Review

The Cave

Where’s Your Sense Of Adventure?

The Cave’s fresh look can’t hide its mustiness.

By John Teti • January 23, 2013

This month, CBS ran a promotion for its tropical cop show Hawaii Five-0: The Jan. 14 episode depicted a murder case with three suspects, and viewers voted on Twitter while the show was airing to determine which guy was the guilty party. (As it happens, the East and West Coast audiences chose different perps.) In a way, this experiment in real-time interactive broadcast fiction served as a tacit indictment of Hawaii Five-0 itself. Apparently, the show is so formulaic that without too much trouble, you can write an episode to sensibly accommodate three different endings. Go ahead, America! Just plug it in!

The Cave, the new adventure game designed by the comedy veteran Ron Gilbert, opens along similar lines by presenting a cast of seven characters and inviting you to choose the three that will descend into the titular cavern. It’s a crackerjack way to kick off a game, with a big choice that suggests an adventure full of potential. The Cave has a few moments like that—fits of cleverness where it tantalizes players with what may come. But like Hawaii Five-0, it ultimately sticks to a formula, such that these promises of surprise inevitably give way to the expected.

Selecting the members of your spelunking party is the toughest decision of the game. Each character is so appealingly drawn. That goofy hillbilly! Those creepy Victorian twins! The game’s art design has a retro-future feel reminiscent of Gilbert’s last major release, DeathSpank. But this game is less exaggerated. Where DeathSpank would go for glossy, The Cave goes matte. The look convincingly accommodates a diversity of influences: My first group of adventurers included an adventurer in the Amelia Earhart mode—from an era when high boots and jodhpurs were an acceptable fashion choice—and a time traveler from centuries in the future. She has anti-gravity boots. The footwear is all over the place, is what I’m saying here. But I totally buy it.

The Cave

Your path through the Cave changes depending on who makes your final cut. If the puny knight errant is in the party, for instance, the journey will curve into a medieval section where you slay a dragon and rescue a damsel. Not everything is “personalized” like this. These character-specific sections are the chocolate chips in the cookie of the overall quest. And each stage follows the same general template. You have a simple puzzle, like some variation of “unlock the gate” or “get rid of the snarling beast,” and you have to figure out how to use a box of crackers and a reel-to-reel tape recorder (or some such) to make it happen.

Here’s a bunch of things, here’s an obstacle that doesn’t seem to make sense in the context of those things, make it work. It’s a versatile premise but also a well-worn one, and The Cave shows signs of wear. One of its most promising ideas is the collaborative dynamic. In a modern callback to the band of friends in Gilbert’s first game, Maniac Mansion, you must make the three characters work together to solve puzzles, either controlling all of them yourself or playing a couple of friends on the couch. (For this review, I played The Cave alone, on account of I have no friends. Got a nice couch, though.) Most of the time, this multiplicity of heroes is exploited in a straightforward fashion: To proceed, one hero has to pull the lever thingy over here, and two others have to pull the lever thingies over THERE. That’s a letdown.

The character-specific mini-quests would seem to provide another opportunity for experimentation, but most of these are surprisingly rote. The adventurer’s tale, for instance, delves into an ancient Egyptian pyramid where her two compatriots must stand on marked pressure plates in one wing of the tomb to clear the path for her elsewhere. If I never have to play another “standing in this spot makes something happen two rooms away” puzzle—the equivalent of an “I.O.U. ONE PUZZLE” note—I will be fine with that.

The Cave

There are respites from The Cave’s pervasive familiarity, most notably the time traveler’s quest. Here, you must switch between three different time periods, and your actions in the past affect the future timeline, naturally. Slay a dinosaur in 1,000,000 BCE, and by the time the year 2300 rolls around, he’s fossil fuel. The cause-and-effect twists are so much fun that this could be the premise of an entire game. Then again, The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time does exist.

The time traveler isn’t even the best character, by the way. That would be The Cave himself, a talking geological formation who narrates the action in a John Lithgow-esque of jovial malice. He’s the highlight of a script that’s consistently amusing, even if it does lack the laugh-out-loud punch of DeathSpank.

The Cave can’t be entirely explored in a single run, and the game is designed to be replayed. Yet it offers scant temptation to do so. Sure, there are large swaths of the landscape that you can’t reach without the talents of a particular character—like the hillbilly, who can hold his breath to traverse long underground rivers. And of course there’s the mild allure of seeing how everyone’s stories play out. The running joke of the game is that the “heroes” are unrepentantly amoral, so you get to be a bit of a bastard seven times over.

There are fully seven characters, though, and you only get to play three each time. It’s like the old problem of hot dogs being sold in packs of 12 while hot dog buns come in packs of eight. You could explore everything in The Cave, just like you could buy 24 hot dogs, so that nothing is left over. But brother, does the taste get old.

The Cave

You could argue that The Cave is built for those who reminisce about the late-’80s/early-’90s golden age of witty inventory-puzzle games, but those looking to get high on the fumes of nostalgia here will have to inhale deeply. The Cave isn’t a tribute game; it has the veneer of freshness. For one, it allows the characters to frolic and swim and jump, whereas locomotion was treated a grudging side concern in early adventure games. The trouble is that they end up jumping through the same old hoops.

This is the first game that Gilbert directed as part of the Double Fine studio, which is headed up by Gilbert’s once and future collaborator, Tim Schafer. And in a way, The Cave is of a piece with other recent Double Fine games. Since Schafer’s Brütal Legend in 2009—an audacious heavy-metal epic that was cruelly underappreciated by the public—Double Fine’s output has had a creeping timidity. Lately, the studio specializes in charming, inoffensive trifles like Costume Quest, a cute Halloween-themed role-playing game, and Double Fine Happy Action Theater, which turns your Xbox Kinect into a gussied-up photo booth. The Cave is somewhat more daring than its peers in the post-Legend Double Fine Library, but it shares a similar approach, which is to apply a laid-back wit and a distinctive look to an extremely familiar genre structure. The result in this case is a decent adventure game that’s missing its sense of adventure.

The Cave
Developer: Double Fine
Publishers: Double Fine (Wii U version only), Sega
Platforms: Linux, Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Price: $15
Rating: T

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  • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

    Thank you, John. That was exactly my problem with that Hawaii Five-O campaign. They wrote a story that could have any one of three final acts? Well then you’re kinda terrible writers, aren’t you? Should the best ending be the one that the fewest amount of people had voted for, so that it would be the most of a surprise?

    • HobbesMkii

      In those writers’ defense, they are writing for a police procedural on CBS that’s a remake of an old CBS police procedural, and developed and produced by the braintrust behind such movies as The Island and the first two Transformers. They’ve had plenty of warning and time to accept the fact they’re terrible writers, in the employ of other terrible writers. 

      • ToddG

        That doesn’t sound like a defense of those writers at all.

        • HobbesMkii

          Oh, did I say defense? I guess I did. Whoops.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        Hey, the first season of that show was good, stupid fun. Later seasons? Not so much…

    • ToddG

      How awesome would it have been, though, if one of the possible “suspects” in the episode was a tiger?  (I am assuming it was not.  If it was, they absolutely get a pass.)

    • Citric

      I wondered if they were going to do a William Castle thing and just do the same ending no matter what, since it’s not like anyone could tell.

    • caspiancomic

       Counterpoint: Clue the Movie. Although it wasn’t really a case of “this bland procedural is sufficiently open-ended to potentially incorporate any one of three democratically selected endings” as much as it was “this madcap murder mystery is sufficiently zany to incorporate any one of three seemingly randomly generated solutions to the film’s puzzle.” Still: humanity’s greatest work of cinematic genius? I think so.

      • Oxperiment

         Flames… flames… on the side of my face.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/mattman-begins,89632 Mattman Begins

          Well, that’s what we call overkill.

  • Drew Toal

    I’m still waiting to read a review of this game that includes mention of the Lost Vikings. And Plato. Preferably both at the same time.

    • The_Misanthrope

       Are we forgetting about Gobliiins?  Tsk,tsk.

      • Drew Toal

        Apparently coming to an iOS near you!

        • duwease

          Wow, they are porting *everything*.  And I say that as a person who played “Gobliiins”, “Gobliins 2″, and even the uni-goblinned “Goblins 3″.

    • boardgameguy

      the time travel mechanic seems reminiscent of Day of the Tentacle to me (my personal favorite in the adventure game genre)

    • Rick Joyce
  • O Superman

    Well, this is a bummer.

  • Citric

    This kind of reminds me of mid-90s Square, where they got kind of obsessed with multiple characters and overlapping story lines. The closest analog would be Seiken Densetsu 3, where you could pick any three dudes, and depending on who you picked (and who you picked first) the story and timing of getting your dudes would change a bit. Similarly, it didn’t actually change that much overall, since large swaths of the game were exactly the same no matter what.

    I never did finish that thing. I always sort of lose interest when you’re supposed to go beat up all the god beasts.

    • ItsTheShadsy

      Don’t forget Live a Live, the weird Japan-only Square RPG which basically just a series of unrelated stories that are weaved together at the last minute.

      • Citric

        The medieval chapter in Live A Live is amazing. It starts out as this incredibly typical JRPG and then it subverts every single trope in a whirlwind sequence that is freaking amazing. 

    • http://twitter.com/roundthewheel RTW

      You lost interest at the best part. Some of those fights are amazing (e.g. Dangaard, Dolan).

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      I typically played through Square’s 16-bit RPGs several times anyway, so it was nice that SD3 let you change it up a bit each time.

    • PaganPoet

      The SaGa series is especially guilty of this. I had enough fun with the first SaGa Frontier on PS1, but the formula was already wearing thin for me with SaGa Frontier 2 (which was a shame, because the game had BEAUTIFUL watercolored graphics and sprites).

      • Citric

        I’m actually playing Romancing SaGa right now (right before the final boss, who is a dick, I might complain about this in the what are you playing later this week), they kind of wind down the individuality of each scenario the further into the game you get. I actually really like the game though, even if I’m not going to play through it 8 bloody times in a row.

        • PaganPoet

          I think the series is actually pretty well regarded in Japan, it just never quite found an audience with Western gamers.

        • Citric

          I keep thinking it might be due to the western audience having certain expectations of JRPGs that SaGa has no intention of fulfilling. It doesn’t have a grand, over-arching story – I’ve seen a lot of reviews that complain loudly about this – and there’s never a completely clear path. It kind of throws you into a world filled with complicated systems and you have to figure it out, which can be sort of daunting. RS, at least, is a fantastic game once you get your head into its frequently bizarre way of doing things.

          Once I finally beat this jerk final boss I’ll finally finish one of them, I’m excited. And annoyed, because I think I’ll have to get tougher to do it and the last dungeon has so many unskippable cutscenes.

        • squeenix

          @Citric:twitter 
          Romancing SaGa (the PS2 version) was the first SaGa game where I beat it with all 8 characters. Some of the characters had enough personality (NOT story!) to compel me to play more.  I would recommend after beating it 2 times, you should look at a FAQ and consider playing just one more time to try and complete any missed quests.  Some of the hardest quests to complete are truly brutal due to the leveling up restrictions of the game system.
          What character did you choose?

        • Citric

          @squeenix:disqus I went with Albert (son of Rudolph, loooord of the Isthmus) and I actually liked him a lot, in spite of (and eventually, because of) his very silly self introduction. I was impressed by how well tied together everything was in spite of most of the game probably being optional. I’m also super glad I got around to finishing the Nymph statue quest, the ending of that is… special.

          I will probably give it another go one day, but I think that right now I’ll do some other stuff, if only because I have an epic backlog.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        My very first RPG was FF Legend III – I have no idea what SaGa game that was. It had beautiful pea soup green graphics AND I could transform all of my characters into monsters and robots. And since I was a little kid and nowhere near as obsessive and finicky as I am now, I wasn’t paralyzed by those options and really tore into it. By the end my whole party was this motley crew of mutants who probably weren’t actually a terribly good party. But we somehow beat the Zeus-Tentacle-Blob-Monster boss, anyway!

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Weeeeell, if you had finished it you may have had the chance to notice that different combos of characters could lead to totally different endgames. And of course different characters had different starting areas (kind of presaging MMOs where each class gets a unique starting location and set of quests). All in all, it did a pretty great job of flexing to accommodate different character types and party make-ups without becoming a completely open-world CRPG-type affair.

      Also, @ItsTheShadsy:disqus , Live a Live is freaking awesome. Is this the thread where we complain about awesome games? How about that Day of the Tenacle, right? All those characters spread across all those different times? Oh, brother! Where’s my simultaneous multiplayer, Super Mario Bros. 3? How’s my little bro supposed to play with me, huh?

      • Citric

        There are three endgames and six introductions right?

        I wasn’t saying it was bad so much as it was really reminiscent of what The Cave is doing.

      • ItsTheShadsy

        Hey, no knock against Live a Live. It didn’t really click for me and I didn’t finish it, so for all I know everything comes together really well. I just thought it was a good example of that type of Cloud Atlas-y split-level storytelling that Square leaned on at the time (as is Final Fantasy VIII, which… still might be one of my favorites).

  • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

    “Lately, the studio specializes in charming, inoffensive trifles…  …to apply a laid-back wit and a distinctive look to an extremely familiar genre structure”

    Woop there it is! on the current state of Double Fine.  I bought Stacking for sheer love of it’s setting, and charm but the gameplay itself is lacking something other than the initial mechanic of “stacking” to keep me going.  I didn’t feel any magic with Costume Quest and their tower defense game which keeps changing names didn’t impress me either.

    I took part in their latest Amnesia Fortnight and was incredibly disappointed with what people voted for (Black Lake and White Birch are the same game!).  I love Double Fine and I’m glad they’re doing what they’re doing with unique art and settings, but when I think thrilling or engaging gameplay, their name doesn’t come up.

    Rock Paper Shotgun said it best “A theory: Double Fine are the Pete Doherty of videogames. Everyone wants to discuss them, the media is obsessed with them and their frontman is highly charismatic (though, to the very best of my knowledge, Tim Shafer is not a heroin addict) but, well, no-one seems to be saying all that much about the things they make, the things they were supposed to be famous for in the first place.”

    Though they loved Stacking so whatever… http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/12/05/magnificent-and-important-advent-calendar-day-five/

    • lokimotive

      As much as I’m loathe to admit it, I too have been rather disappointed with Double Fine. They really mostly get by on charm, and my god do they have a lot of charm, but their gameplay is somewhat lackluster. It’s been a bit difficult to see that, I think, because the somewhat standard gameplay tropes and actions are largely wrapped up well thought out quirks and characters.

      Even Psychonauts falls prey to this a bit: the first three levels are boring, and the last level is rather obnoxious. The middle five levels, however, are entirely fantastic and really quite diverse. Sadly, the adventrousness exhibited there really hasn’t been matched since.

      • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

        Psychonauts is a masterpiece, though a flawed one yes.  I would like to see them pool their resources into one monster project again though as oppossed to putting out these seemingly half-baked games.

        But I suppose the industry has become so vicious that there is no room for people like Double Fine in the realm of $60 games.

        • http://www.backloggery.com/colliewest Colliewest

          I think that’s exactly the problem. I think Schafer got pretty badly burned by the shellacking that Brutal Legend took. That a game can sell 1.75m copies and be considered a flop says a lot about the industry.

          I would love for Double Fine to go big again but I can understand them not wanting to risk everything they’ve built on another $60m+ grossing “flop”.

          Hopefully this is a time of rebuilding and they will go on to future glories, but even as they are I think they’re worth having around.

      • PaganPoet

        Hmmm, interesting. I actually have really fond memories of both Costume Quest and Stacking, but now that you mention it, the gameplay of both games is rather shallow. I guess whimsy and charm carry me a lot further than others.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          I felt that Stacking was brief enough that its admittedly shallow mechanics didn’t outstay their welcome. The “hey, this stacking mechanic is neato!” effect didn’t have enough time to wear off. On the other hand, Costume Quest got tedious about an hour in. The combat system is too simplistic, and there’s too much backtracking and running around in circles. The humour, though, is aces, as one would expect from a Double Fine game.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      While I love Schafer’s pre-DF output, yeah, DF itself hasn’t terribly excited me.

      I am, however, rather pleased with how their Kickstarter adventure is shaping up. It seems aesthetically and ludically very much in my wheelhouse (even if the mechanics are by design a rather conventional throwback).

      I was actually really happy that they extended the AF project to accommodate the Black Lake. It helped strike a balance between the number of artist-led projects and programmer-led projects, and provided a little more variety. The programmer-led projects tended to be more procedural tech demos skinned with perfunctory art/narrative, while the artist-led projects tended to be more aesthetically/narratively considered, but more anemic and restrictive from a gameplay standpoint. I think they complemented each other nicely. That said, Automata, one of the finalists I didn’t vote for, turned out both mechanically complex and aesthetically gorgeous. Hoo boy, what a pretty game.

      I actually didn’t see White Birch and Black Lake as being overtly similar. I mean, fantasies with female protagonists, but that’s about it. One was an Ico/PoP-style environmental navigation game in a sort of proggy epic fantasy mode, and one was a scavenger hunt top-down exploration game with fairy tale overtones. I voted for both because they each had a strong, but distinct, aesthetic direction, and I was curious how a non-programmer would lead a game design team (it was really interesting seeing Levi come to grips with his role in the videos).

      I was most excited about Hack & Slash, though it didn’t totally deliver on its promises (admittedly, it’s the sort of thing that would take AGES to balance and smooth out properly, and they didn’t have ages).

    • duwease

      Well, Schafer *was* making incredible, daring AAA games like Psychonauts and (the criminally underrated) Brutal Legend, but no one bought them.  So they went smaller in order to keep trying things that are still admittedly out-there in the context of modern console libraries and still survive on the smaller audience.  If my choices are one more big, daring, wonderful and unsuccessful super-game that closes the studio, or a trickling stream of moderately ambitious and fairly original games.. I’ll take #2.

  • Chum Joely

    Dodged a bullet there, glad I didn’t buy this one right away. Several reviews elsewhere said much the same thing.

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

       I chose Anthony John Agnello to review this game, but I wasn’t able to get far enough to see the final impressions.
       He didn’t have the right sport coat to gain access into the sportscasters convention to get the laptop to publish the review.
       I’m going to try Steve Heisler next.  I think he can double jump or something… 

    • Chum Joely

      Doesn’t matter who you choose initially– it always ends up being Teti who writes the final review. Right after where you quit, Teti takes him off the assignment and sends him to Lord & Taylor to get a proper sport coat instead.

      And Heisler is too high on life and/or drugs to write the review, although if you choose him initially, he does throw in a few random off-page comments during Teti’s review. It doesn’t really affect the final evaluation, though.

      • HobbesMkii

        I always like to start with Ryan Smith, because he was a source for that one article in the Grey Lady and for crushing EA under his jackboot. Then, if that doesn’t pan out, I try to change it up with a Toal or Samantha Nelson.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I just use my Gameshark to make my team have 3 Soupies. But then I can’t win because they all just get territorial that there are more cats around than there should be, and they start spraying, and oh God now I have to rip up all of this carpet.

  • boardgameguy

    i just started playing psychonauts after a friend recommended it.  after an hour, i’m not all that impressed yet.  still, holding out hope it gets better.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      It does get much better. The early “training” levels are a bit dull, but things get really crazy. I won’t spoil it.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Stick with it. It gets seriously bonkers. Not “best game ever” or whatever, but it does some pretty inventive things.

  • grovberg

    Thing I Always Think About: So the big problem with this game is that it doesn’t tread any new ground. But unlike other media such as books or movies, there aren’t a lot of chances for younger players to experience the original sources. When we see a movie remade, critics exclaim “Just rent the original!” but for video games, this really isn’t an option.

    In other words, though I get what the author is saying here, my 10 year old will probably love this game because that tired familiarity won’t be an issue. And I wonder if we do our games a disservice by judging them within that context.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      Trying to ignore 30 years of gaming history when writing a review is an exercise in futility.

      And, besides, puzzle platformers are not exactly a lost genre. New ones get released all the time, and old ones get re-released all the time.

    • Steve McCoy

      I read it less like Teti feels the game is leaning on stale ground and more that he feels it repetitively wants him to perform tedious, trivial tasks. Ideally, a game like this would have a lot of thoughtful variety and not just a couple interesting sections that you’ll miss if you didn’t pick the right one of seven characters.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      I would rather see that situation as an indictment of the piss-poor state of archiving and making accessible digital cultural forms, rather than a call for amnesia on the part of game reviewers.

      • lokimotive

        Hear, hear! on that. It’s rather incredible that mediums that are (almost) fully digital have very little standardization in the way of archiving them for future use. 

        To be perfectly honest, as a librarian, I’m rather ashamed that my profession hasn’t taken any initiative in the archiving of video game roms or hardware. Granted, there’s a rather enthusiastic, and, let’s be honest, underground group of hobbysts that have done it for us in a lot of case, but it would be nice if there was an actual institution that took the time to archive and catalog games.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I was about to expound on this subject at length, but then I realized I already did!

        • lokimotive

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus Holy crap, I had no idea about that Library of Congress thing (shows how much professional awareness I have, don’t tell my boss). That’s a great initiative. How do I get that job?

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @lokimotive:disqus: This article may be of interest to you: http://venturebeat.com/2013/01/18/video-games-and-libraries-are-a-good-mix-say-librarians/

        • Chum Joely

          @Merve2:disqus , it’s cool to see the BANQ and Montreal’s Bibliothèque Nationale mentioned in that article.  I think the presence of games in that library was actually an initiative of the many, many gaming companies here, with a big ceremony at the library involving the heads of EA’s (?) and Ubisoft’s Montreal studios hand-delivering a couple of hundred copies of various games. They’re kept in the kids’ section (so, only “E for Everyone” games, as far as I know), and when you go there on the weekend, about 90% are loaned out at any given moment… 

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      For better or for worse, games reviews can’t happen in a vacuum. It’s impossible for reviewers to abstract from their past experiences, and it would be disingenuous for them to pretend that they could. For that reason, I’d rather they acknowledge what their past experiences are.

      For instance, most of the games I play are action-adventure games, shooters, RPGs, or some combination thereof. I can recognize a good experience in those genres when I play one and compare and contrast it to past experiences. On the other hand, if you gave me an RTS, I could tell you if it was a good or bad “game,” but not if it was a good or bad RTS.

      The other idea I wanted to touch on was that of innovation vs. quality. Should we celebrate games that bring new ideas or mechanics to the table, or should we celebrate those that finely polish and hone old mechanics? I say both, but I don’t think I’ve played enough video games to develop genre fatigue, so I may not place as much emphasis on innovation as others. In any case, because Steam is being stupid and is inexplicably releasing The Cave a day late, I can’t tell you to what extent that game introduces new ideas or uses old ones. But since I’ve played very few puzzle platformers, I don’t think my enjoyment (or lack thereof) of the game will be influenced by past experience to a large degree.

      EDIT: I realized I was being a bit vague with my language. I did mean to imply that Teti was being disingenuous in his review, just that his time with the game, just like that of any seasoned gamer, is coloured by past experience.

    • grovberg

      Just to be 100% clear, I wasn’t trying to criticize this review (which I actually thought was great). It’s just a thought I have a lot trying to find games for my daughter.

  • Brainstrain

    So does the game seem so “done” only because of how little it really innovates compared to the classics it draws from? Because I started with an N64, and didn’t get into computer games until like four years ago. So if you’d never played the classics, it would be a great game, right?

    • Chum Joely

      It seems to me that there are problems inherent to the game itself (see @google-90d5e9493979cd5a5bdf16217ab42a7b:disqus ’s comment above).  The main negative point I’m seeing is that it’s often repetitive. GameSpot and Kotaku gave it pretty good reviews, though.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      From the reviews, it seems like the issue is that it doesn’t really reflect the strengths of the things it’s borrowing from.

      Like, its signature gameplay experiences seem to be backtracking and stepping on switches, which aren’t much fun nomatter how many times you’ve done them before in games.

      And other stuff doesn’t match up to its origins. The ability to build different parties from a bank of characters isn’t used as inventively as in, say, Maniac Mansion. The multi-character puzzle platforming doesn’t actually capitalize on that form the way, say, Lost Vikings did. The puzzling isn’t on par with the graphic adventures that contribute to its DNA. Etc. 

      That said, it’s still almost certainly solid, and funny, owing to its pedigree and creator. I bought it and will play it. It probably suffers a lot from the high expectations a Gilbert game being made at Schafer’s company would have – i.e. it’s simply good, and not AMAZING. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good.

  • SonjaMinotaur

    Can we talk about Brutal Legend? I am interested in hearing people’s opinions on it.  I loved Psychonauts for all the reasons people love Psychonauts and I loved a lot of things about Brutal Legend- the look & feel of it, but I got too frustrated with the ACTUAL GAME once it switched over from you being one guy to you commanding an army (or something? it was a few years ago)

    • Bad Horse

      My first time through, I had some serious-ass problems with the RTS sections, enough so that I actually dropped the game a while. I went back a few months later and somehow it just clicked. Strategically, the RTS couldn’t be simpler. Make fan booths, kill your enemies’ fan booths. Use razorgirls and bikers. Done and done.

      To grossly overgeneralize, Schafer games have wonderful personalities that carry them through their substantial flaws as games. Brutal Legend is no exception. I loved it and played it twice, but not because it was a particularly well-designed game. It had a lot of elements and they didn’t all click, but we need more games like it. More personality, less fucking Marines, please.

    • Chum Joely

      I played the first 90 minutes or so… so I stopped just short of where it switches to RTS, I believe.  I LOVED the concept, and Jack Black was perfectly cast (and well-rendered as the main character).

      I have to say, as @Bad_Horse:disqus ”overgeneralizes” just above, the game has loads of personality that seems to be overcoming a kind of not-very-interesting game, even in that first, most conventionally exciting part. I found the hack-n-slash mechanic, the vehicle controls, etc. to be clumsy and irritating, but that took a back seat (for 90 minutes or so) to the coolness of playing as Jack Black, heavy-metal roadie accidentally banished to an alternate heavy-metal dimension. But not really enough to keep me going– and I bet the RTS part would have turned me off even more (although I don’t recall ever having played a real-time strategy game, so who’s to say).

    • ricin_beans

      I was excited to buy Brutal Legend, had a lot of fun through the first section with all the action and guitar beatdowns, and then some time into the second or third confusing and annoying RTS battle I realized that I fucking hated that fucking game and never wanted to see it again.

      • SonjaMinotaur

        This is all pretty much in line from what I remember hearing at the time (and my own experience): most people expected the game to be all action and hated that it turned out to be RTS. 

        If I had known what kind of game it was, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up in the first place: Strategy and tactics are not why I play games. But I did enjoy the hell out of the first two hours or so.

        • ricin_beans

          I actually like RTS if it’s done well.  The RTS in Brutal Legend was just done really poorly.  it would have been one thing if it were just a couple of missions, but it was really the crux of the game.

    • duwease

      I got frustrated with it, as someone who doesn’t really like RTS games *that* much.. but I powered through.  Afterwards, while I was screwing around, I went online and actually read some FAQs about the gameplay, and it all just *clicked*.  I was playing the game completely wrong, and once I realized how it worked, all of the strategy became clear, and the game was AWESOME.  I played online for quite awhile, which is more than I can say for any RTS.

      I think the main problem is that the game up until that point is that it conditions you to expect excessive hand-holding in the way modern action games do (“Hit A to attack!  Good!  Hitting a monster multiple times makes his health go down!  No health means the monster goes away!”), and then when the RTS part kicks in, they abruptly stop holding your hand when you need it most.  Everything seems chaotic, and simple info like what units do well against others is left up to you to figure out in the midst of getting blitzed.  Adding massively to the confusion is a third-person view that already makes the map chaotic, whereas the learning process in most RTS’s benefit from a more informative top-down view.

      Hell, just simply being told “The main gameplay mechanic to focus on is team-attacks.. you should always be team-attacking with your units” makes a world of difference, but no one mentions that.  

    • http://www.backloggery.com/colliewest Colliewest

      Schafer actually posted on DoubleFine’s website about how to play the game as there was so much confusion. I never got that far because the headbangers grossed me out, but according to the Creative Director it’s not really an RTS: http://kotaku.com/5382233/tim-schafer-explains-how-to-play-brutal-legend

  • Mercenary_Security_number_4

    GS is quickly becoming the go-to place to damp down the enthusiasm of games everyone else is raving about.

    • caspiancomic

       Teti in particular makes a terrific hype assassin. Looking back through his reviews reveals he gave the latest Hitman a begrudging pass, but he’s pretty much slaughtered everything else he’s put his talents to. I hope he doesn’t take the axe to Ni No Kuni- I’m hoping to like that game.

      • ricin_beans

        I hope it sucks because my PS3 is broken and I don’t want to get a new one, but I’ve been praying for a good JRPG for a good long time now.

      • http://www.backloggery.com/colliewest Colliewest

        Stud Fiends eat hype for breakfast.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      I dunno, his complaints corroborate pretty closely those from Polygon’s 6/10 review from this morning. He’s hardly being the lone contrarian (yet correct) grump on this like he was with, say, AssCreed 3.

  • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

    *sigh* will Double Fine ever make as good as Psychonauts again?

    also, maybe Brutal Legend’s failure could have something with the fact that it generally got bad reviews?

  • Crusty Old Dean

    I love standing on buttons. I’m sure this’ll be right up my alley.