Indie Review: The Cat Lady
The Cat Lady, developed by Screen 7 and written by author Remigiusz Michalski from Harvester Games, is an adventure horror indie game that contains strong adult themes and is targeted at a mature audience. How well does it succeed in achieving this? You'll need to read on to find out.
- Worth The Time?Yes, absolutely if you have the stomach for it.
- Things LovedThe fantastic concept and story, the great puzzle solving gameplay, the excellent writing and voice acting, the game is extremely compelling and you just can't tear yourself away from it, it's one of the most disturbing games you'll ever play, the unique art direction, the diverse range of horrifying and intriguing story scenarios, the awesome soundtrack and audio work.
- Things HatedWalking animation can stutter, saves can't be overwritten and can clog up.
- RecommendationIf you have a strong stomach and an attraction to disturbing or overly dark things, then this is an absolute blast. In a perfect world, I really would recommend this game to every gamer out there. It's that good.
- Name: The Cat Lady
- Genre: Adventure Horror
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PC
- Developer: Remigiusz Michalski (Harvester Games), Screen 7
- Publisher: Screen 7
- Price: R105
- Reviewed On: PC
The Cat Lady, developed by Screen 7 and written by author Remigiusz Michalski from Harvester Games, is an adventure horror indie game that contains strong adult themes and is targeted at a mature audience. Seriously, I know many games say that and it turns out that an average teenager could handle it, but really, this game is no joke. Released in December last year, the game was met with critical acclaim and it grabbed my interest because, well, I love horror and disturbing and dark things. Quiet, squirrel, sanity is for the weak. Anyhow, I contacted the developers and they were extremely kind to send me a review code for the game. Just about three days later, and here I am. I could not draw myself away from this game. I completely loved it. It was too damn compelling to go through at a slow pace, and even as I type out this review, what I experienced is lingering heavily in my mind. But I’m sure you’re curious as to what I’m rambling on about, so let me get started with this.
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The game puts you in the role of Susan Ashworth, a lonely 40-year old who finds herself on the verge of suicide. Living in isolation with no family, friends or hope for the future, she finally reaches breaking point and, acting on a strong impulse, decides to try and take her own life. And that, is all I’m willing to say about the story. Well, other than that Susan loves cats. I just refuse to ruin it, because you need to experience this game with a blank slate. It’s just insanely compelling, and the excellent voice acting and writing constantly drives the story. Even at the odd times when it takes a bit of an extreme, or arguably even silly direction, the game is just so incredibly interesting and mysterious that you’ll most likely suspend your disbelief with ease. It’s difficult to describe. It’s not entirely realistic, but it’s grounded enough in reality that it feels horrifyingly close to home. The themes in the game, especially that of clinical depression, are really well handled, and this game is definitely for a mature audience.
I honestly could keep talking about the story and how compelling it is and forget all about the fact that there’s a game to play here. At times I found it impossible to tear myself away from this game. But be warned, you’ll need a strong stomach for it. If you get freaked out easily or get winded up by overly dark or disturbing things, then steer well clear of this game. It really doesn’t shy away from the extreme, yet despite that it feels as though you can relate to a lot of the content on some level because it’s often well within human territory. In many ways, I’ve been looking for something like this. A game that doesn’t sugarcoat. It warns you about what you’re getting into, literally actually with its recommendation that you should be over eighteen to play this, and then it just does what it wants to without holding back. It’s really part of what makes it such a thrilling experience, because you just honestly won’t know what to expect next, or how much worse the next thing will be, and that really makes it awesome and exciting.
The gameplay is mostly what you’re familiar with when it comes to an adventure title. It’s a side-scrolling game that is really simple to play. The up arrow interacts with objects in the environment whenever a prompt appears, and you’ll be able to select your action from whatever is contextually available, whether it be to pick up, take, examine and so on. The down arrow takes you to your inventory, and from here you can use items or examine them. Using items on the environment simply requires you to be standing close enough so that the interaction prompt appears, and then using the item in that spot. I very much liked the fact that the majority of items have a specific use, and disappear from your inventory after using them, so you’ll know exactly when you’ve made progress, and that everything you pick up has a purpose. That’s about all there is to the gameplay, and it’s all you really need. The execution is solid, and the result is a game packed with immersion and entertainment.
There are two things that really make the gameplay succeed. The first is of course that the puzzle solving is really awesome. It has a logical flow to it and a sense of linearity, but it’s often systematic and you’ll almost always have an idea of your objective, which means it’s just about finding the right solutions. Admittedly there were a few moments where I was completely stumped because I knew what I had to do, but not how to do it, but these were rare and the developers deserve a great deal of credit for walking a middle road between easy and challenging. I’m sure most gamers love the adventure genre for that moment when a light bulb goes off in your head and you get a spark of an idea that just so happens to be the right move, and you feel like a boss. I got that quite a number of times in The Cat Lady, and that comes down to great design. The second reason for the gameplay success is the diverse range of horrifying and intriguing story scenarios in this game, and that requires little explanation. Often puzzles can take place in large environments with multiple paths and rooms, but it’s just about being thorough and thoughtful, and I really enjoyed the solution-orientated gameplay.
The game has a very gritty, stylized and unique art direction that actually fits it like a glove. It definitely takes some time to get used to, but it’s fantastically well done, and really sets the game apart. It’s extremely dark, as black and grey are dominant colours, and that plays to its strength, especially when bright colours starkly contrast. There are very few areas where the game looks a little less polished, but these are very rare and hardly an issue. An example of this is with the walking animation, which in some parts can stutter slightly. It’s not serious, but it can be a little distracting. As already mentioned earlier on, the voice acting is excellent, and I need to also credit the soundtrack, which is really great and complements the horror, suspense and tension extremely well. The sound effects are particularly well done, and more often than not create some exceptionally freaky moments. As an audio and visual experience, The Cat Lady excels commendably, and in many ways it can be unforgettable.
Another little issue with the game is that you can’t overwrite previous saves, and as a result your saves can clog up. As in, you can actually run out of save space, and this prevents you from saving again. It’s a little annoying, but it only happened to me once throughout the entire game, about three quarters in, despite my frequent saving. All it takes though to fix is to exit the game, delete old saves and you’re good to go. The developers are aware of the issue, but unfortunately modifying the code risked breaking the entire game, so there is this easy workaround that solves the issue. In Windows 7, your save game files are located in your personal folder, in the folder conveniently named Saved Games. Sure, this problem is a bit crappy, but considering that it happened to me once throughout all seven chapters of the game, I hardly think of it as game breaking, especially since I only lost five minutes of progress when I discovered that I couldn’t save anymore. If you’re really worried, or if you’re someone that saves all the time, then you can easily avoid all potential trouble by just clearing up old saves before you start playing. It’s great though that when you save, your game saves on the exact spot.
Those who know me as a reviewer will know that I pride myself on sticking to honesty in my opinion as much as possible. If I’m the only one in the world who thinks something is good or bad, I won’t buckle on what I feel. I don’t sugarcoat or puff up things, and try my best to just say it like it is and be as impartial as possible. I bring this up because, as bluntly as I can put it, I don’t care about The Cat Lady’s few flaws. I really don’t. None of them impact the experience in any significant way at all, and making an issue out of them would be nitpicking. I mean, the save issue itself takes a few effortless seconds to avoid or fix entirely, and the occasional problem with the walking animation is too minor to fuss about. That leaves me with practically nothing major to criticize the game for, and that’s just fantastic.
The Cat Lady is hands down one of the most disturbing, thrilling and memorable games I have ever played. It’s absolutely brilliant, and a wonderful achievement. It’s certainly not a game for everybody, but if you have a strong stomach and an attraction to haunting or overly dark things, then I can recommend few better games than this. In a perfect world, I’d encourage every gamer out there to play this. It’s that good, and it’s clear proof of how seriously you can take video games as a form of artistic expression. At the very least, it’s an excellent example of how well video games can handle mature and controversial content. But then again, we always knew that games are capable of it.