Preview: The Cave is an intriguing puzzle/platformer hybrid
I find that most puzzle games train the player to solve a certain brand of gameplay, and that’s fine. For example, that famous marketing quip, “Think in Portals”. But The Cave seems to have potential to be something else entirely. The puzzles are situational and are somewhat grounded in common logic. When I played The Cave, solutions came together in a very intrinsic way that was fresh and unexpected.
The Cave is the latest creation from Ron Gilbert, the mad genius behind ‘Monkey Island’. Double Fine Studios, with the publishing support of SEGA, is setting out to make a co-op experience with a lot of flavor. The story is narrated by the cave itself, which doesn’t make any sense, but I’m sure it will in the end.
Seven characters make the cast of this wacky tale, each with their own story, motivations and abilities. Each of these heroes have a distinct personality that is often archetypal, yet sometimes surprisingly distinct. The characters’ charm is often deceptive as some truly dark scenarios reveal a more disturbing plot. Certain characters reveal themselves be even sociopathic, making the game far more interesting than I expected.
While platforming may look to be the focus of the game, it’s merely the transportation that serves the puzzles. Players are encouraged to explore multi-tiered caverns full of mysteries and unlikely scenery. The cave evolves differently with unique ways to solve each puzzle based on the characters the player has chosen. Certain section are even built exclusively for having certain characters with, meaning that multiple playthroughs can yield vastly different experiences.
This three person party system is built to serve both the single player and co-op experience. Though, I get the impression that co-op would be less about having players constantly in the mix and more so just having someone to journey with. It’s a challenge to keep two or three people constantly in the action.
The screen real-estate is in the hands of the dominant player, and characters can be left behind. This is a good and bad thing, it seems. On one hand, it means that your friends can be left out from the on-screen action, but on the other, it allows for strategic placement for solving puzzles much quicker when next steps are nowhere near each other. With a partner willing to take a back seat from time to time, and you doing the same, more ground can be covered in an efficient way.
Even if your friend misses out on controlling their character for a bit, it can be equally rewarding to be a part of the discussion. Having someone to bounce ideas off of is really helpful, and it’s easy to let crucial clues pass you by otherwise. Being savvy to the game’s way of things and having an observant partner to help you out is extremely valuable.
As mentioned earlier, the game can be quite dark. As I wrapped up my demo, I was aghast by the deeds of my companion, the hillbilly. It left an odd sort of impression, and now all I want to do is see it to the end. It’s tough to say how much of what I saw was novelty, but if the game remains as intriguing as the bits I saw, it’ll prove to be a great experience. I know that I’ll be keeping my eye on The Cave.