Night in the Woods E3 Hands-On Preview – This Cat Ain’t in A Hat (PS4)

Ever dreamed of playing as a cat in a video game? Canadian independent developer Infinite Ammo has certainly entertained the idea, and their game Night in the Woods is coming to the PlayStation 4, among other platforms. We went hands-on with the game during E3, and have our  impressions ready for you.

Yes, in Night in the Woods, you play as “Mae the Cat.” Not just some mindless, cute cat either, but a 20-year-old feline who has dropped out of college and is back in her podunk hometown, expecting to return to her life exactly as it was when she left three whole semesters ago. Of course, Mae’s hometown of Possum Springs didn’t just stand still while she was gone, and neither did any of her friends. This is the initial premise of Night in the Woods.

The story is presented in dialogues between Mae and several of the townsfolk through speech bubbles. This is still an indie game, after all — voiceovers are pretty rare in this genre. This doesn’t really detract from the experience, since the game is a visual experience more than anything. You’re walking in a city that has seen better days, but is still pretty lively considering it used to be a mining town. Cars whiz by every so often, and a handful of people shuffle up and down the streets. Leaves blow by, birds land on power lines (which, as a cat, you can climb onto, naturally)…It’s a relaxing, autumn day.

As you speak with various other characters, you are given the chance to choose different responses to things that they say, but they are small choices that don’t seem to have much influence over the story. You can replay the conversation that you just had by talking to the character again and choosing another option to see how it plays out differently. You can tell that Mae is conflicted about where she is has gone in life, where she is now, and where she will end up. What we played was a demo that will be “highly tweaked” according to Infinite Ammo team members Alec Holowka and Scott Bensen, so the storyline may be more complete or have actual branching paths; if the game’s goal is to tell a specific story, then perhaps branching plot points wouldn’t make sense after all.

Gameplay is kept simple so as to not get in the way of the coming-of-age/maybe-save-the-world story. It’s a platformer with the occasional puzzle, and a cute first-person mode that pops up every now and then. You control two of Mae’s paws with both analog sticks as you shuffle through whatever is in front of you — in our case, some advertisements on a billboard. The game is presented in a wonderfully colorful 2D plane, with a sort of marker-on-smooth-paper look to it, which the PS4 renders extremely smoothly.

With a name like Night in the Woods, you’d expect this to be a horror game. There is a bit of a horror element to it the more you get into the narrative. Mae has somehow developed paranormal abilities, and this is going to prove to be perhaps the town’s only hope, since there is something ominous in the woods lurking nearby. What that something is was only hinted at during our playthrough, and we will discover everything when the game releases “sometime in 2015.”