Skip to main content

The Cave review: Third time’s not so charming after all

Don’t you love it when a video game actually delivers on 99-percent of the great ideas it was founded on? You can feel that peeking through frequently as Double Fine’s Ron Gilbert-penned adventure, The Cave unfolds, but all of that potential is ultimately swallowed up by the titular underground network’s inky blackness as you explore it a second and then a third time.

The Cave features a 2D platforming-like aesthetic, but it is fundamentally an adventure game. Death and failure are non-concerns; the emphasis is placed instead on figuring out which items to use in which places as you solve a series of oddball puzzles. An early challenge involves using a hot dog obtained from a hot dog vending machine (naturally) to lure a cave monster into place beneath a crane, giving another character time to activate the machine and lift the beast – and, more importantly, its teeth – safely out of reach. First you’ll need to find the vending machine, then a fuse to power it, then a bucket to catch water preventing you from collecting said fuse, then… you get the picture. Adventure game.

The twist is that you’ve got a cast of seven characters to choose from as you build your party of three spelunkers. Each character has his or her own story that you’ll discover when you reach and play through that person’s uniquely tailored section of the cave. These character-specific areas are inaccessible unless you have that person in your party, so you’ll only ever visit three unique locations on a given playthrough, and each playthrough takes roughly 2-3 hours. To see all seven, you’ll have to repeat at least one character’s content. You’ll also have to play through the full game three times, which means re-visiting entire multi-stage puzzles that don’t change at all from playthrough to playthrough.

You can see where there was once probably a killer idea here. Perhaps Double Fine originally had more characters envisioned for this adventure. Perhaps the challenges put before you from game to game were meant to change based on who you brought in during your previous playthrough. Each character is defined in part by a so-called Object of Desire, and there’s some carryover in second and third playthroughs that see your chosen party gaining admittance to the Cave by tracking down the previous party’s lost Objects of Desire.

It feels half-baked though. Like there’s the shadow of a good idea here that has now been painted over by the demands of a development schedule. It’s not fair at all to pan a game for what it doesn’t include, but The Cave feels like it was meant to be much larger than it is. There’s nothing at all in the game to justify forcing players to revisit previous puzzles again and again, both in terms of the gameplay and the story. Different character abilities offer slightly different approaches to solving each one, but it’s not enough to stave off the boredom of having to traipse through multiple unchanging puzzles just to get to the new stuff.

All that said, it’s hard not to love The Cave at least a little. Gilbert’s superior writing talents are on full display, whether its the booming voice of the cave that narrates your adventure, or hilarious ambient dialogue. You’ll run all through an underground rocket launch facility during the Scientist’s story as a recorded voice repeatedly asks you to “insert navigational guidance system” to make the rocket go. Come to a certain point and you’ll learn that the navigational guidance system you’re meant to insert is a screaming, spacesuit-clad chimp.

Also, there are New Grog vending machines. Just so you know.

The puzzles are all very well-designed too. None are as obtuse as those of yesteryear’s adventure games, though red herring puzzle items are scattered everywhere. You’ll simply have to apply a little common sense to solve everything, always being mindful of the clues that the game feeds you at regular intervals. It’s easy to get stumped only to later realize — with a headsmacking “How did I miss that?!” — what the game wants you to do. The character-specific puzzles are the strongest, both because of the unique locations that you’ll visit and the novelty of playing with each character’s unique skill.


The Cave is an experience built on diminishing returns. Your first runthrough is the best: everything is new, the characters feel fresh, the puzzles present a fair yet acceptable level of challenge. You stumble a bit on your second time, waiting for something in those familiar bits to feel different. It never happens, and you finish playthrough #2 dreading your third attempt. You then abandon your third run part of the way through, completely turned off after having jumped through the same set of hoops a second time. If you took three fresh characters along on your first two attempts, you’re stuck with a pair of replays on your final run. 

It’s too bad. The Cave has a lot of promise, and it’s absolutely worth playing through a first time. The controls are on the clunky side, but you’ll likely not notice or care as you see all of the Cave’s sights as a fresh, first-time experience. Gilbert’s creations are as hilariously deranged as they’ve ever been, and the titular underground network seems to be just as much a rendering of his brain’s interior as it is an allegory on Hell, purgatory, and paying for your worldly sins in the afterlife. There’s a lot of quality here, just don’t expect to be rewarded for pushing to see everything.

Score 6.5 out of 10

(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 using a code provided by the publisher)

Editors' Recommendations

Adam Rosenberg
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Previously, Adam worked in the games press as a freelance writer and critic for a range of outlets, including Digital Trends…
Price, release date details climb out of Double Fine’s The Cave
The Cave (Double Fine)

When it was first revealed that Ron Gilbert would be teaming with the good people at Double Fine Productions to create a platforming adventure game dubbed "The Cave" fans were understandably excited. After all, between Double Fine and Gilbert, this is a development group that has been responsible for some of the best adventure titles of all time. Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island, Psychonauts and Grim Fandango are just four titles listed in the team's credits and it's safe to say that along with Telltale Games, these are the people most responsible for the modern resurgence of the once-moribund adventure game genre.
If the above description excites you, we've got great news: The Cave will be released very soon. According to an official press release issued by publisher Sega this morning, The Cave will debut on the PlayStation Network and Wii U's eShop on January 22. The Xbox Live iteration of The Cave will arrive on January 23. All versions of the game will be priced at $15.
While we stand by our assertion that the people behind The Cave are an all-star team of adventure game developers, Double Fine's titles have had a spotty history when it comes to sales. Its games are almost always praised by critics, but can occasionally fail to find an audience (at least not until years after their debut). We mention this because it's a terrible shame every time it happens, as every game Double Fine has been involved with to date has been entertaining, clever and inventive, even those games that functionally ignore traditional video game design tropes. If nothing else, The Cave should offer players a novel experience, which is all too rare in the increasingly homogenized world of gaming. In an ideal world, that would be worth the $15 price of admission all by itself.

Read more
Anarchy Reigns review: Stylish, quirky fisticuffs at a bargain price
Anarchy Reigns

Anarchy Reigns is the latest title from developer Platinum Games, a company perhaps most famous for creating the excellent Bayonetta. As with that game, Anarchy Reigns is designed around cinematic, stylized fisticuffs, but unlike Bayonetta, Platinum's latest is focused heavily on its multiplayer component. In fact, Anarchy Reigns is something of a hybrid of traditional fighting games. Streets of Rage-style beat 'em up titles meets online shooters like Unreal Tournament. The closest analogue one could use to describe Anarchy Reigns would be Capcom's underappreciated Power Stone series, though thanks to Platinum's over-the-top design sensibilities, Anarchy Reigns is a far more bombastic experience.
Anarchy Reigns is Platinum Games' most ambitious game to date. The developer is attempting to meld a handful of genres into a single release, while infusing the whole thing with quirky fighters, a surprisingly engaging story, and a wealth of multiplayer gameplay options. Platinum wasn't entirely successful in its efforts, but the end result is still a very interesting gaming experience that could potentially appeal to many players.
Here Comes A New Challenger
Anarchy Reigns takes place in the fictional, dilapidated city of Altambra. Actually, "city" might be too strong a term. Altambra is less "modern metropolis" than it's a series of oversized battlefields composed of the ruins of the city. You won't ever see civilians roaming the streets of Altambra, but you will see giant, scaly, green mutants, psychopaths toting guns that that fire freezing mist, and flying mercenaries armed with both jetpacks and laser rifles. Most importantly though, you'll also meet the game's cast of Cybrid Arts users.
Cybrid Arts is a fictional martial arts style utilized by the 16 core fighters (17, if you count the Bayonetta DLC) featured in Anarchy Reigns. You might think a single fighting style might homogenize the cast, but fortunately it seems that the only requirement for becoming a Cybrid Arts user is having your body massively augmented with machinery. As a result, it's not entirely uncommon to find yourself, as a burly brawler with a dual-bladed chainsaw strapped onto his right arm, fighting against a transforming robotic jet, a fat scrap dealer with bizarrely porcine mannerisms and an addiction to mutagenics, and a psychotic little girl who color-coordinates her outfit with her electrified nunchaku. Variety is found in abundance in the Anarchy Reigns cast, and to Platinum's credit this group of fighters is one of the best designed and most memorable in recent history.

While it's important to remember that while Anarchy Reigns was obviously designed with a keen eye toward multiplayer combat, the game does have a single player component. Specifically, Anarchy Reigns features a split campaign in which players experience two separate, yet intertwining plotlines as the game's leading male duo, Jack and Leo. The former is an uncouth brawler who sets out to save the life of a young girl, whereas the latter is a more agile fighter who is seeking the whereabouts of his mentor. Obviously the storyline isn't Shakespeare, but for a fighting game it's surprisingly ample (both sides can be completed in just over six hours), and offers plenty of reasons to punch people square in the face.
As you journey through the game's campaign mode you'll be rapidly introduced to the basic mechanics that underpin Anarchy Reigns. Both Jack and Leo's campaigns feature a number of CGI vignettes that serve to expand the game's storyline beyond simple punches and kicks, and to add a bit of extra flair to the game. While the gameplay itself is quite stylish, Platinum has a long history of creating thrilling and intense cutscenes, and while Anarchy Reigns doesn't quite live up to the high standards set by the phenomenal Bayonetta, its cinematics are still a huge cut above what many in the industry are capable of putting together.
It's the mission structure, however, where Anarchy Reigns' campaign starts to show its seams. Anarchy Reigns' campaign revolves heavily around earning increasingly higher scores. As with Bayonetta, any of the game's missions can be replayed over and over by players hoping to earn coveted Platinum medals for each of the game's skirmishes. Instead of a simple high score mechanic though, these point values also allow players to unlock new missions in the game's story mode. This could be a clever gimmick, forcing players to fight waves of weak opponents before launching into larger battles, but since the game never expressly spells out how to unlock new campaign missions most players will spend their first few minutes totally baffled as to what needs to be done. You'll see new missions appear once you've punched enough random thugs to death, and once you understand this mechanic it's quite easy and intuitive to work with, but initially it leaves a lot to be desired.

Read more
Battlefield 3 Aftermath DLC review: Who knew blowing up Iran would feel so familiar?

More than a year after the release of Battlefield 3, EA and DICE are still putting in work, son. Aftermath, the fourth of five promised DLCs, has been released for premium players on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC, and all BF3 owners will soon get the chance to purchase it for $9.99.
If you are a Premium member, the question of whether or not you’ll get Aftermath is a non-issue. You’ve already paid for it as part of the Premium fee, so unless you have some weird moral objection to the DLC, then there is no reason not to download the whopping 1.7 GB expansion. For those looking to purchase a la carte, the Aftermath DLC offers a lot of great content, but nothing that will blow you away.
The DLC contains four new maps, all set within the Battlefield 3 campaign framework. Each of the new areas is located in parts of Iran immediately following an Earthquake, and all four maps are built around the concept of urban ruin. That gives the maps a lot of areas to move, hide, and stab your friends in the neck while they are hunting you, but it also gives the visual flair a distinctively drab look. When mixed with the previous maps, it should look fine, but playing all four on a loop gives you a bland sense in terms of color.
The devastated locales all offer plenty of room to maneuver, and a lot to look at, but the torn and mauled streets are more than decorative, they are functional. Fissures in the ground lead to slightly covered paths, while once secure buildings now offer multi-level combat options. As always, the maps will take time to learn, and not just the pathways, but the limitations. Go easy on the first person you see futility trying to jump up what looks like a ramp of granite, but in truth is an impassible collection of rock that acts like a Siren, there to lure gamers to their deaths by leaving them frustrated and defenseless, jumping against what looks like a stairway, but is essentially a wall.  
The same is true of the rubble. With no smooth surfaces, you’ll need to learn through experimentation what you can exploit, and where you can go. It is simply a technical limitation. This is more of an issue in some maps than others. 
Epicentre is a traditional Battlefield 3 level, with sprawling cityscapes, and plenty of opportunities to get into ranged combat while capturing points or hunting enemies. It is nowhere close to being the largest BF3 level, but it feels right at home with the previously released maps - to a fault. There is very little to make this map stand out. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you include this map in a rotation, but it doesn’t exactly feel fresh either.
Where it succeeds though, is the way it funnels you into combat without your realizing that you are being herded. It is a big map, but the design is such that you’ll quickly find your way to enemies. This is credit to the design.
Markaz Monolith feels the least like a traditional Battlefield board, and more like a traditional shooter map. It offers a more confined zone with plenty of obviously placed cover to protect you from the vehicles – especially the helicopters, which can get you anywhere.
Of course, the narrow streets and multi-tier structures mean that the helicopter pilot will need to be very good to chase you around the map, but it is more than possible, which makes this feel more frantic, like a Call of Duty game with kill streaks that are out of control. Of the four, this map feels the least necessary, and will probably be the least liked of the bunch.
Talah Market is the most urban of the maps, with several multi-storied structures and commercial buildings that allow you to take the fight in a vertical direction. The vehicles have a tough time here because of that, and the rubble fools you into thinking you have plenty of cover, when in reality this might be the map you will need to move the most on to avoid being caught from the side.
The map is huge, but also well contained. You may run into enemies every time you spawn, or you may take a different path and wonder where everyone is. This one feels like the most traditional map of the four, which means it will be a great addition to playlists, but it doesn’t really stand out.
Azadi Palace may be the best of the bunch, with a massive map that pulls players into the center to battle in and around a two story building with multiple means of reaching the upper level. Smaller vehicles can also wreak havoc here, but a decent sniper can find a dark corner and end the threat by popping the driver before the vehicle finds the stairs and all hell breaks loose.
The map also features massive amounts of rubble and broken buildings, which give you plenty of places to fight it out, as long as you are willing to constantly be moving. This map has personality, and feels like the most unique of the bunch.
Scavenger is a fun new game mode, but it is a fleeting one as well. You begin with only a handgun - no primary weapons, gadgets, or explosives. Scattered throughout the maps are weapons you can snag that are randomly placed and ranked by levels, the higher the level the more powerful the weapon. Your goal – beyond the constant goal of widow making – is to wrest control of flags scattered about the map. Unlike conquest, these flags take only a few seconds to release from enemy control and take for your team, allowing them to constantly change hands while scoring you big points. All four of the maps work well enough on the standard conquest and rush games, and deathmatch is fine anywhere.  All four are also designed for play with the scavenger mode, which makes its debut in Aftermath.
This is the most chaotic and frantic mode Battlefield offers. The urge to rush into the field and find a weapon or take a flag will constantly lead to massive firefights with most players using only a handgun, forcing them to get up close and personal. It’s also a good equalizer, as higher ranked players won’t be able to benefit from their unlocked weapons and perks.

The round ends when one team’s tickets are exhausted, and that generally happens very quickly. Matches that last more than five minutes are rare. Battlefield purists may dismiss this mode as an anomaly compared to the other modes, and they won’t be wrong. Scavenger is, however, a nice change of pace, even if it isn’t a mode that will be much more than an occasional palette clenser. With the quick kills and balanced teams, plus plenty of easy to capture flags, it also makes for an excellent mode to level up in, especially if there is a class where you don’t like the early weapons but want to play it to unlock the later tiers. You may not like sniping with the recon class, for example, but you can quickly level the class up without having to snipe at all. Of course, it won’t help you unlock weapon attachments.
Premium members will no doubt happily include the new maps and scavenger game mode into their rotation, even though the new areas will probably be lost among the other, superior map offerings previously released. For everyone else, the choice is simply down to how much you like BF3. Gamers on the fence won’t miss out on anything amazing by skipping Aftermath, but they probably won’t regret it either. All-in-all it's forgettable content, but it isn’t bad for $9.99. The new vehicles are fine, but best suited for the new maps and not necessarily the previous boards, and the crossbow is a fun gimmick, but not a serious replacement weapon.
Battlefield 3’s most recent DLC won’t change anyone’s mind about the game, but it should be enough content to keep things fresh until the final promised DLC, End Game, is released in March of next year. Non-Premium PS3 fans will be able to decide for themselves on December 11, while Xbox 360 users will receive the option to buy Aftermath on December 18.

Read more