What depths would you sink to, in order to take what you desire?
It’s on a bitterly cold Monday morning that I find myself taking shelter in what used to be a labyrinth of unused railway tunnels, under one of the UK’s largest railway stations. While almost pitch black, save for some lanterns and television screens for light, this location is well suited for taking a look at Double Fine’s latest game, The Cave.
So let’s get the facts out of the way first. A joint effort between former LucasArt bunkmates Ron Gilbert (Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island), Tim Schafer (Full Throttle, Grim Fandango) and the latter’s Double Fine studio (Brutal Legend, Psychonauts), The Cave is a concept that has been around for almost as long as its creator has been working on video games.
During a pre-demo presentation, Ron explains that the idea behind The Cave originated from the same time as Maniac Mansion was completed, 25 years ago, and is based around the evolution of three elements of point-and-click adventures of that time period.
The first of these outdated elements is inventory management. In the days of SCUMM-based games such as Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island, players collapsed under a mountain of useful and useless items. The Cave remedies this with a streamlined three-slot inventory system, with the player rarely needing more than that.
Secondly, traversal of an adventure’s environments had always been a clumsy affair, as players wrestled with mouse-clicks in order to get their characters where they needed to be. The Cave eschews this archaic method, relying on direct control of the game’s characters; allowing the game to be better suited to its console versions.
Finally, inspired by Maniac Mansion, The Cave once again allows the player to pick three characters from an ensemble of seven. Each of these characters have different abilities, and each have areas of The Cave that are better suited for them. For example, Hillbilly Jim can breathe underwater which allows him to pass through waters than no other character can manage. Ron describes The Cave’s method of multiple playable characters as “doing it right”, compared to Maniac Mansion’s approach.
The Cave’s background is an interesting one; the title alludes to the game’s environment, which also happens to be sentient in that it’s also the game’s narrator. The Cave promises to grant the desires of anyone who survives its challenges, and that is why the game’s seven characters find themselves there.
In the demo, I had access to three of the game’s characters; The Scientist, Hillbilly Jim and The Twins (two Tim Burton-esque children that count as one character). Each character is assigned to a direction on the D-Pad and, in fact, the game allows up to three players to play a character in local co-op.
From the moment the game begins, it’s clear that you are playing a Double Fine game, and that’s a testament to the team’s unmistakeable art style, which recalls memories of their debut title, Psychonauts. The nearest thing approaching NPCs in the game, are cardboard cutouts that in some cases will react in suitable amusing ways (such as stealing a Carnival ticket from a cutout of a child, which causes the cutout to cry when you pass by later on). Meanwhile, it’s accompanying soundtrack reaches Danny Elfman-like levels of quirk and mischievousness.
In terms of gameplay, The Cave is certainly a more action-orientated take on adventure games, providing direct control of each character in order to use their unique abilities to tackle puzzles. If you’ve ever played Blizzard’s The Lost Vikings during the 16-bit generation, then you should be able to grasp the idea. Early on I had to use one character to hold onto a weight to lift a gate, while the second character makes their way down a chasm to pull a block to use as a platform, allowing the first and third characters to jump down to the area below without dying (and on that note, in the odd occasion that you die, almost instantly you’ll be put back only mere moments away from where you “died”).
After passing that first obstacle, I reach Hillbilly Jim’s specific area, The Carnival. Jim wants nothing more than to be with the object of his desires, a freakshow attraction by the name of “The Amazing Two-Legged Lady”. To win the love of his “freak”, Jim must obtain a gift worthy of the object of his desires; a pink plush toy, that can be won from a nearby vending machine with the redemption of three tickets.
What follows is a series of warped carnival games that are the basis of some classic adventure game puzzles. Without spoiling too much, one ticket can be won by fooling a carny’s “Guess Your Weight” game, by getting a magician to make a strongman’s weights disappear, ensuring that your correct weight cannot be guessed. It’s almost the exact kind of thinking you would have to perform in late-80’s/early-90’s adventures, although nowhere near as obtuse.
From the short demo I played, The Cave looks to be a streamlined take on the classic LucasArts/Sierra adventures of yesteryear. Having a more action-orientated approach to gameplay, but with an incredibly streamlined user interface making it a must play for adventurers on both console and PC.
The Cave is due to be released on Xbox LIVE Arcade, PlayStation Network, Wii U and Windows PC in January 2013. Be sure to check back to GodisaGeek.com for the review.