I used to be a much bigger horror enthusiast when I was younger. In the last decade or so I had turned into a scaredy-cat really. The pop culture representing horror mostly with unnecessary gore and jump scares and the horrible overuse of zombies just made me less drawn to the genre. But recently I’ve found horror again with the help of some surreal and aesthetically interesting experiences, focusing on the psychological dread rather than running away from axe-murderers. And I find things like the TV show Hannibal and this indie game something very artistic and beautiful even in their more grotesque parts.
I had The Cat Lady in my GoG library for a long time and I heard tons of good things about it but never actually got to the playing part, until it was chosen as a community playthrough game in Adventure Gamers Forum. And while a bunch of us were playing and praising the game, the developer himself (Remigiusz Michalski) joined us and told us bits and pieces about making the game as we progressed.
The Cat Lady tells a story of a Susan, a depressed and withdrawn middle-aged woman, who is feeding some stray cats and considers them her only friends. At the beginning of the game she has already decided to take her own life. Somewhere between life and death she wakes up in a surreal world and begins a disturbing yet touching journey divided into seven chapters.
The game handles many psychological adult themes in addition to the obvious depression and suicide. It’s also rather gory and violent, so it’s not really suitable for other than mature audience. But despite the gore and often disturbing atmosphere, it’s not a game designed to scare the crap out of people, the horror stays more on the psychological angles aside from a few scares here and there. It’s also not possible to play yourself into a dead end or game over, so the game is somewhat safe to play even for all the scaredy-cats. There are some multiple choice scenarios and some of the choices may effect the ending of the game.
The Cat Lady is certainly something I would recommend to all adults. Even to the people that have not played many games – the story should keep them interested and it’s very easy to get into: at no point is the game very challenging. It has a very nice length for an adventure, I clocked 10 hours – though I did try out some alternate choices in the end.
The gameplay is surprisingly good and shows the versatility of the AGS engine. In the side scrolling environments Susan is controlled with the arrow keys. The game provides a tutorial for the simple controls in the first chapter. The story is not told linearly but the player gets used to the pace rather fast. Also the surreal and realistic parts keep alternating throughout the game.
The visuals are really beautiful considering the resolution, and the artistic style definitely pleases me. The voice actors and the music is superb creating the perfect atmosphere. The soundtrack is available in spotify. It’s rather incredible what could be done with a non-existent budget.
Still, the story is the heart of the game. Rarely is depression depicted this well and shown to us by a completely relatable protagonist. Along the way the player also encounters other charming and well written characters, as well as some very scary and disturbing ones. This gaming experience was one of the best in many, many years and definitely deserves a perfect score.