You give love a bad name
When it comes to intimate relationships, video games have always approached the topic of sex with the same maturity of the average homeless flasher. Many tut at the sheer number of weirdly perfectly rendered bosoms seen nowadays, but there was once a time where men would stand atop rooftops ejaculating into the mouth’s of naked women below. Catherine hits a near perfect middle-ground in terms of maturity for an adult game that dabbles in sex, love and commitment…whilst hounding you with tongue obtruding bums and countless misogynistic sheep.
Vincent Brooks is happy in life. He’s cruising in the par lane of existence, earning just enough to survive on cigarettes, booze and the latest mobile phones. He’s also in a long term relationship with the mature Katherine, a woman who demands obedience, but who’s mothering nature prevents her from being a complete bitch. All is well…until Katherine starts speaking of marriage…and commitment. Stuck in the present and not wanting to move on with life, a daft one night fling with the young and free-loving Catherine kicks off a catalyst of deadly nightmares which have been killing men across the country, and forces Vincent’s biggest terror into his life; change. Catherine follows Vincent on possibly the most turbulent week of his life, plagued by women woes and traumatic terrors. Each day causes more dramas that are just waiting to spiral out of control. Though you may be sitting there high and mighty with your big fat book of morals, both women aren’t outright negative influences over the poor protagonist’s life…and both almost don’t make the choice of two women on the go such a inconvenient thing, in Vincent’s life at least. With the dramas of the day to mull over, Vince drowns his sorrows at the local bar ‘The Stray Sheep’ after digesting the day’s dilemmas. Rather insultingly, time spent here mimics what I should probably actually be doing each evening down the pub rather than dabbling in video-games. Here, you’re free to do anything any sub-par socialite would. Talk to the weird regulars, text, play a game or simply sit in the toilet and wait for everyone to go home before drinking alone. ‘The Stray Sheep’ is the social arena where most of Vincent’s moral choices are chucked into the fray, simply dictated by whom you spend more time with.
If you’ve got something to prove, Catherine certainly wants you to prove it.
Although every choice you make shifts a rather clich� arrow between your good and bad conscience, Catherine is written in such a way that your first playthrough will be a dilemma. Each day’s dramas shift weight onto your inhibitions, and before you know it you’re absorbed in texting each prospective partner, pondering over just the right words to say to each, or just flat out ignoring both. Love may be such a simple concept on paper, but us daft humans have a funny habit of screwing it up with multiple rights and wrongs, and the game certainly likes to play around with our bids to overcomplicate the simplest things. Come night-time, however, things get altogether a whole lot more macabre and sinister. Vincent becomes surrounded by piles of blocks in a floating arena and must shift blocks to and from in a bid to climb to the top…as the preceding levels fall off and catch up with him. Things start of rather simple at first, showering you with tutorials on how to make basic stairways with bricks. But as stages progress, you’re soon left with more and more daunting conundrums that will push your mettle to the limits. Staring at a legion of bricks in an attempt to utilise them to your advantage is tough enough, but when the floor’s demise is slowly catching up with you it can all get a bit too much too handle at times. Solutions that came so easy to you before can evaporate from the mind if you have to start again, and it’s all too easy to lose nerve and make daft mistakes that’ll make you plummet to your death. As time goes by, walls get increasingly more complex and spike, ice and bomb blocks cost even more seconds of deliberation. Much like Portal, however, you will feel an immense sense of pride when you overcome a deadly puzzle, and you’ll be rewarded with another peek into the mysteries of the plot. The only difference here, is that you don’t have the luxury of time. Survive the night, and the cycle repeats, with joyous anime cutscenes and subsequent nights on the lash to follow. It all sounds rather formulaic, but it grounds the game in a sombre sense of reality, and makes both the nightmare stages and Vincent’s predicaments all the more daunting to work through. You’ll start tentatively listening to the bars’ patrons, learning you all have more in common than you might think…and slightly fearful when they don’t return. The world is such a tiny place to explore, but feels all the more intimate for it, and as such, it’s hard not to care about your actions, no matter how slight they are. Even if you just spend your time drowning your sorrows and ignoring phone calls, if feels as though an impact has been made in everyone’s lives. After a heavy night on the noggin crushing puzzles, a few drinks is precisely what you need, and sitting down to glug down the plot Catherine offers feels all the more rewarding for it. Unfortunately, the nightmare stages can completely hinder your progress at times, and the game seems to think constant reminders to keep calm are hints, whereas in reality it can be much easier said than done. Each stage ends with a boss, and if ever falling blocks weren’t enough to contend with, then billion foot deformed brides will certainly break you down. Even when easy mode promises a tamer ride that caters for those who wish to enjoy the story, it can still throw up some horrific final nightmares to face up against. Catherine may have a charmingly disturbing narrative to it, but it simply won’t open up unless you really, really want it. Some might say it’s just a delightful tease. The less experienced will find it extremely frustrating. Players of the infamous cult Persona series will feel right at home with the occasionally hammy voice acting, but all eyes will be dazed by the impressive character design. It’s clear when dynamics shift from the anime cutscenes to 3D ones but the design and direction of said scenes almost makes it indistinguishable. If it wasn’t for some amazingly twisted imagery, this would’ve been one of the most unconventionally pretty games this year. When love’s most bizarre tale has finally ended, there’s still more emotional scarring to uncover. Should you be lonely in life, there are loads of different story endings to discover depending on actions throughout, and Catherine’s bizarre tales almost pleads for another playthrough once you put the controller down. Proving your prowess through the story stages with gold trophies throughout also grants you access to the notorious ‘Babel’ mode. Share life with a loved one, and you can tackle this mode cooperatively, although it’s so brutal it could lead to a messy break up. Rather than offering pre-determined paths, ‘Babel’ mode is a pure test of logical skill, chucking different block patterns at you each time you play, and a partners death means game over. If you’ve got something to prove, Catherine certainly wants you to prove it.Should your brain not frazzle thanks to the heavy emotional guilt and ever complex puzzles you’re forced to face, Catherine is one of the most fulfilling and invigorating experiences you’ll ever have the chance to play. A game that seems to simply focus on the topic of affairs soon reveals itself as a cleverly veiled coming of age story that almost perfectly encapsulates the teetering dramas of romance. The chances are that you already know whether you want Catherine just by the weird imagery that has passed through the news for months, its niche appeal may turn some away. However, if you’re looking for something as refreshing as it is mentally exhausting, do not pass up the chance to play this game.
The Bad: Incredibly niche format will put off some, Some bosses even on ‘Easy’ can prove all to intimidating for the inexperience just wishing to spend more time with the plot