The Cat Lady is a psychological horror game that deals with mental health issues, particularly depression, and serial killers. How’s that for a hook?! Well, it worked for me along with a recommendation of a friend who has a pretty good idea of my gaming tastes. After playing it I learned there are two other games related to it, collectively called the Devil Came Through Here trilogy.
Suffice to say, the game includes verbal and/or visual references to depression, suicide, and sexual assault, so if those are triggering topics for you, I’d stop here and also not play any of the games in this series.
The game’s protagonist 40-year-old Susan Ashworth is a woman who is quite isolated from society. Her only friends are the stray cats that visit her patio regularly, including a few that are a bit odd not that she minds. She lives in a flat in a four-story building, with two flats per floor. Her neighbors seem to mostly hate her because of the cats or dislike her for being “weird.”
Suffering from severe depression and with her lack of anyone in her life but the cats, Susan chooses to end her own life. In doing so, she finds herself in a weird, twisted place where everything around her keeps changing. As she wanders back and for, she finds multiple and often grotesque versions of her dead body before eventually finding an old woman who refuses to identify herself but instead makes Susan an offer: deal with five “parasites” (particularly evil humans) in the world and she will give Susan what she’s always wanted. After very reluctantly agreeing (since she really has no choice), Susan is gifted temporarily immortality and wakes up in the mental ward of a hospital.
That is the basic set up that gets you going. From there the game is a fascinating mix of two seemingly different storylines. One, focusing on Susan’s return to a life that she didn’t want, her relations with her neighbors, exploring the past that was a catalyst for her going from what would be called “smiling depression” to full blow, nearly impossible to work or function depression, and her unexpectedly forming a connection with Mitzi, the stranger who found her after her suicide attempt. This part of the story is told primarily through a mix of picking up the hints and clues from Susan’s life when you explore her apartment, her interactions with her neighbors, and her conversations and actions with Mitzi.
On the flip side from these moving and often poignant scenes are Susan’s encounters with the parasites. As promised, they are some of the most twisted, hideous serial killers imaginable and most players will be all on board with taking out and as soon as possible. With each encounter, you must explore the area of operation to find items and solve puzzles to accomplish the goal of killing the parasite. Along the way, Susan usually dies, sometimes multiple times, which aids her in this quest. These scenes of death, both Susans and the killers, tend to be graphic both visually and audibly, so it is really not for the squeamish.
This is a game heavy with metaphors and symbolism, much of which I fully admit went over my head because I am horrible at identifying that kind of thing in any works of fiction. My brain just doesn’t work that way (and yes, I know, odd for a fiction writer LOL). I can “get” some if someone gives me hints at them, where they make sense, but it is hard for me to see them on my own. In the case of The Cat Lady, there are quite a few that I could explore after having it noted they were there and they are awesomely done. I’m sure there are a lot more I missed that likely enrich the experience all the more.
Graphically, this game uses a variety of art styles. Backgrounds are realistically drawn (see screenies), while people are drawn in a mix of pencil/ink with simple shading, kind of. It’s a hard style to describe, and while at first, it’s kind of like “what?” but it really works well. The style changes when characters look towards the screen as well, which is kind of jarring yet again, it works for this specific game. While most of the people and scenes are black and white or very muted in tone, brilliant color is used throughout the game to just plain amazing effect!
The controls are very simple: left and right arrow keys to move, up/down to interact/use items, and the ESC key for saving and loading. Along with picking up and using items, there are many dialog choices throughout the game as well as some task choices, that can influence future conversations and will lead to one of four very different endings.
Overall, this game was really good. The opening was a little triggering for me, but not to the point of making me want to stop playing it, more just take a quick walk around. The story is fantastically done, even if I had a few issues with the way the hospitalization and commitment parts are depicted, but those issues maybe just due to differences between health care systems in the US and UK. With the multiple endings, it does have some replayability. Personally, I will eventually go back to try to get the “good” ending, and I plan to play the other two games from the series to see what the connections are.