Catherine Xbox 360 Review
Publisher – Deep Silver – Developer – Atlus – Genre – Puzzle/Adventure– Players – 1 – Age Rating – 18+ – Other console/handheld formats – PS3
When we talk about ‘adult themes’ in video games, it’s been almost solely due to an incredibly high level of gore or obscene shock factor. Outside a rare few – though the freedom modern indie developers now enjoy has helped rapidly increase that number in recent years – the idea of a game being somewhat adult themed has meant that it contains something that makes it not visually suitable for youngsters. Basically it’s the exactly the same game as all the others surrounding it on the shelves, but contains the opportunity to slice off an arm/witness a scantily clad lady/hear an uttered swear word.
Witness the advertising for Catherine and it might initially appear to be a title in much the same fashion. You’ll see a young looking (almost unnervingly so) female dressed in a remarkably provocative manner, seemingly about to show off all that her physical form is about. Essentially to entice you with the promise of some boobs. But Catherine is way more than just an overly expansively drawn chest.
Catherine the game is an odd experience. Your character Vincent is in a fully fledged adult relationship. With a solid if seemingly overbearing partner, you’re swiftly introduced into not just the world but also the mindset of a man who isn’t eager to either grow up or change. Once his girlfriend, Katherine, starts to talk more and more about commitment, marriage, and the future of the relationship of the pair, Vincent starts to have increasingly unusual dreams. These dreams force him to rapidly reach a point hundreds of feet above, with just movable blocks and a small moveset to help him. Things however start to become even more difficult when another female, Catherine, stumbles into the scene and Vincent immediately becomes infatuated with this girl who seems to offer everything he’s ever wanted.
Catherine the game is split into three main sections. During the day, the main exposition is played out. There are a huge number of cut-scenes to sit through, ranging from brief moments of interaction, through to lengthy (but never quite Metal Gear series all time consuming) bouts of sitting back and enjoying the well polished tale that’s set out in front of you. You’ll also have the opportunity in a local bar (the Stray Sheep) to chat to friends, the staff, as well as other patrons, all of which are happy to comment on the current media frenzy of males dying in their sleep, their own lives, and to offer advice for the conflicted Vincent. The sheer amount of detail on offer is almost astonishingly expansive, with huge amounts of text, questions, and consistently impressive voice acting. There are mini-games, the ability to converse with in-game characters via text message, and even regular interesting facts about the booze you’ve chosen for Vincent to quaff that night. And almost everything you do is tied to the games morality meter, shaping what will come next, and also drag you towards one of the games 8 different conclusions. Plus, when an opportunity to respond appears, Vincent will reply in the manner that your previous moral decisions suggest that you’d repond. It’s a well worked and interesting way to do things, and it does help maintain a sense of realism. This way you’re unable to suddenly change goodytwoshoes Vincent into a wickedly evil representation of himself, helping maintain the consistency needed to keep you hooked on a tale that never fails to throw up surprises and intrigue.
Once Vincent drifts off to sleep, Catherine the game changes completely. You’ll be tasked with progressing upwards via a huge wall of blocks, while the floor slowly disintegrates below. Manage to reach the goal, and you’ll get the chance to chat to the various ‘Sheep’ also currently seemingly suffering from similar nightmarish dreams, purchase items to help you progress through the next nightmare, and answer yet more questions that will have an effect on Vincents morality.
These nightmare sections which are undoubtedly the closest to a standard gaming experience that Catherine can truly offer are surprisingly well designed. The number of methods available to you to progress – which you’ll learn as you chat to your fellow ‘Sheep’ as you progress through the game – are dizzyingly huge. Rarely is there one simple defined method of progress, allowing you the opportunity to explore and utilise almost any idea that pops into your head, giving you a real sense of achievement when you do manage to complete a section of trickery.
These sections can, however, throw up the few major concerns anyone could truly have about Catherine. Firstly the difficulty curve, A gentle opening hour is rapidly changed thanks to a sudden leap upwards in difficulty. Even on Easy mode, Catherine is one incredibly tricky title, which will cause you a multitude of resets, retries, and incredible frustration. A number of boss battles in particular can be absolutely maddeningly difficult, and again, even on Easy this does lengthen the games total play time by a considerable amount. And all this isn’t helped by a camera and control system that frequently breaks down when the on screen action begins to get particularly busy. Happen to get stuck on the wrong side of the ‘wall’ and chances are you’ll not be able to swing the camera far enough around to see exactly where you can move next. And randomly prodding the movement arrows can provoke results that seem so counter-intuitive that you’ll almost always need to quit and head back to the last checkpoint.
But Catherine is all about the themes it’s attempting to explore. Obviously we don’t want to give anything away as this is an experience that requires at least one playthrough with little in the way of prior knowledge, but it touches on all kinds of ‘adult’ issues, including all kinds of different relationships, that it will cause you to wonder on your own morality. Choices that you’d expect to be good or pure can be twisted and misread, and although the situation that Vincent is in might not be exactly what you might have gone/be going through, it will undoubtedly effect not only your thought process, but also ultimately what are the most important things you perceive to be in your life. And how many other games out there can honestly say that?
Discount the story and Catherine is an incredibly tricky, yet consistently exciting puzzle title. Enough to be a firmly solid if blinding unspectacular addition to a genre that doesn’t truly have a firm userbase on the modern home console. But with an intriguing storyline that touches on themes and issues that gaming rarely (if ever) even vaguely glance towards, Catherine does add up to considerably greater than the sum of its basic parts. As long as you care about story, can get your brain around a sometimes maddening control/camera system, and can live with a difficulty curve that jerks almost vertical just an hour or so in, then Catherine deserves to be the first major gaming purchase of 2012 so far.