Hiya folks! Hammy here, after a whirlwind month or two, with some words on one of my favorite subjects…INDIE GAMES!!!
Now, as some may know, I love me some Indie Games. And I REALLY love free indie games. But once in a while, when I’m not broke, I’ll gladly drop a few bucks for a game I think will be a good time. And in this instance, the game I chose to support was The Cat Lady.
The first thing that caught my attention was that it was a “point and click” adventure game. My fondest memories of PC gaming in my youth was playing story and puzzle driven titles like Myst, The 7th Guest, The Journeyman Project Series, and Bad Mojo. So this was right up my alley, to say the least. But when I watched the trailer, I quickly realized that this was NOT a subtle game for children. The art style and creepy atmosphere and haunting soundtrack and terrific voice acting made my heart race…and this was just the TRAILER. I knew I had to play it, and found the price of $11.99 far too reasonable to pass up. So, allow me to walk you through my impressions of the game, SPOILER FREE, and tell you why this game reminds me why I love adventure games.
Harvester Games, the Indie Game Studio behind this game, is all about pointing out their love of mature story telling. And The Cat Lady is certainly mature, what with it’s adult language, nudity, mature themes, and…oh yeah…THE GORE. Cat Lady pulls ZERO PUNCHES in the blood category. But it’s not gory for shock value, as some titles choose to do. The blood and killing and violence is essential for this gritty, emotional tale of human nature and the limits one must reach and even surpass when given no other choice.
At the start of the game, you meet Susan Ashworth, voiced by Lynsey Frost. Susan is a bit troubled, and this is made obvious as we learn that she is committing suicide by prescription drug overdose. Cheery, Ain’t it? And as her life fades to black her final words – according to her suicide note – are simply, “Thanks for nothing…Goodbye.”
NOPE…We find Susan in a field of barley…No, really. You can only assume this is “the afterlife” and there is zero information given about your surroundings. So you walk along, discovering a locked house and more field. Must be Heaven, right?
Again…NOPE. Things quickly get creepy as Susan keeps finding dead bodies around certain locations…what’s worse is that those dead bodies are her. So needless to say, Hell seems a more accurate description of where Susan is. And what’s Hell without a creep-tastic figure found deeper in the the level who loves being called “The Queen of Maggots?”
Now, things get weirder and weirder for Susan as The Queen discusses her plans for her. In order to keep this spoiler free, I’ll just say that the overall goal Susan is stuck with is dealing with 5 people, known as “Parasites.” These people will hurt Susan…and they really REALLY love hurting Susan. Now at this point, we discover a very interesting game mechanic. The dialogue options have different consequences for the story. But they’ve done a terrific job at making those consequences unknown until they explode right in your face much later in the game. You’re left, more often than not, asking yourself, “OH GOD, WHAT HAVE I DONE?!” when you choose a dialogue option that opens a world of WTF. But the game just keeps rolling, leaving you with a feeling of dread and worry in your stomach for what is to come. And that in itself made this game so hard to put down for me. You NEED closure, you NEED answers, and you WANT to fix things for Susan…but you don’t always get what you want, now do you? And this game reminds you of that constantly.
STORY SCORE: 9.5/10
+ Deep story with gut wrenching intensity and immense tension
+ Voice Acting is wonderful and often times spine-shivering
+ Susan Ashworth is one of the most complex characters I’ve had the pleasure of playing as
– Some of the dialogue can run a little long and slow the pace
Now, at the start of this review I said this was a “Point and Click” adventure game. Well, that’s not entirely accurate in this case, though it does have that old school adventure game setup. This entire game is played using the arrow keys and the enter button. Really…that’s it. Now some may say that isn’t a very in-depth control scheme for an adventure game…and those people would be the ones who never played the oldies-but-goldies that used a menu with icons like “LOOK” “TALK” “USE” etc. Susan walks with the Left and Right arrows, interacts with the environment with the Up arrow, and the Down arrow let’s you into your inventory. Which, after playing the game for a long time, became easy to do without a second thought. And there are some moments in the game where you need to be quick on the draw with inventory and environment cues.
There’s not much else to be said about the controls, other than that Harvester Games knows how to give you the simplest control scheme for a game, so all your attention can be focused on the epic story and terrifying imagery this game has to offer.
Gameplay Score: 10/10
+ Easy controls
+ Environment Cues are easy to locate (even in the dark!)
- If you don’t have a keyboard…well you’re screwed…but how do you use your PC if that’s the case?!
If you’re looking for a Next-Gen, 3-d title with lens flare and hair tessellation…then you are S.O.L. for this game. Cat Lady is a 2-d side scrolling adventure with some really great artwork. The character models are rich in detail and subtle animations such as wind swept hair that changes when you face either direction. The color pallet, while mostly grey-scale, throws in some great use of color when it’s needed and never becomes an eye-sore. But the best part of the game for me was the visceral imagery that would flash and twist before my eyes. Cat Lady doesn’t ease you into graphic depictions of horrific events at all, which adds to the punch of terror this game does so well. Even things like a spot of opening credits at the start of the game caused me to shriek like a little girl, just as much as later in the game when I’m greeted by a horrific piece of “art” using a dead body and wires.
You can understand just why this game took 3 years to develop from the amount of love and care that went into every single character model, backdrop, visual effect, and everything else poured into your eyeballs by this game. Not one single area in this game feels safe or normal, and it really puts you into the mind of Susan and just how fragile her mental state is. The worlds bends and warps when she’s at her absolute lowest point, and you can identify with her fear as the game thrusts you into locations that are frightening beyond imagination.
Graphics Score: 10/10
+ Level design and attention to detail perfect
+ Amazing use of color never get’s boring
+ Characters are wonderfully detailed and can invoke such empathy and/or fear
- If you are colorblind, you may miss out on the other colors…but I assure you, Blood is red…REALLY red…
As I said before, the voice acting is fantastic in this game. Most of the dialogue is completely voiced, and some of the characters can be terrifying to listen to. For example, David Firth makes an impressive addition to the cast as a very creepy exterminator in a gas mask. David Firth is no stranger to creepy dialouge and eerie subject matter, as he is the mastermind of such Flash series like Salad Fingers. http://www.fat-pie.com/
But the voice acting isn’t the only thing this game does well. The sound effects, while some are quite familiar for those who frequent stock sound effects websites, are used in the perfect way in regards to timing and effectiveness. The sounds of a knife plunging into someone’s stomach, or the ambient screams of torment from a horribly familiar nightmare, or the god-awful screech of violins doing that horror movie jump scare effect as the game quick cuts to a wall of maggots with disgusting noises to add to the scene works on every level. The sound effects give life to the scene that just works so well. And the music is really great as well, with a score by micAmic that drives the tension and horror through your skull. The game even features some great songs by Warmer and 5iah that play during key moments of the game that match perfectly to the mood at that scene. I’ve found myself humming certain tunes from the game lately…which is kinda sad considering the song I usually go to is a song that plays during a surprising and depressing moment of the game…
SOUND SCORE: 9.5/10
+ Amazing Soundtrack
+ The ambiance can be soothing or terrifying in a heartbeat
- Some sound effects are pretty overused in other popular games and takes away from the experience
Not too many games as of late have been able to get me emotionally, but The Cat Lady has done so with gusto. The puzzles are easy to wrap your brain around and never out of place, the characters are interesting and complex and wonderfully brought to life by great voice acting, the game worlds are hauntingly beautiful in their simplicity and art direction, the story is well-written and brilliantly crafted into an adventure game that reminds me why adventure games were so great in the first place. All in all, I can’t see anyone who loves a great story and/or a thrilling adventure game that wouldn’t love this game. Harvester Games proves once again that a small band of developers who take their time and effort and put forth a work of art on their terms can be such a greater experience for the player. The cons are few and far between in this game, and honestly after playing the game and writing this review, it’s hard to even come up with them.
That’s why I gladly give this game a much deserved 10/10 from someone who is truly a fan of adventure games, and urge any one who loves them to support these wonderful people at Harvester Games and buy their game.
You can get all the info you need at their website: http://www.thecatlady.co.uk/
This is Hammy, signing off.