Published on January 31st, 2013 | by Keith Hanson3
The Cave: More than just rocks
“A descent into the unknown” can describe many games. Whether you’re traversing a strange landscape on an undiscovered planet in Mass Effect, or discovering a secret past in Assassin’s Creed, it is our curiosity of the unknown that drives us forward (or maybe you just like killing doods). While this also can describe Ron Gilbert’s The Cave, I would say it sums up the whole package.
The game begins with an eclectic cast of characters, The Knight, The Adventurer, The Hillbilly, The Scientist, The Twins, The Time Traveler, and The Monk, all of whom are driven to enter The Cave by what each desires. Some of them are on this quest for glory and fame, some for money and power, some for love, and some just want to go outside and play. But all of them will do whatever it takes to get what they want.
We learn all this because The Cave itself is a character, and our narrator. He knows enough to give us a short biography on each character, but not much else. And while this faceless hole in the ground is here to guide us through the story, he never interacts with the characters themselves. He is merely there to observe and comment to the player, and he does so in the most snarky tone possible. I found him to be one of the most entertaining parts of the game.
To begin the journey, you pick three of the characters to enter the cave. Each character has a special ability, and your combination of characters will determine how you get through the puzzles ahead of you. Any grouping will allow you to complete the game, but you must make multiple playthroughs to see every characters’ story. And while this seems like it would create complications, it all flows very nicely. If you don’t have the proper character to enter an area, you will go past it. If you can’t reach something with one character, you will surely have another with the ability to get there. All the puzzles inside have multiple solutions, so all the different trios you can form will have a way through.
These puzzles are the main challenge of the game. It may control like a platformer, but it’s much more akin to the adventure games of the past. This is to be expected with Ron Gilbert at the helm, the creator of the classic point-and-click games Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island. The controls are not its strong point, but neither are the puzzles. For any veteran of the genre, many of the solutions will come easy. Most come down to the proper positioning of characters in multiple spots to flip switches or use items. Each character can carry one item at a time, so you have to juggle those between characters to reach solutions. It can be tedious at times, but the true reward is discovering the story.
As you delve deeper into The Cave, you’ll find paintings on the walls. Each one is a piece of a character’s back-story, told via a gorgeous illustration. Combining these pictures with the character-specific areas, we can understand where they have come from, and where they might go from here. We see how their desires drive them, and how it can ruin them. It all comes together in the end, although you may not like where they end up.
It’s a dark journey, but one I found very enjoyable. Every piece of info I came across pushed me toward the next. These characters started as simple archetypes and evolved into people with personalities that weren’t evident on the surface. Where I could find no relation at first, I now found a kinship within their flaws and desires. And yet, there is still so much remaining of the unknown. I’ve already made it through The Cave twice. I plan on completing it with all the characters, and with the knowledge of multiple endings, I will have to make many trips to see it all. I hope you will also make the descent into the unknown of The Cave.
The Cave is available on PC, Mac OS X, Linux, Wii U, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.