In honour of Halloween, I’ve dug a game out of the backlog that I know literally nothing about, but which looks mildly spookish. It’s Harvester Games’ The Cat Lady, and I have no idea what it involves except that the thumbnail on Steam looks like it might be a bit freaky, so let’s find out. (PS – I’m doing this under the banner of Roughly an Hour Reviews because it’s going to be a first impression, but due to the nature of the game, it ends up being more of a Let’s Play. Hope that’s okay.)
The game opens with a voiced cutscene (taking me by surprise, for some reason – I think it’s the quality of the voice work, which is beyond what I’d expect from an indie title) about Susan Ashworth. She lives with her cats, and she’s… er… killing herself. She feels a bit bad, if only because she’ll miss the cats – including one named Teacup who watches her in her last moments. Teacup’s a creepy motherfucker. I suspect that if I wanted a bit of a horror-y experience, I might have picked the right game.
Chapter 1 is called ‘House in the Woods’, and given that Susan’s dead, I think we’re probably going to be seeing some creepy shit. We’re dumped with no real explanation into what seems to be a field of corn, with our only available input being to walk left or right. I don’t know whether there’s some sort of secret if you go left, because I’m conditioned by life to go right. (In a nice touch, though, her sprite doesn’t just flip; the wind’s blowing her hair back out of her face if she’s looking right, and blowing it right into her face if she’s looking left.) Seems to be the right decision, anyway; we wander past a house (locked) and find ourselves in a tunnel. The exit’s blocked by an abandoned ambulance, so I turn around to go back, but of course as I’m heading for the exit there’s a creepy noise behind me. The game actually forces me to actively walk towards the noise, which I’m not super happy about.
Oh, look, our own dead body’s fallen out. That’s fun. Isn’t that fun.
In our mouth is a key, and as we head back to the house, the tunnel collapses. Fortunately, we’re not squished, so we’ve narrowly avoided… death… again. Back at the house, there’s a deer now. It wanders off as we approach, but we can now use the key we got from our own dead mouth to open the door to the house, so that’s a win. Inside is a machine that won’t turn on and a hole boarded up with planks that we can’t pull off, so there’s nothing here for us right now. We go after the deer instead. It leads us back the way we came, except it’s no longer a field but a forest filled with burning cars and… our dead body again, hanging up this time.
There’s a key or something around our neck, but we can’t reach it and we can’t untie the rope to get it down. This game seems to like appearing to give you options but then revealing that actually, none of them are viable. We go with our only remaining choice: the door behind the tree.
Oh, nope, even that isn’t an option. Err…. back the way we came, I guess? Again?
Yup, looks like that’s the right option. Susan doesn’t remember this place, thinking she must be lost, and I sort of have to agree with her. It’s disorienting, and I don’t know whether I like it as part of the game’s design; if I come up against a puzzle, I sort of expect to have to solve it rather than the solution be to just walk away. Susan gets startled by a crow on a headstone; the thing that freaks me out more is the… er, collection of animal heads.
What a surprise, this gate doesn’t open either. Back the way we came again, then. The crow pulls the same fly-off-the-gravestone trick, and now we’re back with that abandoned car and I’ve totally lost track of where we’re supposed to be at this point. I guess that’s for deliberate effect, and to be fair it is unnerving me a bit.
We run into the crow a few times; eventually, after going back and forth and achieving seemingly nothing, I decide to try following it, since it sometimes goes left and sometimes right.
Oh, yeah, that’ll be what I was meant to do. Poor deer. I can remove the knife from its body, and I can also unbolt the door to my right to reveal that it opens into the area where my hanging body is. Hm. Hanging. Rope. Knife. I think I see what to do here.
I cut myself down (it’s not very graceful; the sprite just descends stiffly) and get the key.
I’ve got to say, Dead Susan is a lot less haggard than Undead Susan. The key unlocks the gate with all the weird animal heads, and inside is…
CHRIST ANOTHER PERSON THAT’S WEIRDLY FREAKY
She speaks (she’s voiced and not subtitled, so it’s a good thing I’ve got my headphones on)! She welcomes ‘Susan Ashworth’ (SHE KNOWS OUR NAME, HOW CREEPY) to her house, saying she’s been waiting for us; we ask who she is, to which she just asks who we think she is. Helpful. My choices are: death, God, the Devil, an old lady who lives in the woods, or ‘can’t you just tell me already’? I figure she’s probably just a nice old lady, right? A nice old lady who looks a bit like a creepy demonic Susan (and sounds a bit like one too). She says she’s disappointed with that answer, but… I mean… she is an old lady and she is in the woods, so what are we s’posed to think?
We ask her what this place is and what happens next; she answers both questions in a vague and slightly creepy way, then invites us inside her home. Inside, we… just carry on talking, finding out that she goes by many names, but we can call her the ‘Queen of Maggots’, and that she’s apparently been standing behind us for our whole life. She has a slightly dodgy accent, and she wants to help us return to the world of the living (I think; she’s kind of wishy-washy about it) in return for a favour.
She makes us walk into another room, which is kind of pointless, and explains the offer: we get to come back if we’ll… become her hitman. Yeah. She wants us to kill five people, whom she calls ‘parasites’ but about whom she won’t say much else except vagaries and generally that they’re not very nice.
Then we go outside, because why not at least have a change of scenery while we listen to a monologue?
Oh, this isn’t so good. In this room, we pick up a crowbar, which is pointless because there’s nothing to use it on, and then get a final speech about how shitty the parasites are and how we don’t have a choice but to take them out. Then we warp back into the house, where we’re told that to return to the land of the living so we can kill the parasites, we need to sacrifice a soul by blowing out a candle and sacrifice our blood by… well, bleeding a bit. So… we do that!
As we blow out the candle, we get a glimpse of a guy hanging himself, which I guess we caused by blowing out his life. Whoopsie. Having sorted out all the admin around reincarnation, we leave the Queen’s house and head back out to the fields to be reborn, or something.
In fact, we come across the little building again, and this time we’ve got a crowbar to remove the planks and hit the button.
The button chops Susan’s arm off. She is, understandably, dismayed.
Luckily, however, this is the blood we needed to sacrifice, so we can now enter a long corridor filled with inexplicable emo music and an opening credits sequence.
Then there’s not one, but two title splashes! (I know it just looks like it’s zoomed in or something, but what actually happens is that it flashes up one, then a bunch of images really quickly, then the second one.)
Conveniently, that’s about an hour of playtime, and this seems a good place to wrap up. Because Roughly an Hour reviews are only first impressions, I don’t really like to deliver full-on judgements of these games, but instead just decide whether it’s something I’m likely to come back to and play some more of. I think I probably won’t bust out The Cat Lady again, at least for a bit: the premise is kind of neat and I like the art style, but moving through the world is slow and sometimes a bit janky (I had to do a fair bit of jiggling around to get in just the right position to examine something, and even then it wouldn’t always recognise my input) and the unskippable voiced monologues – there’s another one immediately after the ‘Chapter 2’ thing – frustrate me. I like Susan’s VA for the most part, and I suspect she might also voice the Queen of Maggots, but there are a few lines of dialogue which have been written a little clunkily and so sound unnatural when she delivers them. It’s only a small nitpick, but I expect the game to contain a lot more dialogue, and I think I’d start to get bored and annoyed at having to sit through it all.
That said, this is only from my first hour of playing, so who knows? Let me know if The Cat Lady is worth sticking with, and maybe I’ll return to it some day!