Five of the Best: Caves
Each week, Five of the Best gives love to the overlooked parts of games. The things you don't notice when you're playing because you're too busy doing more important things. But you remember them. They're there in your memory all the same. So much so that when someone says something like, "Which are the best caves in games?" Some immediately spring to mind.
So: which are the best caves in games? Let's give it a try, shall we?
I've been caving - spelunking - before, back when I was a teenager, and I'm not sure I could do it now. I remember having to swim in icy cold water under a stalactite and shimmy along tunnel-like passages. I don't know how I did it - it gives me the shivers just thinking about it now.
But I have been in a cave since, in Thailand, and I was totally unprepared. I found myself on a makeshift tour, on my hands and knees, army-shuffling through what was basically a tunnel with the dimensions of an air duct. I remember seeing a cave spider on the wall - it was bloody dark in there - and thinking, 'Oh god, are they all over the wall?'
Don't worry, our guide said, it's nothing compared to when he slept there overnight with nothing but a candle, which went out, and when he woke up to relight it, he found himself completely surrounded by cave spiders.
I was very reassured.
Still, there was an amazing moment where the guide pointed into the blackness of another chamber and it became slowly apparent he was pointing out a colony of bats. God knows how many were in there. Hundreds? Thousands?
I was quite relieved to get out.
Grow Home's most elusive cave
There are great caves in Grow Home. They feel really, really cavey. Outside it's a beautiful balmy day, but in here it's dark and still and you can almost feel the cool air.
Brilliantly, I think there's an Achievement for finding all the game's caves. I remember this because for an age I had found all but one. I'd found the cave with the weird little glowing critters, the one with the bull, the one that you can drop down into by pulling the boulders aside…
Finally I had to go back to the very start. The really big sandy island at the very bottom of the game's world was the first place I felt I had exhausted. But I had forgotten to look around the back of the main mountain. There, almost hidden by perspective, was the cave I was after. I went inside and, yes, wonderfully still and chilly. A perfect cave. So cavey!
The game's getting on a bit now, but still: spoilers for Arkham Asylum
How many times have we been in the Batcave by this point? It's been a hub, an upgrade menu, even a raiding area. There's something really special about it each time, though, because it's the Batcave. And there's something especially special about it in Arkham Asylum.
Mid-way through Arkham Asylum there's a huge reveal. It's not the solution to the mystery or a sudden character death. It's that Batman has a back-up Batcave on Arkham Island. There's a lovely bit of theatre to the discovery, to the way he's scanned in and allowed to enter. But more than that, there's a real force of wonder to it, because...I had no idea!
A Batcave on Arkham Island was news to me, anyway. It felt brilliant: like Batman had been keeping a secret from us, the player, and he was finally letting us in a bit. And it's a reminder that in Batman's world, pretty much nobody knows about the Batcave anyway. What a lovely moment. And what a lovely cave.
The secret tomb in Knights of the Old Republic 2
I'm cheating a bit because it's a tomb rather than cave, although you need to go through a cave to get to it. It's on Korriban and it's literally called the Secret Tomb. It's optional, you don't have to go there, but do. Go there because it's a magical cave filled with Dark Side energy, like everything else on Korriban.
The tomb shows you visions and tests you. It shows you famous KOTOR characters Malak and Revan during the Mandalorian Wars, before they turned to the Dark Side. It's a war you fought for them in but you don't know much about it. Why did they disobey the Jedi Order? What did you do? It's a theme running through the game, and there, in the tomb, you learn more while wrestling with what you think about it all.
I remember it still, nearly 15 years later. I think it stuck in my head because it made me think. It was more than another cave to kill-through and loot (although there is loot to be had - this is an RPG after all).
Honorable mention to The Witcher 3's Cave of Dreams, which has a big blue floating whale and has similar magical visions to the Korriban tomb. It's actually the cave which inspired this whole topic.
Destiny's loot cave
The infamous loot cave in Destiny represented the state of Bungie's shared world shooter when it first launched - a place with so much potential, but which was also an incredible grind.
And so the loot cave itself - a spot you could sit and endlessly farm wave after wave of enemies as they spawned - gained notoriety as an exploit. It was a shortcut to some of Destiny's rarest item drops. And while farming the loot cave wasn't fun, it was efficient. It was the fastest way to get through Destiny's grind.
When it was patched out, it was a relief. I no longer feel like I had to try this thing to keep up with everyone else doing the same. Bungie, correctly, realised it needed to provide better, faster ways of getting players to the game's level cap. And in its place, one of the few examples where Bungie acknowledged the impact its players had - an Easter egg showing a pile of bones from all the enemies slain along the way.
Minecraft is a game of two worlds, really: the above and below. Every time a new world is generated, mountains spike up to the sky, and forests and grasslands spread further than the eye can see. For a blocky game it can create some gorgeous vistas. But what you can't see, though, and what's equally awe inspiring, is what lurks below.
Down there, huge black chambers await. Down there, abandoned mine shafts await. Down there, coal, iron, gold, gems, diamonds, all the things you need. But in the darkness, monsters await, too. And lava. And falls into fathomless black depths. Down there: danger.
But you are inextricably drawn towards them, drawn underground. And every time you see a cave opening or a chasm scarring the earth, or you begin a stepped tunnel down underground, you hope to hit upon the chamber of riches you see. But you never know. You break the block to reveal blackness and for a brief moment you are helpless to what lies beyond. It's a cycle of excitement I will never tire of.