The Cat Lady review
The Good:

Amazing story that maturely delves into raw human emotion; inspired artistic vision; fantastic voice acting; real scares; integrated gameplay that fits naturally in this very unnatural world.

The Bad:

The more-is-more gore factor may push some gamers away; minor overuse of music on occasion; some tidying up of exhausted dialogue trees needed.

Our Verdict:

The Cat Lady uses the framework of a horror story to set up a truly mature and moving portrait of a woman attempting to claw her way out of pain and sadness.

People call her the cat lady. Haggard and grim, Susan Ashworth is a cipher in her own life. Everyone thinks they know what she’s all about, but how can that be possible when even she doesn’t know? In a story that packs one emotional punch after the other, Harvester Games’ The Cat Lady melds story, gameplay, and atmosphere into a mental wrecking ball that will destroy your preconceptions about this woman and about how adventure games can provide insight into the deepest of human feelings. Its high level of gore will place it in the do-not-play column for some, but for everyone else even a few rough edges can easily be overlooked in this great piece of interactive storytelling.

Let’s get the gore out of the way first. This is an unapologetically adult game that deals with mature themes; in fact, the game opens with a blood red warning about the horrific scenes, sexual content, and violence that await within. Torture, cannibalism, attempted rape, mutilation; they’re all here in abundance. But the violence is certainly not the point of the game. Yes, gallons of virtual blood, viscera, melted faces, and more are splashed across the screen. And there are genuine scares and tension served up throughout the game. But that is really only the vehicle for telling the story of a woman literally and metaphysically fighting for her life. The emotional trauma that she suffers, and whether she eventually overcomes this with the help of a woman named Mitzi, is the real heart of the story.

Susan lives alone in her apartment. She does not have cats, but when she plays her piano the local felines are drawn to the music. She lives her life to the beat of a clock, shaped like a cat, its tail rhythmically beating out the seconds of her life. Always a failure in life, tonight she has failed even at suicide. Instead of dying, she wakes up and finds herself in a strange, surreal world, walking alone through fields of swaying wheat set against a cornflower blue sky.

In this side-scrolling third-person adventure, the controls are unusual but simple, using the left and right arrow keys to guide Susan in either direction. As you move, hotspots highlight when you pass over them, at which point you’ll use the up arrow to interact with them and can then scroll through a variety of actions (use, take, and other object-specific tasks). Once objects are added to your inventory menu at the bottom of the screen, the down button accesses it. In fact, you can play through the entire game just using the enter and arrow buttons on your keyboard with one hand. It took me a short time to get used to the controls, but once I did, I was able to move through the game without even thinking about it.

Inventory, dialogue, and logic puzzles are all well integrated into the story. Upon Susan's return from the world between life and death, she’ll need to escape a variety of scenarios, from hospitals to make-shift prisons and torture chambers. She’ll also need to break into rooms to gather information. Indie developer Rem Michalski blurs the line between reality and fantasy as the set-up for several ingenious puzzles that will have you complete actions in one reality to affect another. Even straightforward tasks become more difficult when Susan encounters them in a dream world where you don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. Opening a series of doors, for example, is no simple matter of going down the line until you find the one you need; you’ll need to investigate the clues around you to determine in which order to enter them.

You will never carry too many items at any time, and for the most part the inventory puzzles all make logical sense, whether you’re trying to flee from a suicide watch ward or scare the wits out of a bully. You’ll eventually get to use Mitzi to help you pick locks (a welcome change from having to search high and low for all manner of keys). Briefly adding an interesting twist is a pair of mental gauges, one of which pushes Susan over the edge into a mental breakdown if you have her do too many distressing things. The other you must fill by completing a series of tasks that soothe Susan enough for her to sleep. You’ll also get to play as a cat at one point, figuring out how to navigate several rooms as a feline would. Other characters may ask you to recite facts to make sure you were listening. As in real life, you can’t get away with just nodding and zoning out. This isn’t a chore, however, because the story and dialogue are so interesting.

It will take a while to get to know who Susan is and how she ended up downing a bottle full of sleeping pills. Starting in a fever-dream resulting from the coma she has fallen into, Susan wanders through fields and woods littered with burned out cars, pigs’ heads, and a mysterious crow. Nothing made sense to me in the opening chapter, but when I stopped and listened to the sounds around me, I eventually discovered what to do. As the imagery increasingly descends into madness (the carcass of a dead deer swarming with flies is particularly nasty), something awful happens in a smear of blood and you smack into the game’s opening credits and The Cat Lady officially begins.

The rest of the seven chapters have you following Susan on a nightmarish journey of self-discovery. Clearly she is depressed, but you will have to play through the entire story before learning why. During this mental exploration, Susan will meet characters that seem both real and fantastical: An old woman in the woods is called the Queen of Maggots by some. Is she death? Evil? This woman starts Susan on a journey to defeat five people she refers to as parasites. Murderers and deviants, they want to hurt or destroy Susan, so she must eliminate them as she would – in the Queen's words – remove weeds from a garden. Is it purely a matter of survival? Do you kill them to protect yourself or even to save others from harm? These are questions the game will pose as you navigate through dark moral waters.

Along the way, Susan will meet with a variety of memorable people, including a deranged couple with unusual tastes; the young woman, Mitzi, who breaks into Susan’s apartment only to save her life; a murderous suitor; and a friendly-seeming night nurse. A creepy psychiatrist with a slow and measured voice views his patients’ minds as art canvasses upon which he can practice his therapeutic arts. Who is real, and who are only figments of Susan’s mind, was not clear to me the first time through and may still not be clear after subsequent replays.

Nor could I tell whether Susan was a reliable narrator. She’s on drugs some of the time, many of which have hallucinatory side effects. Rather than drawing straight lines through seemingly allegorical characters and settings to literal meanings, I chose to give myself up to the waves of unreality the game crashes over you, letting myself be dragged under. Despite the variety of characters and symbolism (crucifixes, reflections, eyes, blindness) throughout the game, there are two main stories that you’ll be following: You’re discovering what happens to Susan as she tries to find and fight the five parasites, and looking for a man who was indirectly responsible for Mitzi’s boyfriend’s death.

The backdrop to these journeys is a jagged-edged, multi-layered aesthetic that revels in the use of color to set the mood. The designer’s color palette is one of death, blood, and miasma. Like a maestro of hues, Michalski uses colors to increase tension and then release it. Early on, Susan moves out of the burnt autumn colors of sienna, wine, and harvest yellow and into a black and white underground garage dominated by a blood red car. Color is used so well to evoke horror that I swear I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw a blue sky filled with white fluffy clouds.

Outside a few brief moments of respite, the game is stark and industrial with a film of surrealism clinging to everything, as if Trent Reznor fell asleep and dreamt of Dali. Everywhere you look, little details add another layer of interest and meaning. The old woman in the woods wears a black dress, but is it just how the light lays on the fabric, or does it conceal the outline of a skeleton? Elsewhere, lights – more of a glow really – slowly pulse in the background, echoing a heartbeat. Characters walk, lurch, or float through the air depending on their state of mind or madness. You will explore many diverse scenes, from woods haunted by evil to sterile hospitals to shipyards and apartment buildings.

Continued on the next page...



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Game Info

The Cat Lady

Platform:
PC

Genre:
Horror

Developer:
Harvester Games


Game Page »

Digital December 1 2012 Screen 7

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The Cat Lady

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User Score

Average based on 28 ratings

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User Reviews

Posted by chamade on Apr 28, 2014

Good story, intuitive gameplay

I finished this game recently and have to say that it was a very immersive experience. The main character is a woman who obviously battles... Read the review »

Posted by Spelfie on Sep 22, 2013

morbid, dark, and messes with your mind :)

Had a couple of times where I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do. The cut scenes and lengthy dialogs would have been better if I... Read the review »

Posted by axkreep on May 29, 2013

Amazing

The Cat Lady is an excellent game with a good story line and character plot. The only thing I was not fond of was the choice of Susan's... Read the review »

Posted by PadanFain on May 17, 2013

A messy but interesting thing

Well... A good game. Not excellent. The story drags too much in places and changes tone considerably every hour or so. So-much-so that it... Read the review »



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About the Author
Merlina McGovern
Staff Writer

Comments

MoonBird MoonBird
Dec 12, 2012

Those graphics are just plain bad.

Manuel Manuel
Dec 12, 2012

This year we had some really good indie games that got really high scores ( Resonance, Primordia, Cat Lady) and that makes me happy because of all the effort that the developers put into these games. I still havn´t played The cat lady because I waited to see the review here, and now I really want to play it because the last horror adventure game I played was Amnesia and that was quite some time ago. Also I noticed that lately lots of games are getting high scores and I hope that the reason for this is that the games are getting better and not that the reviewers are giving high scores too easily..

zane
Dec 12, 2012

hmm going to take a risk and get this game.

Drolin Drolin
Dec 12, 2012

Artistically amazing, after Lost Crown another visual eye-candy. Looking forward to try it (but need to finish Donna:AoB first).

Niclas Niclas
Dec 13, 2012

It seems like a really interesting game, but I think that I have to give it a miss because of the extremely gory theme. Not a big fan of that.

Sefir Sefir
Dec 13, 2012

I bought it yesterday and thus far I am really impressed!! The sensation is really tense!! However, the controls are a little odd. The game shouts “Make me a pure Point ‘n click instead”.
Those graphics are just plain awsome and one of the main reasons I bought the game!! Beautiful and creepy at the same time!! They remind me of certain famous paintings…IMO their artistic choices in the game is really spot on!!

TrevorNZ
Dec 13, 2012

I quite liked the demo of The Cat Lady so I will probably buy it Smile

zane
Dec 13, 2012

iv played for a few hours now.. first things first.. the sluggish animations and drawn out dialogues are a pain and initially i wasnt sure how long i was going to play. That said, im now hopelessly addicted.. the story is completely engrossing and the puzzles are pretty good.

SamuelGordon SamuelGordon
Dec 13, 2012

I absolutely love the style, it reminds me of Donna : Avenger of Blood (god i love that game!). Over the top gore is also not my thing but it doesn’t bother me.

Edit: I just finished it, score is way off imo. The real scares are not scary at all, the tiresome life is worth it preaching, disappointing cat lady backstory, over the top “parasites” (shallow evil archtype), all the endings are pretty much the same (one sentence changes). Too easy puzzles, way too easy! Voice acting is awesome except the doctor and the husband, those irked me! Story is..huh, weird but it’s fun. Amazing music & style. I just wished they would stop with the overthetop serial killers, i expected more human enemies. Anyways..

This is a good game i’d probably give it 3,5/5

zane
Dec 17, 2012

I finished. And i liked it. However, i cant help but address some of the points in the good/bad section of the review. First of all.. fantastic voice acting? The main characters voice acting was good. Most other characters were either bad, or sounded like they were talking into a very cheap mic (namely mitzi). Some characters were painful to listen to (such as doctor x). Next, it absolutely must be said for cons of this game, that both animations and dialogues are full of awkward pauses. Again and again i found myself going “i get it, i get it, i get it, move on.” Also the “minor overuse” of music and sound effects is much more than minor, but luckily the music is good and provides a strong atmosphere. In fact its the atmosphere and artistic vision that make the game ultimately shine. Its a memorable experience to be sure.

Sefir Sefir
Dec 18, 2012

Finished it yestreday. Great game and atmosphere. The graphics were just an eye candy, the music was almost excellent and the scary moments were really good. While the storyline wasn’t bad, I expected better. The parasites were a dissapointment to me too, since I would have liked more psychological, unexpected evil from their side and less archetypical gore evil. In many aspects the game reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic books (that’s good). The controls were really weird too me at first, but I got used to it after a while. Generally, a very good and, most importantly, unique game that deserves lots of praise.

anonimen
Dec 30, 2012

Very arty. I would say punk.

A bit too wordy, but I guess this is intentional. Good writing though.

I don’t think that the gore is over the top. It is as much as it has to be and fits the story.

nrkist
Jan 7, 2013

I kinda disagree with most of the assessment of the game, though I don’t regret playing it.  I enjoyed the art and atmosphere very much.  Unfortunately, the controls were extremely clunky and the animations often frustratingly ponderous.  Lastly, while I liked the plot, the ‘dialogue’ was exasperating.  If a character isn’t clumsily beating you with an exposition stick couched as ‘dialogue’ between two characters, they are simply reiterating something they said earlier.  All 5 paragraphs of it…

There are seriously monotonous segments that turn up over and over again that ‘play’ like this: “I’m a failure<click>A complete failure<click>I have failed everyone that ever cared about me<click>I even failed myself<click>At every turn, dogged by failure<click>Clinging to me like some invisible shade…whispering it’s dark and bitter truth<sigh, massage temples, Click>  The only truth that matters…<CLIIIIICK>I have been, and always will be…<CLICKETY-CLICKETY-CLICKETY>A failure…<CLICK-CLICK-SMASH-SMASH-SMASH> ...I can’t remember a time I wasn’t a failure<SMASH (you begin contemplating whether or not the writer is trolling you at this point)>...”

Now imagine a monotone recitation of the above, at about half normal talking speed, that takes approx 3 minutes to get through.

evilronald evilronald
Jan 28, 2013

I thought the graphics and style of them was actually pretty good, it has a great atmosphere too. Though i agree with other posts here that the animation isn’t the best. Still, a good game though overall i thought.

Interplay Interplay
Feb 6, 2013

This is a brilliant game.  It’s definitely one of the most unique adventure games (or games period) that I’ve played in the last few years.  I would put this in a group with Resonance as one of the very few games that are shaking up the status quo of our genre.  I’m a little surprised this game hasn’t been getting more of a response, especially from the core audience of this site.  I’m guessing many may have been turned off by the subject matter, or will think this is just a run-of-the-mill “scary” adventure game.  I must admit the game is pitch dark.  It’s not one of those games I could play for several hours at a time, because it’s kind of a downer.  But I think it is definitely something I’ll pick up again in years to come.  And I think it could be a very influential game if it finds a bigger audience (maybe it’ll get some Aggie love to remind people it exists).  As an aside, I think the voice actor playing Mitzi was great - I could listen to her character all day long.

marvio
Feb 12, 2013

WOW! This has been the first, the VERY FIRST, adventure game that “did it” for me, and I’ve been playing games in general, for a very long time. This, for those of you who remember some of my arguments on this site, is what I was talking about when I said things like” I want a game that will engage me as much as a book, in which the story challenges you.”
.
Sefir,
Quite frankly you just didn’t get it my friend, what you want is fantasy, deep psychological deconstruction of the mind, but guess what? That’s not life,  and that’s exactly why the story in this game is deeply disturbing, it’s just real, too real. To tell you the truth, had they gone down that path, I would have probably written this off as ramblings of a teenager, I just have no patience for that, been there, done that, a long time ago. Life just happen to you, you know what I mean?
.
To address some of the complaints in other posts…
The animation:
I thought they fit the art direction and game mood perfectly, they were never supposed to be perfectly smooth animations, it reminds me a lot of cut out animations, ala Terrence Glliam, obviously with a completly different mood, the very pace and dragging feel of it adds to the tension of the game, you can almost feel the pain of the main character by the way she walks, and that’s just brilliant, it’s almost a case study in character animation, really.
.
Dialogs:
Yeah, there were a lot of them which were just painful to go trough, off the top of my head, the fight between main character and her husband, and the final meet with the old lady. Very strange how the author could craft such an impressive over arching story but leave so much to be desired in the dialogs.
.
Technical aspects:
NRkist, I believe that’s what you were referring to? The acting is actually pretty good, but the technical part of the voice over was just a mess, with POP’s throughout, and the young girl’s voice obviously recorded iin a different place, with a different mic (and cheap mic, by the sound of the EQ profile) and then compressed to hell. There’s is no reason in the world for this, the equipment to record professional level voice overs can be had for less than 100 bucks, add to that some really basic recording techniques, which anyone could learn over “Youtube”, and there you go. So yeah, the technical part of the voice over really is inexcusable.

Having said that… I don’t care that the dialogs sometimes were painful, or even that the audio was terrible (as far as the voices), this is, hands down, the best adventure game I have ever played, I have always said I play adventure games for the story, first, I guess I’m not in the majority in that regard? I always though if I want puzzles I can buy a puzzle game, but I digress. And as far as stories go, you can’t ask for a more mature, well written and thoughtful story about depression, lost of loved ones and what it does to your life

Gonzosports Gonzosports
Feb 25, 2013

This is a terrific review, Merlina - thank you. It’s an awesome game. The best I’ve played in years. I’m recommending this to anyone who is interested in interactive fiction. Immersive. Adult. Unforgettable.

rjk rjk
Feb 25, 2013

I haven’t played any adventure in quite a time (school was just killing me). Decided to check few recent decent releases I’ve missed and chose “The Cat Lady”, “Resonance” and “Gemini Rue”. Will come back here in some time after actually playing the game.

rjk rjk
Oct 23, 2013

It could be a little better technically, as the gameplay ocassionally feels limited. Other than than it’s stunning. Maybe the most amitious story I’ve ever seen in a PC game (“Faust: Seven Games of Soul” comes to my mind…). It also has few moments of true beauty that you rarely see in a video game. Has my full recommendation.

ChaosHydrA ChaosHydrA
Oct 29, 2013

Just finished this my god this game… this game is simply beautiful i havent seen anything like it or played a adventure game this great and captivating since The Longest Journey/Discworld Noir. The Cat Lady simply has the whole package, well written dialogue, humour, obscurity and a dark theme.

The puzzles might not be the hardest ones in a adventure game but they felt very enjoyable due to the pacing and captivating style and never made the player choke in frustration over a puzzle the perfect balance of delivering a well paced game with just enough puzzle difficulty to get a fullfillment.

There is some dialogue that can be heavy at parts but overall it grows on you, and while it felt somewhat bizarre with a couple of the characters accents ie french/german sounding one of the characters it was overall well delivered i never felt annoyed by any of the voices from Chapter 2 and onwards.

The music and artstyle in this game is simply on a league of its own, its disturbing as hell in a really good way and the music jumps back and forth in style and sets a fantastic mood for the player to enjoy. 10/10

Irongiant909
Dec 8, 2013

I see that this wonderful game is now available on good old Steam. Smile



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