The cat ladies have don’t have the easiest of lives. Every day they need to feed their screeching feline army and argue with the annoyed neighbors while at the same time deal with bad PR from The Simpsons and being portrayed as an internet meme. But the sociology had taken them under their wings and has been busy giving them back their humanity and adding the tragic layers of solitude in the social world to their public image.
The Cat Lady, the game, fits into all this in two ways. It is a story of a depressed cat-sympathetic woman who we meet at the moment of her death and then trying to deal with the aftermath, or rather the second chance she is given. So, the humorous interpretation is taken off the board at the start – this is serious and quickly becomes gruesome too as she walks into a dream-like land full of death.
Moreover, this is a horror title with a connection to the exploitation genre – true emotions and suffering of the protagonist intertwine with over-the-top serial killers getting their faces stabbed in fits of rage enacted to quench a thirst for bloody justice. The horror element so very clear in the surreal beginning of the game is replaced with a grounded experience of dirty lonely life. I had my problems with this, because that constantly changing forest riddled with bodies, was a promise of an otherworldly game.
Then again, the shifting of gears from phantasmagoric to down to earth is neither abrupt nor lasting. The creepy visits to the other side of reality are still encountered in later parts of the game and I find them as my most memorable and most fun moments of The Cat Lady. But, of course, they are not the main dish. That titles is reserved for the story of a woman getting back the control over her life. She claws her way out of the terrible depression by dealing head to head with a dreadfully sad and strangely drastic world filled to the brim with disturbed individuals.
Though, I find the intrigue to be truly fantastic, the gameplay at the start is beyond simplistic and straightforward. The game doesn’t support a mouse and instead is controlled with directional keys which is blasphemous to the oldschool adventure games’ spirit, but in this case is also quite elegant and comfortable. The Cat Lady is just incredibly streamlined. There is no chance to miss an item or a place of interest because they light up when you pass by. Fortunately, in the second part of the game, the possibilities open up and there is some item-on-item action to be had, but challenges are relatively small throughout.
The creator was quite clearly mostly concerned with the story and didn’t want the gameplay to get in the way. Although player’s actions can’t really change how the narrative unfolds, there is a chance to individualize the experience through dialog interaction. I mean, it’s mostly about creating the illusion that your choices count, but still it can be fun – you can speak your mind to a number of arrogant characters which I think is quite cathartic. And awesome.
Crucial to the experience is also the peculiar artstyle of the game. It’s a colorless photoshopped creation which sometimes look like cutouts, and sometimes like a strange mixture of computer-generated and drawn pictures. It’s effective in creating a consistent vision of this sad reality, but isn’t always so consistent in looking good. Actually, my first thought about the game was that the screenshots are somewhat poor. There is clearly a lot of Photoshop action going in the backgrounds, thing get muddied at times and the characters are less detailed. But in-game it just works, and has a visible charm. It can also be rather beautiful when all the right elements fall into place.
Musically, the game is quite varied. There are sounds torn out from dead computers but live instruments also get a chance to play and ooze some creepy atmosphere. It’s all appropriate and well-adjusted to the happenings on the screen. Sometimes simple yet extremely effective. There are even parts of the game where vocal songs are used to emphasize certain plot twists and emotional conundrums. It’s all very filmic, but in context they work very well. Also, worth mentioning is the dubbing of The Cat Lady. Lynsey Frost voicing the protagonist has a very calm voice that feels quite perfect for the main character. The rest of the cast does a wonderful job too, though sound mixing isn’t always perfect for some of the secondary characters. But the overall quality is very high for an indie production.
At first glance, The Cat Lady isn’t the most alluring of adventure games. For the most part, it feels like a short story masquerading as a game. But that story is incredibly engrossing and the photo-warped graphics are original and atmospheric. The horror is masterful but the game doesn’t lose sight of the emotional impact which can be powerful and quite unexpected. In my opinion, it’s a must-play for fans of horror that doesn’t aim to strictly entertain through shallow violence, because The Cat Lady skillfully balances between dread and gore.