Double Fine represents, what I believe, to be a quality litmus test of a gamer. Not the only one, mind you, as there exists all kinds of gamers with all kinds of tastes. Someone who knows of Double Fine by name, and appreciates their work, however, has already passed my standard of excellence. At the very least, I may enjoy the thought that fans of DF may just have a body made up entirely of funny bones.
For those who aren’t in the awesome know, Double Fine is a company founded by Tim Schafer back in 2000. Tim Schafer did some awesome stuff when he worked at LucasArts, including Grim Fandango, which stands to be one of my fav PC games of all time. Double Fine continued the tradition of all things terrific, as they put out titles like Psychonauts and Brutal Legend. These games represent the small niche of titles that can legitimately boast about their humor, without being unintentionally funny.
DF’s latest outing, The Cave, looks to be continuing the companies trend of quality, and bringing forth a memorable past to create a worthwhile future.
The memorable past I speak of is the lost genre of point and click, and all of the wonder the genre created. While at LucasArts, Tim Schafer, along side Ron Gilbert (on quite a few projects), helped pioneer the P&C experience with games like Monkey Island and Full Throttle. While both went there separate ways in the later 90’s, they eventually found a common ground with conceptualizing “The Cave”, and thus, returned to old form in a P&C game that looks to be worthy of both of their names.
The premise of The Cave very simply, is to explore. While the experience is mainly puzzle solving, you will have a dash of plat forming, and an endless slew of humor to help guide you in the mysterious environment. The game’s main character focus, is on seven strangers, all of whom have some business to take care of within The Cave’s confines. For example, The Time Traveler is trying to solve a paradox, while The Hillbilly is simply trying to find a lost love. The diversity of the characters, and the odd contrast of what drives them, helps propel you in their own bizarre self-discovery.
Further, the characters themselves aren’t just palette swaps. Not only do they all have individual stories that will unfold through a series of cryptic cave drawings, but they all possess their own special powers. The Adventurer can use a grappling hook to get over ledges, while The Monk possess the power of telekinesis. This offers itself to a greater sense of replay ability, and helps to cultivate the differences in the seven personalities, and their own individualize portions of The Cave. While the introductory areas will help familiarize you with your characters of choice, you will very quickly realize how deep The Cave goes. Your interest will be peaked as you pass by sections and elements foreign to your particular group of three chosen adventurers. You will excitedly speculate about what’s around the corner meant for one of the other personalities, and what sly jokes would service their insane puzzle solutions.
The setting of The Cave itself has a robust array of emotions, the game expresses a lot with very little. The art style has a simplicity, that when mixed with the ambient music, helps to relax you while solving the puzzles. The weird aside is the further into the cave you dive, the darker the tone of the game will become. All of the characters have this strange appeal, but something a bit unsettling which helps to spark your imagination. In fact, the whole game has a marvelous sense of wonder about it, which creates a curiosity that will propel you to reach the bottom of The Cave and find it’s dark secrets.
One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed the first part of the game so much, isn’t because of this weird haze of villainy that seems to pervade the subtleties of the design. The contrast provided by the Scahfer/Gilbert humor is on display from everything to the fun puzzle solutions, to the dialogue and narration. The narrator for the entirety of the game is The Cave itself, which goes to great lengths at killing you with kindness, or at least, making you laugh till it hurts. From The Cave’s philosophical ramblings, to his fourth wall breaking game explanations, and even confessions involving the difficulties of dating that being a talking cave presents, and you get an idea of how absurdly riotous most of the game effortlessly achieves.
I wanted to provide quick first impressions of the game on launch day, but sadly, was delayed. I’m happy to report I believe this game is impressing me on much the same level the LucasArts games of tradition always did. Time has certainly failed to slow down Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert, as The Cave comes well equipped with charm, and a cultivated sense of quality. The game is available on most formats, and you can grab it on Steam for a great price (that’s before an awesome Steam sale mind you).
Do yourself a favor and grab a copy, and I’ll leave you with one final thought from Ron Gilbert, co-creator.
“I felt if [the characters] were just talking all the way through the cave, they would be less of a mystery, They would have the ability to just lay out what their issues are and who they are, and I want players to get to the end of the game and still have questions about them.”