The first thing you notice going into the closed room where they're demoing Double Fine and Ron Gilbert's new game, The Cave, is the dark, almost sullen mood. The walls have been painted with scenes from the game, all very shadowy and mysterious, and various props are spread along the walls -- rocks and the like. I'm wondering what sort of game Double Fine wants to convey with this demo.
"Ah, we're all out of seats," starts one of the Double Fine demo guys. "Just sit on the rock there," says his partner in crime. "That one there? It looks like it could break. Also, it's rather pointy at the top," the conversation takes a very Double Fine turn. "Eh, whatever. You'll get used to it."
What was likely just a conversation resulting from typical E3 exhaustion helped comfort and remind me what I was dealing with here. This was Double Fine, and this was going to be fun.
If you've been following news about The Cave then you might have already seen the demo that was shown during E3, but for those who haven't let me set the stage for you. The Cave isn't a single story so much as seven, each based around a separate playable character. These characters have come to this larger than life, supernatural cave in search of something -- ominous, right? The Cave itself is aware, even personified, and wants these characters to find what they're looking for. Whether any of them actually knows what they really want, well, time will tell. I bet that damn Cave knows, though. Anyways, we all know that the journey is often more important than the destination.
In motion, The Cave requires you to pick three of the seven characters to explore the labyrinth below. In the demo we were shown we saw the Scientist, the Hillbilly and the Knight being played. The Monk, the Adventurer, the Twins, and Time Traveler will simply have to wait for the next playthrough. The player can then switch from any of their three chosen characters at any time. The Cave also offers cooperative play, so three players can join together to solve The Cave's mysteries.
The first puzzle shown set up the basic idea of how a three-character team works. Two characters had to pull and hold a lever each while the third crossed a bridge that had come down as a result of his teammate's actions. This third character then pulls a third lever, opening the way for all three characters. Simple right? Don't worry, it's just a 2 minute intro and I didn't mention the myriad ways to die pulling a lever.
Next comes the sausage/monster/crane puzzle -- that's more Double Fine style, right? After showing off a monster devouring the Hillbilly, and his following resurrection ("The Cave wants its guests to succeed, so death is never permanent."), he pulls a bucket of water out of his adventure game inventory and pours it into a hot dog vending machine. Out comes a fresh hot dog, which the Hillybilly carries up to a pit near the monster, and places just out of his reach. At this point, I'd be remiss not to mention that the game bugged out all to Hell and the hot dog began floating around the Hillbilly just out of reach. Jokes were made about the Hot Dog's supernatural origins, and its likely return as the game's antagonist -- then we reset.
Long story short, the monster was defeated by a combination of hot dog teasing (err...) in conjunction with the drop of a large crane arm from above. This puzzle was designed to show how players would not only have to use all three characters in order to progress, but also apply those classic adventure game wits, along with clever inventory management. It really is an old school Ron Gilbert game for the modern era. Did I mention the instant-grog vending machine? Inside jokes were everywhere!
The final puzzle revolved around a character specific area found within the depths of The Cave. The Knight had found a castle with a princess within, and was questing to retrieve a dragon's treasure in trade for the princess' amulet. These character specific areas and quests depend entirely on which characters you choose, so if you hadn't picked the Knight this area would never have appeared. The demo attendants were rather nondescript explaining whether The Cave itself was randomly, dynamically created or was just based around multiple hubs, each with 3 of 7 doors open. The demo was meant to show off the game's puzzles and humor, and not the greater map and system of progression.
This final puzzle was meant to show off how each character had a special power at their disposal. The Knight's was called "Guardian Angel" and allowed him to become invulnerable. Using this power, the Knight was able to distract the dragon while the Scientist stole its treasure. Of course, this process accidentally released the dragon as well. As the Scientist climbed through the cave back into the castle, and then up to the balcony where the princess was located, we heard the screams of the dragon's victims. Even as we entered the balcony, we saw the dragon's head reach in and chomp down on the princess. Luckily, as it left, the amulet we were looking for was left behind. Lucky! Its this morbid, random humor that reminded me so much of Maniac Mansion, doubling my excitement all over again.
The demo ended with the promise that we had barely scratched the surface of The Cave, something I don't doubt in the slightest. It'll be exciting to see the game's release, and whether it can break the idea that adventure games these days are niche are relatively unprofitable. Just to ease my curiosity, I asked if Double Fine may consider post-release characters as DLC. The response I got was not dismissive of the idea, though I was told DLC might not be appropriate considering how expansive The Cave and each character's story would be when fully realized.
As a long time-time adventure game fan (raised on Leisure Suit Larry, thanks Ma) I'm unreasonable excited about The Cave. To be fair though, while The Cave certainly shows its adventure game lineage, the game also relies heavily on its three-player puzzle mechanics as well. I'm also a bit worried about it being a platformer, though Ron Gilbert has said that decision was based on ease of traversal rather than any sort of gameplay feature. Still, from a visual and presentation perspective I don't find The Cave as appealing as a classic point and click. It still looks great, by all means, it's just a Metroidvania tunnel style of exploration rather than the immersive environments I'm used to in Monkey Island or King's Quest.
The Cave still has personality coming out of its, uh, ears. One look at the Twins eyes and you know something is very wrong here, the Twins just show their true colors very clearly. There are secrets to be discovered in The Cave, and I for one can't wait to discover them.