Publisher: Deep Silver
Format: Ps3 (version tested), Xbox 360
Release date: 17/02/2011
We follow Vincent Brookes (voiced by Troy Baker), he’s in his early thirties and is in a long-term relationship with Katherine, a nagging yet caring and compassionate girlfriend. Vincent spends most of his free time at the Stray Sheep, a local bar his friends and himself visit regularly after work, and it is here where his life changes forever. After having a quiet drink alone after Vincent’s friends have gone home, a young girl, Catherine, sits next to Vincent. She’s in her early twenties, lively, carefree and flirty. The following morning Vincent wakes up from a nightmare to find that Catherine is lying naked beside him without any recollection of how the incident came about. Vincent must decide how he’s going to manage the situation and it is here where the game’s multiple options come into play. In the stray sheep, you can pass the time by talking to your friends and the other people who are at the bar. Whilst here, Vincent receives texts from Catherine and Katherine and it’s up to you how you reply to each one (if at all) and determine the outcome of the game. Catherine sends passionate texts with some rather inappropriate pictures, whilst Katherine sends dull and nagging texts. After each evening has been spent and Vincent goes home, he finds himself in the same nightmare that he must endure and survive if he is to wake up in the morning. This pattern gives Catherine a very welcome structure.It is in these nightmares where the real gameplay takes place. Each night, Vincent must go through a series of puzzles where if he fails, he dies in the real world. The puzzles are quite a simple concept, yet their solutions, particularly towards the latter stages of the game become increasing more taxing and at times frustrating. The puzzles require Vincent to climb towers of blocks by moving around the blocks and setting up a path towards the top. It’s relatively straight forward to begin with but later, the blocks start becoming more deadly when the game introduces different types of blocks. For instance, ice blocks become slippery death traps that become an inescapable death slide until you slip off the edge into the bottomless chasm unless you either hit a wall or slip onto another normal block, bomb blocks contain timed explosives that explode moments after Vincent has stepped on them which damages the nearby blocks within its radius and spike blocks impales Vincent if he lingers too long on top of them. Each staged is timed, as the tower slowly crumbles beneath Vincent, you must be quick witted as well as hasty. There are things to assist Vincent along his climb though in the form of checkpoints and power ups, like the bell which turns all blocks into normal ones and a ‘free’ block which you can place anywhere within Vincent’s proximity. Only one can be carried at a time though, so planning is certainly beneficial. In-between these nightmare stages, the game asks Vincent questions and the results are posted anonymously online against others people’s answers. These questions can be rather uncomfortable to answer and makes you question your own morality, something that a video game rarely does. At the end of each nightmare there are boss battles to contend with. The principle of climbing the tower remains the same, but with the added danger of the extra presence. The boss takes the form of a theme that Vincent has experienced that day, for instance, when Katherine announces that she may be pregnant, a massive grotesque baby climbs the tower after Vincent.The controls are on the most part substantial. You can only move one block at a time and with no jump mechanic, you can only climb up one block too. The controls work well when you have the time to survey your surroundings, but when things get hectic is when the clunky nature of the controls starts to show. For instance, when you step onto an aforementioned spike block, you only have a very short moment to move off it before Vincent is impaled, but with the awkward control scheme, sometimes it doesn’t register that you’ve tried to move over a block resulting in Vincent getting impaled sending you back to the beginning of the stage unless a checkpoint has been activated which a fairly common.
There is a limited number of lives, with the currency being pillows. There are extra lives (or pillows) that can be collected on the nightmare stages, and most of them are placed almost immediately after a checkpoint. Each time you pick one up, you get two continues, so profiting continues is quite common and before long you’ll have a number of continues that the fear of losing them disappears, suggesting that Catherine didn’t really need them in the first place.
Your time spent at the Stray Sheep is one that you’ll be taking advantage of as the nightmare puzzles, as satisfying that they are, they are very exhausting which is a fantastic portrayal of what Vincent goes through. Speaking to the other people at the bar expands the story and before long Vincent discovers that he’s not the only one experiencing the nightmares and people are dying in their sleep across the city as the TV in the bar announces. The smooth jazz soundtrack in the bar is excellent, and after each stage you unlock new songs that can be played at the bar’s jukebox. When you receive the raunchy pictures from Catherine, you can only view them in the restroom out of the other people’s leering eyes, which makes you realise that you’re going out of your way to view them.
Catherine has a lot to offer, for even after the end credits roll there is more to do. Multiplayer is unlocked, which means you can battle against friends to see who makes it to the top of the towers first. With the multiplayer only being unlocked after the main game has been completed, it means that only experienced players are pitched against each other, and with the game’s main story requiring so much persistence, there’s a large percentage of players who are likely to never gain access to the multiplayer. Even if multiplayer isn’t an appealing feature for you, Catherine contains a total of 8 different endings that are determined by the choices you make during the game.
To say that there is no other game like Catherine would be a massive understatement. No other game in recent memory touches on the subject of guilt, commitment and infidelity and wraps it up into such a stylistic and comedic experience like the Persona developer Atlus has with this game. The controls sometimes make the nightmare stages unnecessarily more difficult than it already is, but it’s such a small price to play for one of the most original games of last generation.
Final Verdict – 9.0