Susan Ashworth’s stress was at its peak. After being reminded of her ever-growing bill pile, being harassed by a crow, and seeing a teddy bear, she was barely holding on from having a breakdown. Thanks to a literal red bar in the corner of the screen, I was able to gauge how close Susan was to cracking. Moving her through the apartment at molasses like pace, I answered the knocking at my door. What greeted me was an ugly-drawn man, who proceeded to scream his head off at me as off-colored text popped up on the screen. During the yelling, I was able to choose a few different responses, none of which felt to have any effect on the out come of this tussle. After the argument was over, control over Susan was ripped from my hands and I watched as she paced around a room accompanied by an awkward soundtrack with vocals. As she punched? a mirror (its hard to tell because of the animations), the music kicked up a notch to sound “heavy”. Heavy music is to sound as close to Linkin Park as possible, apparently.
The Cat Lady is a horror/adventure game made by Harvester Games. Players control Susan Ashworth, a suicidal, depressed women who’s only friends are cats. Susan is given a task to right the wrongs of the world, where she travels between real life, past life, and hallucinations. Most scenarios are small puzzles which must be solved by using and combining certain items to carry out a very specific set of objectives. Along the way, Susan will meet many different characters. With a simple dialog tree, players are allowed to choose different responses when interacting with these people.
Adventure games were huge in the 90’s, games like King’s Quest and Day of the Tentacle were gold standards. The Cat Lady appears to be inspired by games of ol’. So much that, if you have played an adventure game before, you have played The Cat Lady. 2D sidescrolling with very basic controls and HUD. Mechanically, the game works. The arrows are responsive, selecting your items is decent. Good and well. But, there just seems to be no polish to any of it. The items bar in the HUD only fits four pictures, so it is hard to tell how many items you have without coming to a complete stop and shuffling through your inventory. This is made even more annoying by the slow movement rate of the main character. Icons in the HUD are over sized and messy, leading to a pretty ugly interface. To top it all off, you have to backtrack a lot through the same environments to complete puzzles, some of which have transitions around five seconds, which quickly add up when you’re jumping between screens. Mechanically, The Cat Lady is aggravating, especially when you just want to experience the games story, which seems to be its selling point.
One of my favorite books I have read recently is Shutter Island. Mystery, suspense, plot twists, and genuine horror made this a novel I did not want to put down. I always wanted to know what was going to happen next. While The Cat Lady is influenced by older “golden age” adventure games, it is obviously not influenced by any books with decent pacing and story. Susan’s story jumps around from real life, hallucinations, past life, deja vu’s, alternate life, and even different characters perspectives. This leads to a broken narrative that is hard to follow. The promoted “horror” elements of the game are nothing more than jump scares, such as loud noises or sudden appearances.
To coincide with the horror element The Cat Lady’s story consists of dark themes like suicide and murder. Normally, these themes would lead to mystery and suspense, but it never fully blooms. Caring for Susan is tough when she is made very unlikable for the first half of the game. Leading to a lack of motivation to keep Susan safe and sane, removing all suspense from the game. Though the game’s central story is a mess, the acting caught me by surprise. The majority of the voiced dialog is delivered well, making each character feel unique, despite the ugly art style and animations.
The Cat Lady’s “graphics” seem to reflect the overall quality of the game. Ugly, dark and uncomfortable. I am aware that graphics do not make a game in any way, and this was made by an extremely small development team, but there could have been a saving grace to this game if it was at least pretty to look at. In an era of High Definition, forcing gamers to play your game at a resolution of 800×600 is pretty insulting. These were resolution used back in the 90’s. I could either blow up the game to fit my wide-screen monitor, or play it in small window, neither of which appealed to me. Sweeping plains and creepy theaters are not nearly as immersive when you are staring at in through a window nearly half as small as your screen. Through research, I have found out that this is a limitation with the engine the game was developed on. Nevertheless, there are much more beautiful adventure games out there.
With a disappointing story, and a ugly interface, is there any saving grace for this indie adventure? Sadly not. I really wanted to like The Cat Lady. Adventure games are virgin territory for me, so I had nothing but high hopes for this game. With newer, better adventure games either out now, or on the horizon, I simply cannot recommend The Cat Lady. Please spend your 15 dollars on one of Telltale’s adventure games, or a Double Fine game. Have you played through those and you’re still craving for a good story? Go to your local library and check out a book, for free. That is why I brought up Shutter Island earlier. The majority of my play through of The Cat Lady had me wishing I was reading a book instead. What kind of game makes reading a story more fun than playing it?
[+ Good Voice Acting] [- Hard-to-digest story] [- Cheesy scares] [- Ugly interface] [- Poor animations and art style]