Review: Catherine

One of the most worrying trends in the games development sector at the minute is the seemingly depressing lack of originality amongst mainstream developers.  Of course the indy scene has always thrown proverbial curve balls into the field, some of which crash and burn, some of which seem to strike a chord with gamers and are quickly snaffled up by the big boys and then copied ad infinitum until that new and fresh idea  suddenly becomes that which it flew in the face of – unoriginal.  Catherine on the other hand isn’t just original, it stands out like a fat cow in a butchers convention screaming “COME ON THEN!!”

You see, Catherine isn’t like anything else you’ve played before.  Don’t get me wrong, its influences are quite clear in parts and its clearly a “mad as a member of madness” Japanese RPG but the western influences are much more prevalent here. The game is part puzzler, part story driven RPG, and HUGE part “how to make you feel really uncomfortable” simulator.  The game most certainly plays you as much as you play it and there are certain sections of the game which really do make you question your own morality by asking some very direct questions.  My favourite being “Are you a Pervert (be honest)?”!  More on this later, let’s cover the basics first.

Our hero here is a guy named Vincent who clearly has commitment issues.  His long time Girlfriend (Katherine with a “K”) is pushing to get married and Vincent being the most blokey bloke you could portray is a fair bit scared of that commitment.  He drinks too much, he smokes too much and has the unnerving knack of getting himself into really awkward situations with people. Well, a person. I don’t want to spoil the story too much (as this is definitely the draw here) but suffice to say Vincent has issues!

The game flits between you in a bar chatting to friends and customers, and you returning home to sleep and entering the “nightmare” phase.  This phase entails you climbing a wall in a dream world to reach the exit by manipulating blocks.  These blocks make staircases or clever bridges over gaps and speed is of the essence as the blocks at the bottom of the level are slowly falling away.  You have to maintain an upward momentum at all times,  and its tough. By jingo its tough.  What starts out with a simple climb, soon becomes increasingly (and incredibly) difficult and frustrating – this game, my friends, has the dubious honour as the only game I have EVER rage-quit in my life.   The climbing itself is fluid enough that it makes sense after a few hours, but the controls can get mighty confusing in certain situations and the lack of a total “free to control” camera means you cant always SEE where Vincent is, which wastes valuable time whilst you fanny around trying to get him back onto the front of the wall again.  On a more positive note, these puzzles are REAL brain teasers.  Countless times I’ve had to take a break to relax before attempting the next puzzle or retrying a failed one.  Maybe this is an age thing but rarely does a game really tax me as much as this one seems to!

After each successful climb you are led to a plateau where you can save your game (do it, just do it) and talk to the various other inhabitants of the dream world – NPC sheep. Yeah, I did mention this game was a bit odd right?  You can chat to all these sheep and learn new climbing techniques (some of which come naturally, some of which are genuinely useful).  You then enter a confessional booth to answer one of the very direct questions I mentioned earlier.  Being honest is important here as the game will play you a little (seemingly, albeit its hard to test) by adjusting the storyline to fit in with your personality.  The questions can be quite odd and awkward at times and no doubt if you are playing whilst your other half is watching there might be a few uncomfortable moments for both of you!  Once the question is answered it is submitted to an online database so you can see how other players answered… At least, I think that’s the idea behind it – at the time of playing and reviewing the game is not yet released hence I seemed to be the only one who was answering (either that or everyone who has played this so far is as sick and warped as me, a VERY disturbing thought)!

At the end of each “nightmare” phase you play against a boss who is chasing you up the wall.  Its the same principal as before but definitely adds pressure as some… erm… thing chases you as you ascend.  I say some “thing” as there is some seriously messed up poop in here, I’ve been chased up my climb some really seriously weird ass monster.  I mean that literally, a weird ass monster. With a tongue and everything. To say the mind of the developers is warped would be playing down their depravity, they really genuinely need help!  But in a way this is part of the appeal of the game for me – to see what on Earth they are going to come up with next – you’ve never ever played or seen anything like this before.

After each climbing phase you are led back into the story, and ultimately the bar again where you can talk to all the inhabitants, replay some of your climbs to better your score or go home.  Occasionally you will get a text message from some of the characters in the game which you can reply to by building a reply from lines of pre-written messages.  Again, this is a test of your personality as the choices on offer are varied enough to either make you a cold hearted “bloke” or a caring “new age bloke”!  This subtle integration of morality is something you rarely see in games and genuinely assists you in becoming much more involved on a more personal level – a rare thing indeed.

Scoring Catherine is going to be difficult – there’s a LOT of good stuff here, stuff that really should be commended but it feels a bit let down by the actual gaming bits which can become frustrating, repetitive and ultimately infuriating.  So I guess what I am saying is, remove the actual game and you have a great piece of entertainment (i.e. a weird Japanese film)!

Reviewed on PS3

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