The Cave preview - hands-on with Ron Gilbert's latest adventure game
As you'd expect, The Cave can be played cooperatively with three people, but it's awkward. The camera doesn't zoom out to keep each player on-screen: instead, they can all switch to any character at any time, which re-centers the camera. Unless you and your co-op partners make an effort to run around together, most of the game is spent doing things one at a time in different areas.
I also doubt I'll ever get three controllers and two friends hovering over my monitor, and Gilbert admits that The Cave will more likely be experienced as a traditional, single-player adventure game on PC. But even when not sharing control, having a friend next to me to trade ideas with, like I used to do with classic adventures, is one of my favorite gaming experiences. A shared "aha!" is a wonderful moment.
But back on the technical side, I also found movement rather graceless—characters spurted forward too abruptly, and I missed jumps that should have been easy given that The Cave does not intend to be a finicky platformer. These issues were attributed to lag caused by a setting on the TV, which could very well have been the case.
Not caused by TV lag, however, was a bug which caused a character to lock into an animation loop, but it was easy to suicide and reset a few feet away, and only happened once. I also noticed occasional framerate stutters, but Gilbert insisted he'd never seen the game drop below 30 frames-per-second. It was all pretty minor, and this was on an Xbox, so we may have nothing to worry about.
Cooperatively or alone, The Cave won't be a long game. To play every character's story, you'll have to play through it a minimum of three times, but that probably won't take more than six hours in total. It doesn't need to be long, though: the hillbilly's section was just right. It didn't wear out its humor or setting, and it didn't blockade me with an absurdly difficult puzzle. It was a vignette: a one-sitting, concentrated delivery system for Ron Gilbert and co.'s clever puzzles and morbid humor.
Teases for the other six characters' stories suggest they'll also succeed—I especially look forward to playing as the scientist, who may or may not launch a nuke, as well as Gilbert's favorite character, the knight—so I'm nearly confident enough to call this one right now: The Cave will be another Double Fine success. Almost definitely probably. We'll see when it's released in January.