- Deep Silver
Made2Game Catherine Review Score: 7/10
Formats: PS3, Xbox 360
Format Reviewed: PS3
Publisher: Deep Silver
Reviewer: Dave Harrison
Catherine is a game about love. Whilst its game mechanics swing wildly from a sedate drink & chat ‘em up to frantic mind bending block pushing madness, at its core Catherine is to love what John Cooper Clarke is to Beasley Street; an absolute unified bond, the letters L-O-V-E integrally ingrained into every line of code like a subliminal message in a stick of rock.
Taking control of Vincent, players are tasked with attempting to guide him through what amounts to an early mid-life crisis after a night of passion with the pasty lingerie-clad waif Catherine. To complicate things though, Vincent has been in a long term relationship with Katherine, a career-driven brunette 30-something who has just found out she’s carrying Vincent’s child. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also starting to have nightmares…
This is Vincent. He doesn't know it yet, but he's in for a very weird week
Get me another drink, Boss
Catherine is split into two distinct gaming sections, each moving the game forward in different ways: the conversation-bent bar sections and the nightmare stages. The nightmare stages are split into a collection of nights, with typically 3-4 stages per night, the final stage of which culminates in the horrific vision that will finally jolt Vincent awake. Between each night, you join Vincent in the Stray Sheep bar, a place filled with locals who are all more than happy to talk to Vincent about their problems. Many also appear to be having strange nightmares that they can’t remember come the morning apart from the debilitating fear they feel. The TV news is also filled with stories of strange deaths, men dying horrifically in their sleep, their features frozen in terror. Are the locals and Vincent’s nightmares linked to the suspicious deaths?
Of course they bloody are… Whilst the main crux of the narrative is apparent from early on, the way exposition is delivered during the bar sections is an intriguing premise that immediately sets Catherine apart from its gaming contemporaries. Its closest peer in this respect is Heavy Rain, although where Heavy Rain allows the player to explore different avenues of conversation, Catherine is more about enjoying the story, sitting back and taking in the often lengthy cutscenes.
It’s the nightmare stages that make up the main part of the game though, and indeed provide most of the challenge that Catherine has to offer. Presented with a stack of blocks and armed with only a pillow, his wits and a fetching pair of underwear, Vincent is tasked with climbing to the top of this huge pile of metaphors as quickly as possible by pushing and pulling the blocks in order to form paths to continue the ascent to freedom. As well as pushing and pulling, Vincent is also capable of shimmying across lines of blocks, which gives plenty of scope for different climbing strategies within a simple control scheme.
Some of Vincent's dreams resemble a bizarre TV show
When described, this game mechanic seems almost insultingly simple, but its machinations and devious design, coupled with the various properties of the blocks (some crumble quickly, some cannot be moved, some are made of ice, etc.) make the game a much more difficult and grey matter-testing experience. You see, physics in nightmares isn’t quite the same as in real life. Whilst gravity still works in a fairly logical way – in that the blocks fall straight down rather than at a 37 degree angle or something weird – blocks can be balanced if a side or edge is touching another block, making huge, precariously balanced stacks a very real, if somewhat inorganic, proposition. Luckily, the game lets you know by shouting ‘EDGE!’ at you every time a block connects to another in this physically impossible way, but it takes a bit of time to understand which blocks will fall if you push something a certain way, and you’ll often resort to trial and error.
Still, chaos appears to be a theme that Catherine is intent on exploring throughout, so the powerlessness you can feel in these stages is somehow apt, as if the game is teasing you by promising the control that other games give before stripping it away, leaving only weakness. Arguably, this reflects Vincent’s trials, in that he had been in control of his plain old life before Catherine arrived, bringing madness and disorder to everything; the blocks in this case represent chaos, with Vincent the one tasked with bringing order to the cube-based insanity. It’s an intriguing metaphor and, coupled with an overt religious bent to the nightmare stages, it creates an interesting moral quandary for modern times, questioning the ideals of love and the meaning of marriage in an increasingly secular world.
All things truly wicked start from an innocence
That’s not to say that Catherine is a wholly successful game. To paraphrase Uncle Ben, with great chaos comes great frustration. Simply put, at times Catherine can be hurl-your-controller maddening, with horrific difficulty spikes littering various stages. In particular, some of the end-of-night bosses are cruelly unfair, with nigh-on unavoidable insta-kill moves hindering progress. With checkpoints often fairly spread across the stages, the game can become more a case of trial & error and memory reflex rather than pure skill – a basic design flaw for such a modern game.
Yeah, we don't know what the Hell that is, either...
Many players will also be put off by the long cutscenes, quirky art style (which in my opinion is beautifully realised) and very Japanese and insular dialogue – much of the time, the characters can come across as rather ego-centric, self-focussed individuals and, as such, it can be difficult to fully sympathise with their various plights.
In many ways it is difficult to recommend Catherine to the average gamer. Fans of the yearly FIFA and Call of Duty updates are unlikely to have any patience whatsoever with the slow burning weirdness on offer here. However, for gamers who want something wholly unique and who like the idea of playing through Freud’s lucid dreams after a pre-bedtime snack of Voltaire’s cheese, Catherine is the best relationship-cum-body horror, block-pushing, chat & text ’em up currently available. And there has to be a market for that.
Words by Dave Harrison (Twitter: @sealofmadness)
- Related Games
A brand new side-scrolling beat-em-up from Deep Silver and Southend Interactive
Pack a broadsword: everything wants to eat you in Arborea
We bring you the lowdown on Piranha Bytes' pirate-themed RPG sequel, Risen 2