The Cat Lady ReviewPC
key review info
- Game: The Cat Lady
- Platform: PC
- Gamepad support: N/a
- Reviewed on:
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The Cat Lady is an indie adventure game made by Harvester Games for the PC that presents profoundly mature themes wrapped in a strong horror packaging.
The gameplay is very basic, the title being a two-dimensional side-scrolling third-person affair, offering only a very minimalistic set of controls. The whole game is played using only the arrow keys.
It is not such a bad thing though, considering it’s more of an interactive story type of game, with a strong focus on introspection and the exploration of the human psyche.
Players can only navigate through levels in a typical side-scrolling manner. Objects and hotspots that gamers can interact with light up as you pass over them, and an interaction menu will pop up, with classic adventure actions like examine, talk to, pick up, etc.
The protagonist is a lonely 40-year-old woman, Susan Ashworth. Having no friends and family and no prospects of her life getting any better, and finding herself in an ongoing struggle with depression, she one day decides to end it all, only to find that not even death offers the release she seeks.
The Cat Lady starts with Susan waking up in a strange, eerie place, after swallowing a whole bottle of sleeping pills. Unsure of whether she is dead or not, she starts exploring her surroundings, only to find increasingly gruesome vistas juxtaposed with sunny fields of barley.
The adventure title has an impactful delivery of horror elements and features some of the most gory visuals seen in games that don’t have shooting and maiming as primary gameplay mechanics, and some disturbing transitions into the unnatural and surreal that speak for the talent of its creators.
The Cat Lady deals with very mature themes such as rape, cannibalism, and dismemberment in a very natural manner, exploring the profound and sometimes twisted issues that arise in the dark corners of the complex human mind.
It unapologetically delivers its shocking content and treats you with the respect an adult human being deserves, instead of the typical sugar-coated and diluted presentation found in most games that merely dare to dabble into potentially troubling and controversial matters.
Being an adventure game, The Cat Lady has its fair share of puzzles, most of them mostly being about picking up every single item that is not bolted down, and either using everything on everything else or backtracking to the locked door you found earlier.
Most of the puzzles have some clues about them, which makes the journey feel more connected, and not just mechanically trying every possible option, and several of them have more subtle cues that make you like the game even more. A few are a bit weirder, but there is always the Internet for that.
There are also some aural cues to some of the puzzles, as well as many ambient sounds that contribute to the mood, like wind, moans, and the timeless horror all-star, the crow caw.
There is also decent music in the game, from uncanny subtle background melodies to real band-made music that complements the on-screen goings-on rather nicely. It does sound over the top at times, but it certainly contributes to the game’s cinematic nature.
Another nice thing was that all the dialogues are voice acted, which is not often the case with indie games, especially a debut title such as this one.
The bad news is that the acting seems quite drab most of the time, sometimes adding to the general feeling of dread, sometimes really breaking the immersion by sounding disconnected from on-screen events.
The writing overall is good; taking into account the bite-sized delivery that is in the nature of the medium, it generally delivers pretty well, but on occasion some wonky lines will stand out.
Also, navigating through stuffy dialogue trees will sometimes seem tedious, especially when you’re repeating an action several times while trying to figure out what to do next.
The thrilling journey through the unnatural is unfortunately impeded at times by the rough-hewn characteristics of the game engine. There is a lot of dead time involved, while slowly navigating screens and while the character gets in the predefined position to open a door or talk to someone.
And, while talking, although thankfully there is the option to press space after you’re done reading a line in order to skip to the next instead of having to wait for the voiceover to finish, it does not always work out as intended.
Sometimes you have to press it three times to register, it never works right from the start in order to let you skip dialogue that you have already read, while other times one light press is enough to skip through two or three lines.
And there is a similar problem with the visuals. Right from the beginning, players are regaled with a very strong art style that sets the mood of the game, offering a troubling and powerful otherworldly visual experience.
The issue is that, while the artistic direction is very good, the delivery is rather poor. There have been other games that tried to offer a fresh graphical experience, or at least a different one, but the really low resolution and consequent pixelization makes you think about the games that were aiming for photorealism in the early ‘90s.
Which is really a shame, because it makes the game lose a lot on technicalities that have nothing to do with the inherent nature of adventure games. Animations look choppy, the character walks too slowly, the resolution is way too low, and the controls are not always as responsive as they should be.
- Mature themes done right
- Good integration of horror elements
- Thrilling and suspenseful story
- Strong art direction
- Very low resolution
- Voice acting poor at times
- Unresponsive controls
Apart from the technical gripes, The Cat Lady is an interesting and intriguing game with a fresh and powerful visual direction, and an excellent story that brings together the concrete and the surreal, which delves into the far reaches of the human mind and challenges players with its raw exposure of unsettling horror elements, that range from blunt to overtone.
The Cat Lady offers a good narrative with gripping moments and an exquisite haunting journey, interspersed with impactful emotional and visual elements that outline introspections on life and death, delivered in a very serious and real manner, that really set it apart from your run-of-the-mill adventure title.