The Cat Lady takes you on a descent into the darkest pits of life and death. Will you survive the trip, or lose your mind along the way?
The Cat Lady is just an adventure game in the same way that HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe stories are just short stories – calling them that feels like an understatement. Screen 7′s bizarre adventure is much more than a 2D point-and-click. It’s an experience that will send chills down your spine and keep you up at night fending off nightmares and thoughts of your own mortality.
It’s a deeply disturbing game that follows the life and deaths (yes, deaths) of “Cat Lady”, Susan Ashworth. As soon as the game introduces her, Susan unceremoniously swallows a few handfuls of sleeping pills, says goodbye to her cats, and dies. But instead of moving on to the great beyond, Susan finds herself somewhere between the world of the living and the dead, and meets the woman who will give her a second chance, whether she wants it or not.
Susan’s savior informs her that she has plans for her, and death is not one of them. Instead, Susan is sent back to life with a new purpose: find and eliminate five beings known as the “parasites”, which feed off and harm others. Along the way, Susan is meant to rediscover everything that made life so unbearable for her in the first place – but also find the one thing that makes life worth living. Thus begins your journey through a dark and disjointed world.
Before you get a taste of the story, the game’s visuals and sounds beautifully set up the strange world that you’re meant to explore. The music throws together a piano and occasional vocals that complement the game’s dark tone, while the art style is mostly a harsh black and white with splashes of colour thrown in for emphasis. It’s a hodge-podge of realistic images that look like altered photographs and sketchwork. The result feels like you’re playing through a collage of details layered on top of another.
Down the rabbit hole
Details are also stacked on top of each other to weave together the tale of the Cat Lady and what led up to her desperate attempt to end it all. Susan’s life following her suicide attempt is a chaotic mess of hallucinations and deaths. Thanks to her savior, Susan appears immortal, but she never fully leaves the world of the dead either. The result is a disturbing and often gory mess of a life that makes you question her sanity – and yours.
You might enter a room that was normal a minute ago, for instance, only to find it covered in skulls and blood. Or leave your apartment in the middle of the city and find yourself on an abandoned ship dock instead. You never know what to expect, or whether what you’re seeing is real or not, and the effect is extremely unsettling.
The Cat Lady is more than just an interactive novel, though, and it throws plenty of challenges in your way. These never feel like obstacles for the sake of stalling the game, though. They’re well implemented and usually make perfect sense, even when the world itself doesn’t. In fact, some might consider them too easy. But the game also includes plenty of variety to keep you on your toes. For example, one section takes its cue from Eternal Darkness and tasks you with keeping a sanity meter in check.
In fact, The Cat Lady is a game that will test your sanity throughout. I don’t want to give away any of the story, but it’s a game that gets under your skin and into your mind. It expertly weaves together a story that explores deep topics, and does it well. Depression, suicide, terminal illness, and even threat of rape are among the heavy themes the game takes on. And it’s not afraid to delve into these topics with a bold determination and an affinity for violence. It reminds you that the world is full of monsters and making them go away is never as easy as simply closing your eyes.
The Cat Lady by Screen 7 and Harvester Games is out now for PC.