The Cat Lady is an astounding game. I can’t recommend it to everyone, but those who are willing to experiment are likely to enjoy a unique experience.
The closest analogue I’ve played is “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”. TCL also features some gore, people in extreme situations and real-world interaction with metaphors come to life. However, there is more to TCL beyond mature subject matter and a lot of blood. Throughout the game, you make many choices. Not always obvious and not necessarily big ones - one of the first choices you make is choosing which of five identical candles to blow out. All of these choices have consequences which defy standard “game solving” logic. You can’t try to keep the high road when choices are so arbitrary. This technique goes a long way towards breaking the player out of the standard gaming mindset and forcing them to experience the story.
Obviously, this works best if you resist the temptation of saving constantly and reloading to see which choices are meaningful and which ultimately do nothing - there is a lot more suspense when you can’t help but second-guess yourself.
In other sections you are asked questions the protagonist would know the answer to, but you, the player, don’t. In a sense, the game lets you write Susan’s history however you see fit. This type of storytelling is fairly innovative and again served to draw me into the game.
Play-wise, the game might be a bit off-putting. It includes a lot of lengthy dialogue and cut scenes, and sometimes you can go as long as 20 minutes without any player interaction.
Interaction varies greatly. In some parts it’s standard adventure fare of using dialogue and inventory to overcome obstacles. In other parts it’s adventuring under heavy narcosis, within dream worlds that have their own sense. Other sections are about navigating a dialogue tree or even just participating in on-screen action by clicking on the keyboard.
The best part is the story. Not the plot itself, but its delivery. The game is directed very, very well. The use of lighting, music, sound and visuals is extremely effective. The horror sections had me clutching my laptop literally scared to further advance the plot. The creepy parts will feature in my nightmares in days to come. The game is sad or scary or exhilarating when it wants to, and it works. I don’t remember the last time I experienced a game so fully.
My only gripe is that you can’t save the game during dialogue or cut scenes. It’s inconvenient if your play sessions might end abruptly.
I don’t want to mince words. This is the type of game the less you know about, the better. Don’t read on the plot, don’t try to reverse engineer what’s going on as you play it and you’re guaranteed a strong experience. The game is not very long (around 5 hours) but it has a lot of replay value - I definitely want to explore what other choices might have led to.
Time Played: 5-10 hours