If there is a great thing about video games, that’s the diversity of themes and ideas one can use. Even though there are games that prefer to totally reject allegory, it’s interesting to see titles like Silent Hill 2, Dreaming Mary or The Crooked Man that mix real life themes and fiction in surreal, twisted and sick ways. The Cat Lady is another title, somewhere between the mystery and horror genre, that tries to speak on the rather harsh realities of our world. Is the result worthy of one’s time? You betcha.
Our protagonist is Susan Ashworth, a woman in her mid-late 30s that loves nothing more than her cats, which is the reason she is known as the “Cat Lady”. Her life isn’t exactly bright and shinny. During the introduction of the game she commits suicide by taking a lethal dose of sleeping pills. But this isn’t the end of her story, not by a long shot. After death she finds herself in an unknown land where she meets an old woman called “The Queen of Maggots”. The latter offers her a second change: Susan’s mission is to kill five evil people called “The Parasites” in order to save herself from her suffering. Until she does so, she is cursed with immortality. Without much of a choice, Susan returns to our world and her adventure begins.
The premise of the game is very intriguing and challenging. If you think the brief is depressing, wait until you play the game. One fucked up personal story comes after the other, making things gloomier with each chapter. When I say fucked up, I really mean it. There is a mix of disturbing themes, from depression and suicide to cannibalism and schizophrenia. In most cases I’d expect the result to be close to what I like to call “repulsion porn”. Put many disturbing elements together and let the player enjoy their consumption. Don’t get me wrong, I love repulsion porn, but this is not the way The Cat Lady treats its plot and characters.
The latter are actually more down to earth than anticipated. Having gone through depression myself, I can relate to many of Susan’s thoughts. As a protagonist she is multidimensional, nothing like your typical “life is shit and I just hate it” cliche. The more I found out about her story, the more I liked and could relate to her. Mitzi is the second most important member of the cast. Thankfully, she works very well in her role as a supplementary character, offering not only many smart and funny replies to Susan’s thoughts, but also her interesting background story -which is more important to the plot than you’d think. As for The Queen of Maggots, in the end she doesn’t take on an active role in the story, so she was indifferent to me.
The “Parasites” are perhaps one of the games weaknesses. Most of them are very typical nutcases of murderers. Especially the Gladys are trying so hard to be bad that end up resembling low budget 1980s gore-film villains. They’d surely be a good duo in one of the Guinea Pig films. Other villains like the Hangman come out of nowhere to make the plot move forward, which makes them more comical than scary. The most interesting of the bad guys is by far The Eye of Adam. I won’t tell more details about him, but I really liked the idea behind his ideology and motivation for his actions. He works as a contrast to Susan, because they both started from desperation but chose different paths.
By all means, the game uses the villains as an end to a mean. They are more of a decorative thing, the fireworks that will attract people to the party, but not the fun they’ll experience once they get there. This is why I don’t view their shallowness and predictability as something negative. After all, this is such an emotionally charged game that it’d make it even harder to play if one had to feel sad for the bad guys too.
Why so much focus on the plot and characters? Because there really isn’t much of a gameplay. In a way, The Cat Lady is a more interactive form of a visual novel, where the player can try a bigger combination of dialogues. Riddles are the only break from plot development. Like the rest of the game they are very surreal, which means that they are often not based on logic. You’ll need to wander around for sometime to understand what you have to do. Still, they are not that difficult or complicated to understand, so I believe most players will enjoy them.
Chapter Two: The Elements of a Morbid Game
In terms of visual, the game is really good. By that I don’t mean to say that it’s flawless; the characters’ movements are very awkward, which makes it harder to control them. I also think the designers could put more work on facial expressions. Still, they made a good use of the available footage and used it like a collage. The emphasis on black and white is in harmony with the theme of depression. Whatever color there is in the game exists to emphasize the gray-scale backgrounds and characters. In general, it is used wisely and that makes a big difference when one doesn’t have a huge budget and 3D graphics to work with.
Dialogues aren’t exactly what one would call state of art. The pauses between each part of the dialogue and the actors’ voices kinda reminded me older works like Resident Evil (1-3) and Silent Hill (1-2). Somehow, that doesn’t lower the overall quality and once the player gets used to them, the voices fit in just fine. As for the music, most of the tracks were written by the band Warmer. It’s truly an awesome soundtrack and it makes the story feel much more alive. Thanks to this game I became Warmer’s fan, so I advice you to check out more of their music and support them. They are truly worth.
Overall, The Cat Lady is a smart, character-based game with some technical problems that are not enough to spoil the fun. It’s so hard to find well made, complicated stories that deal with a list of disturbing subjects, that I can’t call The Cat Lady anything else but a pleasant surprise. Horror fans and those who enjoy morbid themes will love this game. It comes in such a friendly price, that you really shouldn’t miss the opportunity.
If you can’t pay to play the game or if you’ve already played it and want to have a second round, I think you should check out manlybadasshero’s playthrough. He is a pretty good, straight to the point and funny commentator.