The Cave Is Late On PC: Brief 360 Impressions

By John Walker on January 23rd, 2013 at 11:00 am.

We’d rather hoped to have brought you a review of Double Fine’s The Cave by now, but unfortunately Sega only made 360 code available before release. And then to make matters dumb, despite its release date being today, and its being out today on 360, the Steam version has seemingly been set for the incorrect date, and is locked until tomorrow morning. Having already completed it twice on the consolebox, I’m in the frustrating position of wanting to tell you wot I think, but completely unable to advise you as to the state of the PC build. So while I hope this might get someone’s attention and have the Steam build unlocked for everyone, below I’ll give you a couple of lines of impressions and tell you to cross your legs.

But don’t get too worked up. As you may have seen from other published reviews of the 360 build, it’s not doing too brilliantly, scoring around the 6/10 point. And that’s fair. While The Cave is a lovely idea, it’s a game that doesn’t reach far enough in any direction, and ends up being stuck in the middle between all things.

It’s first and foremost a side-scrolling platform game. And for the vast majority of the time you’ll be traipsing your characters back and forth across the large levels, jumping holes, climbing ladders, screaming in fury when you can’t jump off the ladder, finding yourself somehow back on the ladder, finally managing to escape the ladder, and getting stuck on a rope. You take three of seven characters, and assuming you’re playing solo you control all three of them, individually. Each section of the Cave is a collection of puzzles, often using objects you find along the way, and it’s perhaps in this that it shares a fraction of anything in common with an adventure.

In the end, the whole game feels like the puzzle interstitials in a fully-fledged puzzle platformer, the variation from the combat, or acrobatics. But it’s just those puzzles, and too often they’re not particularly interesting. (I’d say about half of the characters’ areas are left very wanting.) It’s by no means a terrible game, but it’s one that falls short in any of the directions it could have taken.

I’m very hopeful that some of the worst issues with the 360 build won’t be such an issue on PC. The controls are glitchy, and the animations – while lovely – flicker and skip. And the ladders and ropes – good grief, they’re properly hateful. It’s definitely suited to a 360 controller, but I’m intrigued to see if it can feel more natural with a mouse and keyboard. I’m also hopeful that improved resolutions will allow the murky colours and blurry backgrounds to better spring to life.

As soon as I can get my hands on the PC build and give it a thorough play, I’ll bring you my final conclusions in a proper WIT.

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48 Comments »

  1. Morlock says:

    Such a shame.

    Already bought it in a rage of stupidity.

    How is the humor?

  2. felisc says:

    Only tomorrow morning ? :( but… I was planning to enjoy this quietly this evening. Grmblbmblm…

  3. gibb3h says:

    thats a little disappointing, especially as I already bought it

  4. Armante says:

    Fingers crossed the PC build is better. I guess the actual gameplay won’t be that much different though.
    Seems a real pity, as I had high hopes for this, and it would be one of the few games I’d buy full price on Steam, to support the DoubleFine devs. Maybe it will have to wait for a sale after all :(

  5. derella says:

    Sadface. I was really hoping this would be amazing, despite the two reviews I read yesterday that gave it average scores. “Maybe they just don’t ‘get it’” I told myself.

    So far, the main complaint I’ve read has been regarding back-tracking(mostly due to the limitation of carrying 1 object), which is something I could overlook… because that’s fairly common in adventure games, and something I’ve gotten used to over the past several decades. But bad controls worry me.

    I can’t help but wish that Gilbert had decided to stick to a more classic adventure game with a bigger inventory, and no platforming.

    Ah well, I’m still excited to check it out when it finally unlocks on Steam…. Hopefully that will be sorted by the time I get home from work.

    • baby snot says:

      …past several decades.

      What adventure games were around in the 1950s… and how old are you?

      • Armante says:

        past several decades could be 20-30 years. I’ve anything like me (age 41) he’s been playing since he was 10 or so. and – um – 1950′s? ‘several’ does not add up to 6 decades in my book. not much in the way of adventure games software back then. for that you needed the 1970′s IIRC

      • derella says:

        Several means more than 2. And yeah… I’m old.

      • Sic says:

        In the fifties?

        Chess, NIM, Tic-Tac-Toe, Tennis, amongst others.

    • Sic says:

      I feel the same way about Gilbert sticking to the basics, and I think both him and Schafer has exposed a bit of what I personally think is the problem a lot of the time in modern game development (for instance via doing the Kickstarter documentary project): namely over-thinking things.

      There is so much thought going into what the player would feel and think about small and silly design decisions (and god forbid stepping on any toes or alienating a nerd or two) that it seems they’re forgetting that they’re creating an autonomous game. A work of culture (or art, if you will). The very best games in the world were never the very best because absolutely everybody understood the game concepts or game mechanics immediately after starting playing it. They were also never the very best because developers streamlined everything to be as quick and easy as possible. What might look and feel like tedium for someone that has played an alpha for hundreds of hours will obviously not do so for someone playing it for a mere six. Instead of the game itself being the important bit, it seems the focus lies on things that should only be important in any eventual polish.

      I mean, would the phenomena of Minecraft ever have happened if Notch had been focusing on how to design the perfect interface before even starting to have a game world running (referring to the chat between Gilbert and Schafer here).

      It seems that in commercialising the art form, a lot of people have lost a lot of confidence in what they’re doing. It seems they’re pandering to a misguided (and probably somewhat non-existent) expectation of being professional. If it isn’t slick or the way it’s “supposed” to be, it’s not good enough. Personal design has gone out the window it seems, and indies are the only games that dare do actual game design (where someone sits down and tries to create).

      Not that there’s anything wrong with doing things the tried and true way, obviously, because that actually worked, and it still works (look at all the old school adventures having success); but designers aren’t even doing that, because that’s apparently tedious or not slick enough.

      Take the Kickstarter Double Fine Adventure for example. I honestly think that they could have made an adventure game in the vein of LA SCUMM era games and people would have received it just as well, if not better, than they way they’re receiving it now when Double Fine are making it in a modern technical environment. It just isn’t very important if there are verbs at the bottom, or if the inventory is on the right mouse-button or on a key that is more or less convenient. As long as the idea, the art, the writing, the sound, the project as a piece; is good, you did a good job as a designer. Games aren’t ALWAYS about perfect mechanics, and it bothers me that game design is tending towards a totalitarian regime where games are supposed to be these perfect contraptions of mechanics that rivals Super Mario. Just make your mind material. That’s your actual job.

      • mazzratazz says:

        I would like to give this post several thumbs up.

        I think in general designers would actually benefit from being more individualistic and perhaps a bit more inward-looking, in the sense of making what THEY want to make without worrying about what the audience wants. Because the audience is usually pretty big, and it consists of people who all want (sometimes radically) different things. Which means that catering to the audience’s expectations is the equivalent of developing for the lowest common denominator, or creating a jumbled hybrid (as The Cave appears to be). Even midrange developers like Double Fine end up walking in the same focus group design trap the big mainstream titles tend to fall into.

        It’s one of the things that bothered me when I watched the Double Fine documentary, particularly Tim’s early musings. He was trying to figure out very explicitly how to make an adventure game for the modern market, because clearly no one today would have any patience for some of the old design tropes. Which is a good idea in principle, but in practice that sort of thinking often ends up leading to unnecessary “streamlining”, alienating the very audience you’re trying to reach in the first place. I’m not sure if we should advocate a “fuck what everyone thinks and what the established best practice rules are, I’m just doing my own thing” approach to game design, but some of the most interesting games of the past few years seem to have been created using exactly that paradigm.

        • StingingVelvet says:

          One could argue that the very thing those people were paying for with the kickstarter was an old-school game without any of that crap he was so concerned about. If the DFA comes out and is streamlined, accessible and whatever other word you want to use to describe more simple and more mainstream a LOT of people will feel it went against the very core point of the experiment.

          Obsidian, god love ‘em, seems to get the point and is making a proper old-school game.

        • Brise Bonbons says:

          I am reluctant to question the work process of such seasoned veterans, but it does seem counter intuitive. Of course, it is often a mistake to trust our intuition in such a complex endeavor.

          Still, it seems to me that concern over user accessibility should come later, after all the R&D prototypes have been created, after the core fun of the game (to the developers taste, not some imaginary market’s) has been found. It does seem that contemplating “the modern audience” fuels a deep anxiety in game devs, which too often results in the cart hanging out in front of the horse.

          Said another way, making rules and UI clear to the user is a problem solving task; you need a defined set of rules and interactions, so you can sort out how to present them all clearly. Considering this too early seems to risk letting the ease-of-use concerns prematurely influence the game mechanics.

          Maybe there are some practical considerations that we’re missing as outsiders. Games are a risky business, and I understand the desire to follow proven formulas rather than take big risks. It’s just not exciting to see as an aficionado of the medium, I guess.

      • Bhazor says:

        Totally agree especially the bit about tedium.

        As someone who only played the Monkey Island games when the “remastered” editions came out, its amazing how much tedium there is in that game. A heavy percentage of the game is just wandering around 4/5 areas picking up everything, harvesting every conversation tree and generally rubbing everything against everything until something happens. Spending two hours drumming your fingers on the table as you scour the huge island for the one McGuffin you missed.

        But that’s exactly where the game has a chance to let jokes grow, that’s where the music gets under your skin, that’s why you’re so enchanted by the environment because you’ve been pouring over every little detail of it for the past two hours. Its probably “bad design” to let you explore the next area before finishing the one puzzle in the current area. It’s almost certainly “bad design” to require you to carry a couple dozen items. It’s definitely bad design to force you to solve five interstitial puzzles when you could have just been given the item by an NPC. But “bad design” is where so much fondness for the old games come from.

        In contrast take Gemini Rue. A game that is so slick and frustration free that I literally can’t remember any of it and had to go to my GoG account just to check its name. Characters washed over me, the environments passed in a blur and I can only barely remember that it had puzzles.

        • Brise Bonbons says:

          Very well said, sir.

          If I indulge my extremer urges, I will admit to being increasingly mistrustful of “game design” as an endeavor divorced from the narrative and coding tasks in game development. It feels like we’re settling into this convenient narrative which places design (the “art” of game creation) at the top, with the technical implementation a matter of skilled laborers working to realize the designer’s vision. Perhaps because there is pressure to think of games like movies, with the director at the helm guiding the ship? Some holdover from the old “waterfall” model of software production? Probably just a misunderstanding of the realities of business on my part, but the whole situation feels off somehow.

          Whether this is linked to the phenomena where clean and simple design is pursued as the ultimate goal, instead of treated as a trait which can be nurtured to serve a certain purpose, I just don’t know.

          In the end, all I’m certain of is that many of my favorite games are made by very small teams where the designer and lead programmer are often the same person, and the artist is often a partner in crime more than someone who just produces the assets specified in the design document. Or perhaps it’s all just coincidence.

          Either way, I’m increasingly thankful for the tiny indie teams that are providing us with so many good games these days. I feel like we really dodged a bullet with the rise of digital distribution and commercially viable indie studios.

  6. DrAmateurScience says:

    Bumcakes, I was hoping to give this a whirl this evening.

  7. Screamer says:

    “It’s first and foremost a side-scrolling platform game”

    Eh? Didn’t Gilbert say he doesn’t like platforming, in one of the DFA interviews? Something in the line of it just gets in the way of getting to the puzzles?

    • derella says:

      Even quite recently(during a Gaintbomb quick look that was posted yesterday) Ron downplayed the platform aspect of it, saying that it was there to make traversing the world more interesting but not intended to challenge anyone.

      • Strabo says:

        Unfortunately all the running around and backtracking is the thing most reviews criticize. Bad decision it seems.

      • Kasper says:

        That sounds like a pretty bad game design choice, then. If you’re making a platformer, make the platforming interesting and/or challenging – otherwise why bother?

        It’s like when they made Grim Fandango and Monkey Island 4 in 3D with Resident Evil-like controls. It didn’t bring anything new and interesting to the table, but made the controls more fiddly and the visuals less appealing. Grim Fandango was awesome, but it could have been even better in gorgeous, hand painted 2D and a traditional point & click interface.

        I had really hoped Ron Gilbert would nail it with The Cave – he deserved it. Such a shame.

        • Optimaximal says:

          Heck, keep the 3D, just allow me to freely click on stuff, not walk around until the game decides I’m close enough to lock on things.

          Telltale fixed that. It’s just a shame they didn’t get hold of a Grim license alongside ToMI.

  8. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    Same story here. Waiting on Sega. Makes me wonder if this is deliberate because it’s not going to score as highly as they’d hoped.

  9. Deano2099 says:

    Didn’t the RPS interview with Ron say that the PC version would have a point and click mode, eliminating the annoying platforming entirely?

    • Zeewolf says:

      Yeah, but … if jumping, climbing, running et.c. isn’t any fun in the game, then I don’t quite understand how clicking somewhere and watching your little guy jump, climb, run, etc. is much better. It’s still a bunch of wasted time between the puzzles.

  10. D3xter says:

    In which we learn that John is a dirty consolepeasant man.
    I’ve already bought this, and I won’t regret it! No, I won’t!

  11. Keymonk says:

    Well, that’s disappointing then. No sale from me.

  12. Hieronymusgoa says:

    our german and very “criticizy” gamer magazine gamestar gave it 80 out of 100 which is the reason why i am still going to try it. it falls short in some places, they said, it is too easy for most gamers and lacks some coherent storytelling but given the price it was more than alright to buy and try.

  13. MeestaNob says:

    I watched the quick look with Ron Gilbert on Giant Bomb and felt a bit deflated. I knew what the game was going to be before I watched, but to be honest the platforming was ordinary and the puzzles seemed too basic (admittedly early on in the game though).

    I’m a little dismayed at how they’ve ‘evolved’ the adventure genre by removing the ‘cumbersome’ inventory and tedious to-ing and fro-ing between scenes looking for the right object, by making the characters incapable of holding any more than one object necessitating a lot of walking back and forth to get items, and poor platforming mechanics that make the journey to these items more tedious than any amount of clicking and pixel hunting ever could.

    I’m still going to buy this, eventually, because the charm of Gilbert/Schafer/LucasArts of old is still undeniably there, but I hate the trend of making games that ‘everyone’ will supposedly like. It just damages/ruins games that the actual fans liked. And that’s a shame.

    If this was anything similar to the Double Fine Kickstarter I’d be a bit cross.

  14. The Random One says:

    Once again my eternal refuse to pre-order has saved my wallet.

    I’ll probably catch this when on sale, though. I’m curious.

  15. Kuldorn says:

    Already bought this, but got it 22% off at GetGames. Still kinda bummed it’s maybe not as good as i thought it would be though. Hey ho, thats the way it goes.

    • derbefrier says:

      Yeah I got it on gmg for 20 percent off. Figured with the names behind it I couldnt go wrong….
      Still I am not a very picky gamer and a few annoyances isn’t going to ruin the game for me so I remain hopeful.

    • Jp1138 says:

      Got it from GMG with 25% off too, and using a 4-5€ voucher, so it was very cheap… I wasn´t waiting for a superb game, but this pre-review is underwhelming :(

    • stele says:

      Same here. Got my code a little while ago and was all excited to start playing, only to see it has been delayed. And on my birthday too! :-(

  16. Lemming says:

    I’m playing it right now on PS3, and I think it’s a lovely little game. Well worth the tenner they are asking for it. the co-op mode seems pointless, but other than that I’ve been enjoying the puzzle solving and humour. The platforming doesn’t really factor into it. Yes there are platforms but the play isn’t designed around traversing them. They merely facilitate the exploration.

  17. jfrisby says:

    Don’t really mind the wait, even through I’ve pre-ordered… but it’s too bad that it seems like a lot of my worst fears about the game are coming true. After wading through all the quirky/awkward mechanics in the Double Fine game catalog, just trying to get at the rewarding storytelling/adventure bits… it’s kind of sad to hear that they’ve done it again.
    It was nice to pretend for a few months that Ron was making a proper adventure game, though!

  18. wowcool says:

    So… it’s a bit like StarFlyers?

  19. derella says:

    Ron tweeted that it should be appearing on Steam in the afternoon PST… So, in like the next 4.5 hours I guess?

  20. Emeraude says:

    Hear that sound ? It’s me crying in the corner.

  21. derella says:

    Woo! It’s up on Steam now :D

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