The Cave preview

By Jeff Mattas, Jun 13, 2012 9:00am PDT

It's not often that I end up grinning ear-to-ear throughout the course of a hands-off demo presentation, but Ron Gilbert and Double Fine Productions' upcoming adventure game, The Cave, had exactly that effect on me. Gilbert's best known for classic adventure titles like Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island, and more recently, the DeathSpank games. As such, it's not really that surprising that The Cave retains the developer's quirky sense of humor. What was surprising, however, was how his new game presents a more modern and engaging take on adventure gaming and eliminates many of the genre's annoyances, while simultaneously keeping the core of what made them successful in the first place.

In the demo's opening narration, those of us in the presentation learned of the game's titular Cave, from the Cave itself. Yep, it's sentient. It's also a place where all manner of folks go exploring in search of their greatest desires. At the beginning of the adventure, the player will be able to select three of seven possible characters. To call the crew motley would be an accurate understatement. A monk, adventurer, and a knight are the more classic archetypes represented, but a scientist, a pair of creepy twins, a time-traveler, and a hillbilly add some atypical flavor to the roster as well. Individually, each character is full of personality, from their visual presentations down to the way that they run. Something as simple as watching the hillbilly amble along like a backwoods version of Scooby Doo's Shaggy, for example, elicited some chuckles from the small crowd.

During our demo, the hillbilly was joined by the scientist and the knight. Though the live demo was being played by a single player, we were told that co-op for up to three players would be an option.

The differences between each of the characters isn't simply cosmetic. Each will gain a special ability that must be used to help solve The Cave's multitude of puzzles. For example, the knight had to obtain some treasure from a dragon (of course), and used his "guardian angel" ability to distract the beast and soak up his flame breath while the scientist crept in from behind and stole the loot.

The Cave is laid out in 2D Metroidvania style. Many areas are open to any combination of characters, but each different avatar also has its own specially themed area, like the one for the knight, described above. These themed areas will only be accessible if you've selected the applicable character as part of your team, which bakes in some good replay value. These character-themed areas are based on the notion that each character is searching for his or her primary desire. Some desires are of the more tangible nature, and others are more ethereal. During part of the E3 demo, the knight was looking for a sword of ultimate power in his medieval castle-themed level. Some of the desires are pretty amusing, however, and I can't wait to see how they're handled. For example, the scientist will go on a quest to find a new scientific breakthrough, and the monk will search for enlightenment. Naturally, the hillbilly's greatest desire is to find true love.

The first puzzle shown during the demo was a fairly straightforward affair that involved manipulating a number of levers to open a door. However, the next puzzle involved a water bucket, a crane, a ferocious, ice-breathing crystal beast, a giant hotdog, and--of course--teamwork. It really comes off as an elegant adventure game experience that takes some new approaches to help keep the player focused on the action and puzzles, rather than sifting through an inventory page trying to find the right items to combine.

Much as The Cave compels its eclectic cast of characters to search for their innermost desires, the E3 demo got its hooks in me, and likely won't let go until I have a chance to do some exploring of my own. Fans of Gilbert and Double Fine likely already have this game on their radars, but anyone with a proclivity for charming adventures with great senses of humor would do well to anticipate the game's 2013 digital release on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.

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