By Will Harlan | Contributor Published: 04/11/2013 8:00 am EST
Release date: December 2, 2012 Publisher: Screen 7
The Cat Lady is an incredibly gripping, macabre game which revitalizes the adventure game in some incredibly exciting ways. To speak too much of its unique plot risks spoiling some of the great surprises it has in store for players. For optimal playing experience, I recommend readers stop read no further after the break, head to Screen 7’s website for The Cat Lady OR to gog.com and buy the game to experience it for themselves. If you are still skeptical about the title or are interested in what, exactly, I find so great about it, then feel free to read on after the break.
The Cat Lady is an incredibly twisted horror story about a woman’s struggle with depression. It approaches the subject with some heavy handed magical realism – magical, supernatural, and surreal landscapes and themes are intermingled with an otherwise mundane, drab portrait of England slums. You play as the eponymous “Cat Lady,” a lonely woman by the name of Susan Ashworth. That’s right, Ashworth. The game definitely isn’t subtle about its primary themes – which include depression, amorality, and mortality – but what it lacks in subtlety it makes up for in overwhelming presence and sincerity.
A lot of the game’s atmosphere is the very “homespun” nature of the title – it has original music, voice acting talent, and incredibly stunning artwork that spans from awe-inspiring to gut-wrenching. Though it is just a sidescrolling adventure game, The Cat Lady elicits incredibly raw emotion while playing through the game – R. Michalski pulls very few punches and leaves no bleak stone unturned. The beginning of the game features a lonely monologue from Susan Ashworth. After overdosing on suicide pills she reads her suicide note aloud as her cats walk around her and stare at her in expectation as she drifts into oblivion. She wakes up in a place in between Life and Death, and is given a quest to rid the world of Parasites – people who, according to a mysterious old woman, want nothing more than to harm Susan. Her choice is to either kill these Parasites or be cursed with immortality in her depressed, suicidal state. The plot has a number of interesting twists and turns which bring up questions of life, death, depression, and how violence (both self-inflicted and otherwise) can be a wild affirmation of both life and death.
The mechanics of the game are standard to the adventure game genre. It is nigh-impossible to really “lose” the game, though there are a number of different endings you can reach depending on dialogue choices. A lot of the game consists of doing collecting items which help, in some contrived way, to complete a puzzle or aid in an “escape the room” scenario. In terms of puzzle difficulty, I’d say the game is somewhat easier than, say, any of the Monkey Island titles. There were a couple of places which took me awhile to figure out just what, exactly, I had to do with the characteristic paper clip, thimble, and spool of yarn, but the game can certainly be completed without a guide. There are a couple of additional mechanics introduced in the game, such as a mood management system, which would have been brilliant if included in the rest of the game. However, for some reason the mood management system was in a very small section of the entire game. Aside from this one exception the game doesn’t deviate heavily from a typical adventure game format.
The Cat Lady is an incredible adventure horror game. It breathes life into the genre where little-to-none had previously existed (save the occasionally exceptional TellTale game or Heavy Rain-like title). The game has stellar voice acting, music, atmosphere, and artistic direction, and should be experienced because of the incredible journey it has to offer.
A gamer hailing from the days of Sonic the Hedgehog and Ecco the Dolphin, Will has an understandably intense anxiety surrounding water levels. When he isn’t thinking about video games and pop culture he usually can be found dropping references from The Big Lebowski.
Summary:The Cat Lady is a wonderful addition to the revitalization of the adventure game genre. It is dark, mystifying, and incredibly engrossing. Though there are a few questionable design decisions, the presentation features outstanding art, voice acting, and an original soundtrack.