The Cave Hands-On Preview – All The Fun of the Fair
Written Thursday, December 13, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
As a Ron Gilbert adventure game, The Cave possesses all of the great hallmarks that it should, from the tongue-in-cheek humour, a dose of dark surrealism, and a good dollop of plain old weirdness in the premise itself. Playing as a trio of your choice from a selection of seven adventurers, you delve into the depths of the titular talking hole on a quest to discover something about each, from the Monk searching for his missing master to the Hillbilly simply searching for true love. Cue some rather neat puzzles framing the whole thing, as you utilise the unique abilities of each character to traverse ever-deeper into the gloomy confines of the cave, where more than a few surprises await.
This latest demo has us playing as the Scientist, the Hillbilly and the ghoulish Twins, plumbing the depths as we visit a bizarre carnival. Starting with a simple puzzle to break a fall that would otherwise see your character dying, only to be respawned almost instantly to a few seconds ago, things start rather simple with a crate to drag to your landing spot. Dying isn't punished in The Cave, meaning that the platform-jumping bits, by Ron Gilbert's own admission are really only a peripheral aspect of the game. The platforming is part of “making traversal more fun,” Gilbert tells us. And he's right. It does make getting around the cave enjoyable.
It does mean communicating frequently with your couch co-op buddy though, to ensure that you're co-ordinating who's doing what and when. The Cave supports up to three players playing simultaneously, with switching accessed via the d-pad. Without communication, it can potentially descend into anarchy as you argue over who's playing as which character and performing which tasks, but that'll no doubt be part and parcel of the fun. Simply running through the cave, we were competing to see who could make the platform jumps the quickest, before collaborating on solving the puzzles.
Playing solo, the AI will ensure that all three players are always close by, meaning you won't have to slavishly and laboriously move each character into position. Whether you're playing alone or with friends however, figuring out The Cave's puzzles promises to be mighty entertaining, and while Gilbert describes the carnival section we're playing as “mid-level” difficulty, there's still that all-important sense of achievement when that eureka moment hits you.
Like any classic adventure game, there's gratification to be had from finding a solution, and the logic exhibited in the puzzles we encounter in our hands-on makes sussing things out all the sweeter. There's no inventory either, so knowing which object to have in your possession and when needs to be taken into consideration, or it can mean having to do a lot of annoying backtracking. Each character can hold an object however, so you can essentially keep three items with you at any one time.
Finding our way to the carnival entrance, we need to obtain five prize tickets to feed into a machine housing a pink teddy bear that the Hillbilly needs to win the affections of the freak show's 'Amazing Two-Legged Lady'. To win the tickets, we have to circumvent the rigged games that involve guessing a colour, having your weight guessed or testing your strength. Some of the solutions are pretty obvious and laid out right in front of you, while others require a little bit of lateral thinking. The Hillbilly's ability to hold his breath indefinitely with his head inside a bubble is integral here with swimming through longs tunnels that would kill any other character, which makes sense at it's a part of the game specifically tailored for him, and part of his story. Expect other sections, like a glimpse we see of a place where only the Knight can go, to follow suit with individual challenges for each character.
Tackling the carnival's puzzles, we find a wrench to switch a malfunctioning generator off enabling another character to grab the electrified fuses, only to learn later on that the Scientist is able to bypass fuse boxes. Bah. Locating a huge sledgehammer to beat the test your strength machine, we move onto the other games, where some smart tricks are required.. Acquiring the other prize tickets is a case of tricking the 'Guess Your Weight' machine with an invisible barbell borrowed from the 'Man of Ordinary Strength', and conjured out of sight by a magician; and beating the Wheel of Misfortune by visiting a machine that can predict the correct colour. With each of the rigged carnival games beaten, it's time to grab the pink bear and declare the Hillbilly's love for the Amazing Two-Legged Lady.
By the time we get to her however, the Man of Ordinary Strength has already moved in, leaving the Hillbilly heartbroken. It looks like the Hillbilly's quest to find his true love doesn't end here then, so by grabbing one last prize ticket from a cardboard cutout of a crying child, we grab the zippo lighter from the prize machine and torch the place. As you do. And amid the screams of the weird, fake cardboard cutout people that inhabit the carnival, as the flames engulf almost the entire screen, the demo concludes.
With our first real hands-on taste of what The Cave has to offer, it looks as though we'll be getting a nice New Year's treat, with seven stories to see through to their end, and the potential for some raucous co-operative fun for up to three players. The puzzles are fun, yet logical and the trademark dark humour that's been inherent in Gilbert's past work seems to be all present and correct based on what we've played thus far. As a quirky, esoteric and deliciously funny adventure game, it appears that The Cave is ticking all of the right boxes thus far, making it something to look out for when it hits PSN next year.
The Cave will be heading to the PlayStation Network in January 2013. Pricing has yet to be confirmed.