The Cat Lady
Tea: Assam Black Tea
You know that game you disregarded, because it was just another shooter or RPG? Or that game that didn’t live up to the current and inconsistent status quo of graphics? The game that screamed ‘indie’ and in the same breath ‘too indie’. Or maybe just the game you never heard of. Well, The Cat Lady is certainly something that falls in my latter category. But through consistent recommendations I finally dove into this bizarre and grotesque adventure. So here I am today to tell you about a game like no other.
Susan Ashworth is a cat lady and commits suicide right at the start of the game. But a mysterious woman will not let Susan have her final rest just yet. Against her will for an end to her life she is sent back to exterminate five parasites. These monsters are humans, yet carry out deeds that are unspeakably inhuman. Her only tool is immortality and her wit. I will leave the summary as short as possible, the less you know the better. Suffice it to say the story takes Susan to a variety of places on the hunt for parasites. There are some moments of truly amazing storytelling in this videogame that I won’t spoil of course, suffice it to say I was really impressed and glad to have seen such a creative use of this medium. Visual storytelling is something you rarely see these days. I will say a few things about the characters as well. Susan is an unlikely protagonist, a fact I really loved. Taking a bit of a risk with a character that does not fit the stereotypical-protagonist scheme is a welcome diversion from the copy-pasted heroes in other games. You’ll feel sympathetic towards Susan and relate to her. All the other major characters are also quite well written, some of them may be a little shallow, but since this is primarily about Susan I can overlook that. All character that need depth have it, leave it at that.
Let’s talk about spoiler-free stuff, like gameplay: The game is controlled via the keyboard, therefore not a classic point-and-click adventure as I wrongly assumed. Control is fairly limited in terms of movement. Interactable objects are highlighted and thus hard to miss. Your inventory is endless, but lacks the typical “combine” feature that most of these types of games utilize. The result is straight-forward gameplay that will never challenge you to act quickly. Not that this is a bad thing, but it is also pretty limited. What can be used and in what way is very specific and sometimes a bit irritating, bringing us to the main component of the game, beside the story: Puzzles.
Just like in any adventure-game the majority of the time will be spent with looking for objects to use on other objects until the plot moves forward. Thankfully due to the aforementioned limited interactions this is somewhat streamlined. Your objects and potential interactables are usually not too extensive. Should you be stuck you can always force the solution by simply playing through every combination of object and interactable. The good thing is, for the most part, you won’t have to. The puzzles are never blatantly obvious, but also not bordering on insanity. In fact, I managed to get through the entire game and only having to resort to brute-forcing once. The constant change of scenery and locking-off of some parts of the level limits the potential solutions and thus cuts down the tedium by a lot.
You will also spent quite some time with making decisions and answering people. It is your typical dialogue–tree with different responses. This is actually my biggest problem with the game and there are two parts to this: First, there were about three to four conversations in the game (laughably few, but still) where all options did not properly represent an answer I, playing the character of Susan, would deem appropriate. All the choices seemed either out of character or uncalled for. The second part to this problem is that sometimes there appears to be a choice, but in reality there isn’t. Instead of choosing what you want to ask a person about something and limiting the information you have to work with you must and I repeat must go through all the dialogue options. Sometimes it is not even crucial, but just small-talk. I get that it is supposed to grant the player some agency, but if I have to listen to all the dialogue I’d rather do it in one continuous flow, rather than interrupting it to select the next option. These small nit-picks are all that I really perceived as negative in the game and having left that in the dust we can continue to the best part of the game.
The Cat Lady is one of those few games that gets atmosphere right. Something a lot of games don’t even come near to is just spot on here. The colourscheme is usually kept black and white with all shades of grey in between. Only certain things are highlighted via colour. But not exclusively for puzzle-reasons also story-wise or for atmospheric effect. The art style with its rendered backgrounds that look like photo cut-outs and slightly grotesque looking characters may put you off at first sight, but trust me when I say they are put to great effect. It may look cheap, but it certainly isn’t. Ambient noises are used to extraordinary use in some chapters, the voice-acting was enjoyable and never awkward or cringe worthy, but there are some questionable music choices in my opinion. Sometimes the tone of the scene will be broken by loud rock music and I wonder if I just didn’t pick up the intended meaning, but these are two instances so never mind.
Very few games have left an impression on me like The Cat Lady did. It has an intriguing plot that demands your attention and interpretation, something I am very glad for. The gameplay is functional, but nothing innovative. While the art-style may strike you as a bit odd it should not keep you from experiencing this game. The excellent atmosphere combined with good sound-design and voice-acting turn this into an emotional journey incomparable to recent games. It is grotesque, sickening, depressing, and suspenseful. You will want to look away, you will not want to enter a certain room, but all the time you will want more. Just like I want more. It is a game that still occupies my mind, thinking of events and trying to interpret them in a different way. If the phrase “diamond in the rough” was ever applicable it would be here. Experience it for yourself, since you won’t come across anything like it.
Image sources in order of appearance:
- http://images.cgames.de/images/idgwpgsgp/bdb/2426845/617x.jpg (Last date of access: 07.09.2015)
- http://www.samanthablackmon.net/notyourmamasgamer/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/catlady3.jpg (Last date of access: 07.09.2015)
- https://criticalteatime.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/f625e-the252bcat252blady252b-252bsusan252band252bmitzie.jpg (Last date of access: 07.09.2015)
- http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/the-cat-lady/images/5/54/Joe_and_Susan%2C_in_the_Quiet_Haven.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20150202010836 (Last date of access: 07.09.2015)