[review] Cattus Atrox

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Adam Cadre

Nov 17, 1998, 3:00:00 AM11/17/98
Cattus Atrox by David Cornelson

Theodore Dreiser has been called the worst prose stylist ever to
qualify as a great writer. Over the course of my college career
I had to read his SISTER CARRIE no fewer than four different times,
and sure enough, Dreiser's prose is often just laughably bad.
Whether he's interrupting a paragraph to mention that "It was
in August, 1889" (without specifying what "it" was), or beginning
a chapter by introducing "the, to Carrie, very important theatrical
performance", or lurching into ridiculous archaisms like "Carrie!
Oh Carrie! Ever whole in that thou art hopeful!", Dreiser's control
over the English language often reminds the reader of a four-year-old
trying to steer a Saturn V rocket.

Still, there's a reason I had to read SISTER CARRIE four times,
and it's not because my professors were trying to get me to break
out the aerospace refs. The prose, rough as it is, is often
startlingly effective: the railway strike chapter, for instance,
is rendered with a you-are-there intensity unmatched by many a
more polished writer. Which is why Dreiser was very much on my
mind as I played Cattus Atrox. Cornelson's prose isn't going to
impress anybody: it's full of comma splices and other errors, not
to mention such howlers as "lust-filled orgasms" and a character
screaming "LIONS!" into a telephone and then hanging up.
Nevertheless, Cattus Atrox provides the most intense visceral
experience of any game in this comp.

Now, I'm not one to lose myself in a game the way some people
apparently are: at no point did I myself feel fear when the lions
were smacking the PC around. But you couldn't tell from the way
I was playing. During the chase scene, I was entering directions
as fast as I could, running around in a panic, typing N then W
then N then E then S then W then S again without even bothering
to glance at the text flashing by. Not really the recommended
method of playing IF, but, y'know, I had to get away from those
lions. I mean, they were, like, eating me and stuff.

And then when I found the crowbar, I mean, forget it. Here I'm
the guy whose game specifically penalizes the player for being so
cruel as to do violence to an animal, and the second I find the
crowbar, I switch into full-on Neanderthal mode. I beat that lion
cub to death with the club and then stood there beating its corpse
over and over again even as on a conscious level I recognized that
the game was spitting error messages at me for doing so. I took
that crowbar and spent the next half hour whacking anything I
registered as a noun. It got to the point that I half expected
that if I threw the crowbar into the air it'd turn into a spacecraft.

So while the prose is less than masterful, the syntax for some
required commands is often weird, and the ending is silly and over
the top, Cattus Atrox gets high marks for grabbing me by the collar
and yanking me out of detached-observer mode. This game stuck with
me. Several games later I had to restrain myself from rushing into
the Muse telegraph office and tapping out "LIONS!" on the telegraph.

My score: 7.3 (5th place)

Adam Cadre, Anaheim, CA

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