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Catherine is a mind trip, blending the impact of real life decisions, the nightmares of finally growing up, and the fear of dying young. While the core puzzle-platforming offers nerve-wracking excitement, players are likewise gifted with an engaging, authentic story.
- The clever plot and narrative style
- The intensely challenging puzzles
- The solid replay value
- The repetition that kicks in during the game's latter stages
- The occasional camera angle hiccup
- Some of the story elements are confusing
The Mature rating on Catherine is an understatement, but not because of its anime-style partial nudity, overtly-suggestive sexual themes, devilishly-crafted cut scenes, and frequent use of alcohol. Catherine deserves an M for its mind-bendingly realistic adult themes that force the player to make decisions that are all too true to real life. That’s not to say that every person cheats, or even thinks about cheating, but that’s also only the initial hook to draw players into the heavier overtones of how humans choose to live. More importantly, the game deals with the issues that arise after real human choices, even simple decisions like how many drinks you have one night, or how you respond to a text message. This real-life simulator works, and at its best, Catherine is an example of why games are more than just pretty pixels.
I spent a lot of time debating how to write this review. You see, Catherine has a lot of personal meanings to a guy like me. For starters, Vincent, the main character, is in his early 30s, he likes his day job well enough to keep it, but doesn’t pass out daisies to his co-workers. He spends more time drifting through life in a partially inebriated state than is recommended by even the most desperate pub owners. His long-term girlfriend, Katherine, wants more of a commitment, but Vincent would rather keep life the same and not worry about the future. His friends, love them or hate them, are his world and have shared his highs and lows since grade school. Yes, Vincent’s characteristics run true for just about every guy my age. As a special note to that specific group of guys: don’t play this game in front of your significant other. If you do, she may stare you down based on the decisions you make for Vincent, especially the ones involving Catherine’s text messages—you’ll see why when you play it.
Catherine has two key gameplay elements. About one-third of the game is a dating simulator, where players are tasked with managing Vincent’s basic life actions. The other primary element involves nightmares as told through puzzles. During your waking life, you’ll decide what alcohol he drinks at the local pub, the Stray Sheep, which serves as the primary setting. You’ll ask your friends for advice, pick songs on the jukebox, play an arcade game, and, of course, figure out how to respond to your girlfriend when she starts to question your fidelity. This part of the game tells the real-life style story that, midway through becomes more like a soap opera, and ends in a trippy, almost spiritual quest.
Each day you are exposed to more of Catherine – the vixen, not the game. You see, Catherine as a character is carefree like Vincent, young, sexy, and eager to please. At first she’s a tease, but later you see that even the cutest of girls have a dark side, and unfortunately Catherine’s is, shall we say, potentially deadly. Players make decisions throughout the entire game, and Catherine is only part of the overall equation. How you react to her advances, your friends, and your girlfriend have a direct impact on the game. This is shown through a gauge that at first seems like a Catherine vs. Katherine meter, but it’s a bit more freedom and youth vs. responsibility and maturity. Sometimes I was surprised how the game judged my answers or actions and at times it felt a bit arbitrary.
The bulk of the videogame-style action happens during Vincent’s nightmares. These nightmares play out as a giant puzzle-platformer experience. Players are tasked with moving Vincent up a giant stone wall composed of movable blocks. Like everything else in Catherine, this is really an analogy with themes that fly through the television and slap you in the face. There is virtually no subtly in Catherine, but even in that I wonder if the writers were making a point that the male target audience wouldn’t recognize complex ideas like the manly reluctance to attend therapy or even make that final step into adulthood.
These nightmares are truly brutal. The lighter side sees Vincent sprout sheep horns, while the darker moments sees his fellow ‘sheep’ dreamers slowly die off in the real ... (continued on next page)
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