Before you start thinking about an old, grey haired lady surrounded by cats in a small and smelly apartment, let me stop you by saying that The Cat Lady is significantly different to the image that you might have in your mind right now.
The Cat Lady is a psychological horror indie by Harvester Games, that takes the player through the traumatizing experience of depression and the difficult process of recovering from it; all through the eyes of a lady inflicted with the condition.
Meet Susan Ashworth (aka the cat lady), a 40 year old woman whom you get acquainted with just when she’s about to commit suicide. Despite her wishes to end her suffering through death, Susan finds herself trapped in a place similar to the in-between world, where she is confronted by a bizzare creature known as the Queen of Maggots. The Queen then strikes a deal with Susan, demanding her to end the lives of five indecent humans referred to as ‘parasites’. In return, the Queen gives Susan the last thing any suicidal individual would want to have…Immortality. Being forced into the task, Susan begins her thrilling and murderous adventure, hoping to achieve a peaceful death once she does her part of the deal.
As a Psychological indie, The Cat Lady is absolutely stunning at showing its audience what a chronic state of depression might look like. The gloomy atmosphere, the dead colors and the expressionless characters all present how the world is perceived by someone with depression. It may not make sense to say this, but through the game, one might even realize why the optimistic and positive words of others such as ‘think of something good’ or ‘just be happy’ can’t really help most individuals with depression. In order to change or improve a depressed state of mind, a change or commitment has to come from the inflicted person themselves along with an indirect influence, which is something that I believe The Cat Lady aimed to send as a message. The realistic representation of depression is therefore an exceptional feature which sparks both an academic and humane sense of curiosity in the player to carry on with the twisted game and its intense cinematic moments.
A beautiful work of art has been accomplished by the developers in creating this spectacular indie.
In terms of living up to its genre, The Cat Lady was not as horror filled as expected. There are various scenarios in which one might become stressed or get minor jump scares, but one wouldn’t get a continuously pounding heart by playing the game. On the contrary, some of the dark themed situations can even prove to be disturbingly soothing. Nonetheless, it was notable for its puzzles that would be encountered throughout the entire game. They weren’t necessarily admirable for their difficulty, but mostly commendable for the connections and interactions the player has to make in order to solve them.
Playing as Susan, the audience are able to witness an impressive character development. As challenging as it is to find compassion for Susan’s miserable life with respect to her emotionless character, you will effortlessly come to enjoy her role as The Cat Lady. She is neither a hero, nor a villain; neither right, nor wrong; She is the closest example to neutral that you can find, but hearing and playing the story through Susan gives you a certain type of admiration for that exact neutrality. With the game progression, Susan’s sense of neutrality will become affected by many things which does ultimately have some influence on her fate. In short, Susan Ashworth is an unusually interesting character and her presence in the game is the reason why The Cat Lady needs to be played.
Other factors like side characters, music, dialogues…etc. complement The Cat Lady in and odd yet appropriate way. Many of the game elements can appear most bizarre and uncanny, at times even random; yet, there is a weird harmony between all these elements and from what I experienced by playing the game, a beautiful work of art has been accomplished by the developers in creating this spectacular indie.
Seeing past the engaging story, some of the potentially disappointing things would be the graphics of the game itself. For having such a great story, one would expect for a bit more effort to be put into the graphics and animation, but that is not the case with The Cat Lady and the visuals are highly similar to that of a PlayStation1 game. Whether the low quality graphics were the point? I can’t tell. Nevertheless, it does not really effect my opinion of the story itself, it’s just something that one would not be really impressed by.
The more highlighted issue for me would be the first chapter of the game. The Cat Lady seems and feels very abstract when you start playing it for the first time, and going through the first chapter and trying to make sense of the actual gameplay can be extremely tedious. There is nothing striking that could keep the player enthusiastic upon starting the game, which can sadly prevent a player from continuing. It is only after the first chapter that the developers succeed to catch the player’s interest and attention. Soon after, the player becomes familiar with the game concept and gladly proceeds with Susan Ashworth’s engaging adventure.
In all its simplicity and complexity, the story telling nature of The Cat Lady followed by a genuinely real representation of a person’s struggle with depression truly captures you by mind and soul. It’s a work of art disguised as a video game and even if you’re the type of player that does not necessarily fancy dark themed games, give The Cat Lady a chance. There is a glimpse of light in it bright enough to change your mind.