Okay, you have to bear with me on this review. Catherine is so phenomenally weird that if you don’t read my review word for word, you’ll think that that this is either a weird game for perverts or that I’m a pervert . . . and only one of those is true :).
So here it goes.
The basic plot of Catherine revolves around Vincent, a slacker in his early thirties who is in a 5 year relationship with a woman named “Katherine”. One night after being pressured for marriage by “Katherine”, he is seduced by a young blonde bombshell named “Catherine” and ends up sleeping with her. Meanwhile, other men around his age are dying off in their sleep at the same time that Vincent begins to have nightmares about the situation at hand. The rest of the game involves Vincent dealing with the fallout of his infidelity and his brushes with death in the dream world.
For those of you who haven’t seen the E3 coverage, chances are you may think that what I’ve described is simply an elaborate story game with no “true” gameplay such as Square Enix’s Heavy Rain. As much as I love Heavy Rain however, Catherine is a far different and in my opinion . . . a far better game.
See, these nightmares that Vincent has been having taken the form of interesting tower puzzles.
Basically, each tower consists of layers upon layers of blocks of different types and Vincent’s goal is to get to the top as the bottom of the tower collapses. Different types of blocks behave in different ways, and the physics in which they react when pushed/pulled can be used to set up interesting paths. Every few levels or so, the tower won’t “collapse” but instead will be inhabited by a boss character who will pursue Vincent up the tower at alarming speeds thereby increasing the sense of urgency.
Oh yeah, and Vincent’s a sheep during this.
This might sound really boring and cheap, but it’s surprisingly compelling. The game is NOTORIOUSLY difficult (this is coming from a guy who schooled Ninja Gaiden Black with little trouble), but it’s not the type of difficult that makes you chuck your controller at the screen as the creepy zombie bride stabs you with a fork for the 15th straight time. It’s the type of difficult where the sweet feeling of finding the correct sequence of pushes and pulls to get up the next 10 layers of blocks makes you dance with joy . . . right before said zombie bride stabs you with another fork. It’s definitely fun and unique, but that’s not what makes this game worth buying.
It’s the story and characters that really make this game worth noting.
Vincent may be a 30+ year old slacker, but every guy can associate with his ideals even with his gaping flaws. He’s in a committed relationship, but doesn’t want to get married because he’s content with how smooth his life is right now. Despite the fact that his girlfriend Katherine is very responsible and loving, she’s also a bit of a killjoy in comparison to Vincent’s free spirit. He knows sleeping with Catherine is morally wrong, but she’s a free spirit like him and despite being completely psychotic, he enjoys her company as well. It’s weird how someone whose life is so different from the players can still completely absorb their emotions and take them for a ride. I was completely invested in Vincent’s success and found myself distressed at some of the MASSIVE plot twists which turn Vincent’s world upside down.
The time not spent scampering up towers is spent lounging around the “Stray Sheep”, which is the local watering hole in Vincent’s town. Vincent can walk around the bar and strike up conversations with the other bar patrons, all whom either offer Vincent cryptic advice or also have “failed” their loved ones somehow. These patrons also take the form of sheep in Vincent’s nightmares and join him in the desperate struggle to survive. I didn’t play through this game again to see if talking to and saving these people affected the ending, but the fact is you WANT to either way. The characters are very compelling and each tale is unique in its own way.
And then there’s Vincent’s “crew”, 3 of his closest friends and single bachelors. They range from young to old, naive to gritty, happy to sullen. Their depth, dialogue and entertainment value cannot be captured on paper but let me say that they put the cast of How I Met Your Mother to the test. Apart from that, the art style is gorgeous while the voice acting and dialogue is absolutely terrific.
So what stops this game from being the best game ever?
For one, tower puzzles aren’t for everybody. If you can’t warm up to the gameplay you’re absolutely sunk because the majority of Catherine’s playtime revolves around the puzzle sequences. I personally enjoyed the character sections a lot more, so I was put off by the fact that I had to solve incredibly difficult puzzles in order to get to brief sections of exposition that I truly liked. Not to say that gameplay wasn’t compelling, it’s just that the incredible dialogue and story inadvertently work against it.
My biggest gripe, however, is that the ending SUCKS. Don’t get me wrong, depending on how you play the game the ending is surprisingly sweet and conclusive but the story leading up to that point is absolutely bonkers. You see, the game does dabble in the surreal as Vincent begins to lose his mind and Catherine begins to act increasingly erratic but it still stays grounded in reality. Towards the end however, the game descends into sheer lunacy complete with fantasy and mythology. Some people may like this, but the tonal shift is abrupt and best and jarring at worst.
Overall however, I only recommend Catherine a rent. Not because it isn’t one of the best games to come out this year, but because if you’ve played through it once, the big plot twist is already revealed and there’s no real use in playing it again. The experience is unique enough to warrant at least one play through though, so do yourself a favor and rent this game.