beloved classic and squandered it. I have to wonder if Schafer and Gilbert were active participants in this game's development, because the final product does not match what the gaming community has come to expect from these original thinkers. I have tremendous respect for these titans in the industry, but I hope no one caves-in and buys this title.
© 2013 Sega, Double Fine Productions. All rights reserved.