Review

The Cat Lady Review

  • Game release: December 7, 2012
  • Reviewed:
  • PC

Nine lives.

Suicide is final. Unless, that is, you are Susan Ashworth, the Cat Lady. A bouquet of flowers is a symbol of love, unless you are Susan Ashworth, for whom they are a reminder of loss. If you're Susan Ashworth, life isn't fair--even after you've exorcised the most harmful demons from your soul.

The Cat Lady is Susan's story--a story of painful tragedy and cautious redemption, disguised as a horror adventure game. And it is at Susan's end that the story begins.

The surreal field you traverse in the opening minutes is at turns beautiful and horrific, just as you might term The Cat Lady's overall visual language. Susan looks as though she's been cut from a magazine and superimposed onto old Polaroid photos. She and other characters move gracelessly, and simple facial animations simulate only the vaguest of lip motions. It's a weird and striking look, and one that allows certain sequences to land with a weighty thud, leaving you feeling anxious, shocked, or melancholy. The surreality of The Cat Lady's characters is most evident in two women that provide Susan plenty of grief--one of which you meet after Susan has already decided that death is preferable to the grief of living.

If you're Susan Ashworth, life isn't fair--even after you've exorcised the most harmful demons from your soul.

One person's art is another's tragedy.

But even in death, Susan cannot find comfort. The old woman Susan encounters in this odd afterlife wants to strike a bargain, and Susan finds herself powerless to resist. There are monsters lurking in the world of the living, and if she hopes to find peace, Susan must vanquish them on behalf of this hag, this obstacle between her and her final rest. Just a few drops of blood should seal the deal.

The drops of blood you shed, however, are more than a few. And in return for her services, Susan receives the "gift" of temporary immortality--a gift that, for the suicidal, is a horrific curse. That first gruesome glimpse of bloodshed is an emotional bludgeon, and The Cat Lady smartly balances moments of quiet sadness with similar scenes of rage and misery throughout the game. It's important to note, however, that as shocking as some of these scenes are, they are not gratuitous, though at first they may seem so. Rather, The Cat Lady draws important parallels between Susan's suffering and the monsters she's been sent to annihilate. These monsters are incredibly, terrifyingly real, but they represent the depressed individual's enemies. And as anyone with depression might tell you, internal demons cannot be painlessly subdued.

The Cat Lady draws important parallels between Susan's suffering and the monsters she's been sent to annihilate.

The first of seven chapters effectively simulates Susan's confusion as she awakes in the hospital to find a sweet nurse at her side. But Susan is not inclined to share much about herself, and so early events, such as her reaction to a bouquet of flowers, are subtle mysteries that later become enlightened. Progressing is a matter of wandering from left to right with the arrow keys, accumulating objects, speaking with others, and solving puzzles by using those objects in particular ways. I was never stumped, but nor was The Cat Lady a complete cakewalk, though it isn't the challenge that the puzzles present so much as the atmosphere they create that makes them so interesting. To solve one early puzzle, for example, you must allow a psychiatric nurse to inject you with God knows what. You then find yourself in a foggy mental purgatory you must explore to move the story forward.

It's hard to recognize beauty when you view it through a blackened lens.

I know this haze. I've survived a suicide attempt, and I spent years in and out of hospitals as I traveled the road to recovery. The Cat Lady deftly depicts events and emotions I've experienced--the defiance toward doctors, the feelings of worthlessness, the mistrust of anyone attempting to get too close. More importantly, however, it also depicts the long road to recovery, and does so without sugarcoating the painful realities of life. For Susan, true hope first arrives in the form of a young woman named Mitzi. Mitzi's life is no less troubled than Susan's, but her manner of dealing with her hardships is far different, though not necessarily any less violent.

The two bond over one of The Cat Lady's more interesting mysteries, and the one that leads to the game's final catharsis. The puzzles throughout the later chapters become both more macabre and more playful. My favorite among them involves frightening Susan's upstairs neighbor, a sequence that's told in flash-forward as you describe to Mitzi the urban legend that inspired your prank. You can mold the outcome of certain story events in this chapter and others, though sometimes, the dialogue choices are more about building up your own image of Susan than they are actually steering the plot.

The puzzles throughout the later chapters become both more macabre and more playful.

Cats love piano music., it seems. Or at least, Susan's playing.

Perhaps you come to The Cat Lady for the creep factor rather than for the remarkably human, empathetic story. There are a good number of eccentric and disruptive scenes, including one featuring a malformed, convulsive figure that shouts "misery!" when you approach. These scenes are carefully constructed for maximum effect so that even if you see the consequence coming (as I did in a puzzle involving some intricate machinery), you're still startled (as I was when I finished the puzzle). The horror is all the more effective for the quiet scenes that precede them, such as a flashback sequence that uses superimposed text to terrific, dramatic effect--and reveals the events that led to Susan's bottomward spiral.

Both Susan and Mitzi are ably voiced, as is much of the supporting cast. As Susan grows more confident, so too does the actress's performance crescendo from passionless victim to assertive companion. There are a few weak performances, a fast-talking Scottish mother among them, but it's the audio's recording quality that most detracts from the story. The voice-over often changes volume or tone abruptly, as if that particular line were recorded on a different day, in a different room, with a different microphone. Certain events, such as a ghastly one involving a bottle of bleach, are noticeably quiet, as if the intended voice-over and sound effects were never inserted. These aren't major issues, but given how important the sound and performances are in encouraging you to invest in Susan's struggles, they still stand out.

For Susan Ashworth, suicide is meant to be a way out, but it instead becomes a way forward. If you seek horror, The Cat Lady may sometimes freak you out, though probably not outright scare you. But that horror is in service of a touching character portrait--a portrait that's authentically, poignantly askew.

The Good
Story is both unnerving and heartfelt
Logical puzzles that match the story's somber mood
Laudable depiction of depression and those that suffer from it
Multiple standout moments
The Bad
A variety of audio issues that detract from the ambience
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Kevin VanOrd owns only one cat, but he was still invested in The Cat Lady's titular character. He finished the game in about six hours.

Discussion

36 comments
sseng587
sseng587

thank you for reviewing this game!

C-10
C-10

Played the demo for a bit but found the voice acting too distractingly bad to finish. The dialogue sounded wooden and forced. It's like the actors recorded their lines separately instead of being in the same room with each other.

9thheretic
9thheretic

Loved it. It is a Horror that makes You want to Live dispite all the surrounding atrocities. A Deep and Soulful Story. 11 out of 10.

firetraq
firetraq

Why are games being reviewed years after release?

pip3dream
pip3dream

Better late than never, right?  I'm pleased Kevin brought this game to light - I didn't know about it, and will definitely be purchasing it now.  I do love me some dark tragedy.  Thanks Kevin.

SandRunneR
SandRunneR

I had no prior knowledge of this game. Seems interesting. Thanks Kevin.

meatz666
meatz666

The design reminds me Darkseed.

Should take a look.

SipahSalar
SipahSalar

A very late review. I added this game to playlist more than a year ago.

Business_Fun
Business_Fun

So it's not about the cat lady from The Simpsons? Bit of a missed opportunity there :) "Press T to throw cats", or something.

bbq_R0ADK1LL
bbq_R0ADK1LL

Very weird game, but if you don't mind a bit or morbid stuff, a really good story driven experience. I started watching a Let's Play & had to buy it for myself.

Essentially it's a point & click adventure game without the point & click. Keyboard controls work well though & it uses the classic adventure game conventions of finding & choosing the right object in the right place. As Kevin says, the voice acting is a bit hit & miss, as are the quality of animations. This is definitely a low budget indie game but the small flaws can be forgiven for success of the overall game.

I'd say certainly not for everyone, but if the aesthetic & theme has intrigued you, definitely give it a go.

DevilD2005
DevilD2005

Thrilled this game got reviewed and it got reveiwed right.

norman69
norman69

Saw a couple Let's Plays of this on Youtube over a year ago, and was really impressed with how it was put together. 


Personally I don't see it as a horror game- more like an interactive story/tragedy with some horror/other-world elements thrown in. It does a fantastic job of depicting someone in the grip of depression too, and some of the 'parasites' you encounter are just absolutely horrific, but you can imagine them existing in the real world.

futur3_jsx
futur3_jsx

As I despise most horror games but a sucker for good stories, I gotta say I loved this game! I saw Cryaotic's walkthrough on youtube and seeing him playing it was actually more fun and climatic! I think it's time to grab it for myself.

CyrenII
CyrenII

Kevin, you are by far the most perfect candidate to review this gem of a game. Excellent review as always. I had a marvellously unique experience with this game.

Kushlius
Kushlius

One the best horror games.

Morphine_OD
Morphine_OD

Why so late? I've played the game a year ago, it's one of the best horror adventures out there if not THE best.

GreenvaleXYZ
GreenvaleXYZ

Cool review, I'm a big fan of the game.  The scene where Susan meets the Pest Control Man outside the apartment is absolutely incredible.  You should check out the developer's previous game, Downfall.  It's a bit more rough around the edges, and can get a little shaky thematically, but still it's pretty good.

c_rakestraw
c_rakestraw moderator moderator

Hearing this was a horror game put me off from it (I really, really don't like horror), but to hear the story is good and handled well is enough to make me reconsider. Sounds intriguing.

ry0uz
ry0uz

I will admit I was originally put off by this game's graphics but this review makes me want to give it a try. Good job.

yeah_28
yeah_28

Nice review, i also watched the HoH episode of it and i got the impression that, no matter how long it may be, or how "fun" is the interaction, its probably a unique game worth experiencing.

hadlee73
hadlee73

This one was featured in a recent House of Horrors Gamespot show with Jess and Zorine. Watching that vid gives a decent idea what to expect.

MrWhalo
MrWhalo

This looks very interesting.

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@firetraq   I happened to play it in my personal time, and decided to review it since we had no review.

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@SipahSalar I happened to play it in my personal time, and decided to review it since we had no review.

heguain
heguain

@NIkoscho Lol, I didn't notice it was a 2012 game. Wow. What a late review... :/

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@Morphine_OD I happened to play it recently, and decided to review it since no review existed. 

cpfast
cpfast

@ry0uz youll come o enjoy the visuals. i wasnt sure about them either, but it is very well done and very atmospheric 

firetraq
firetraq

@Kevin-V @SipahSalar  ok makes sense. Can we get a review of Rise of the Triads, the original one while you are at it. :)

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@heguain I happened to play it recently and felt it deserved a review. 

NIkoscho
NIkoscho

@heguain game was a masterpiece.Interesting art ,best story of 2012 ( the year itself doesnt have many good stories , but this one is pretty good) , awesome licences soundtrack and very very nasty story.

NIkoscho
NIkoscho

@Kevin-Vit the best thing that you made the review the game really deserves it.

cpfast
cpfast

@Kevin-V @heguain i totally agree. It really seemed unfair that this gem was overlooked. It was a really engaging  and mesmerizing gaming experience. One of the few that made me think that games may actually be art. Made with a lot of quality and love, no doubt

The Cat Lady More Info

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  • First Released
    • PC
    • Unix/Linux
    The Cat Lady is a suspenseful psychological horror game features stylized artwork, a simple keyboard control method and English voice acting.
    9.1
    Average User RatingOut of 61 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate The Cat Lady
    Developed by:
    Harvester Games
    Published by:
    Harvester Games, Screen 7
    Genres:
    Adventure