Release Date: July 26, 2011
Developed and Published by: Atlus (Persona Team)
Genre: Survival horror platform puzzler.
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Initially, Catherine was a game I didn't have any interest in. All the marketing did nothing to change this. I would even go so far to say it repulsed me. I filed it away as a "pass," and moved on. That isâ€¦until I saw who made it. The team behind Catherine also made Persona 4, my favorite game of 2008, and one of my most beloved games of all time. So with my low expectations raised slightly, I rented Catherine, and was pleasantly surprised with what I found.
In the game, you play Vincent Brooks, a thirty-two-year-old man who is happy with the status quo. He has a routine and he sticks to it. He wakes up, goes to work, then hangs out with his friends at the bar. All is well, until Vincent's longtime girlfriend, Katherine (with a K!) starts to pressure him into tying the knot. Overwhelmed by the thought of being "chained down," Vincent gets drunk at the bar one night, and meets Catherine (with a C.) The next morning, Vincent wakes up with Catherine in his bed and no memory of the night before. On top of his growing relationship troubles, Vincent has nightmares every night where he has to climb a tower of blocks, lest he fall and die. Wackiness ensues from there and Vincent must figure out what he wants in life: the order of Katherine, or the chaos of Catherine.
The game play is split into two major sections: the block-based puzzle platformer nightmares and the Persona-esque social interactions in the bar. In the nightmares, Vincent must climb a tower of blocks within a certain amount of time or else he will fall to his death. He accomplishes this by shifting individual blocks to form stairs and bridges. The controls are touchy, and Vincent often goes careening off an edge due to an accidental brush of the d-pad--this almost to a frustrating degree. The camera is clunky and in boss fights tends to shift focus from Vincent to the baddy. This results in death most of the time, turning tense moments into battles of attrition. On the other hand, puzzles are satisfying to solve, although ridiculously difficult at times. Climbing doesn't get repetitive, even during continuous play. However, where Catherine really shines is during the narrative portions in the bar.
While there, Vincent can talk to other patrons about their troubles, answer text messages, get drunk or play arcade games. All of the characters seem fully fleshed out and they all have unique personalities. The text messaging mechanic feels really cool, as it allows you to mix and match individual sentences rather than entire responses, creating an immersive narrative device. Drinking in the bar results in faster movement speed for Vincent during the nightmares, although drinking too much can impair you. The arcade game is a nifty training tool for the nightmares, but I found I could go without it most of the time. Both parts of the game throw interesting questions at you like "Which gender is more pitiful?" and "Do you envy actors with lots of sex scenes?" These questions were exciting to begin with, although I found that they seemed to be a little too black-and-white as the game carried on. My biggest issue here is: the two portions of the game seem incongruous. I often found myself wanting to just be done with the nightmare sections so I could get back to the story.
Like I have alluded to earlier, the story in Catherine is fantastic. The characters feel real and the player feels inherently drawn towards helping them even if they are a horrible, womanizing lot. Vincent genuinely feels like a confused character, not an indecisive moron. One thing that really surprised me in this game, though, is the humor. The banter between Vincent and his friends made me laugh out loud multiple times and Vincent's victorious one-liners later in the game are hilariously non-heroic.
Overall, Catherine is a good game dragged down by its gameplay. The world feels so deep and rich, and the story is so fascinating, but the player is constantly ripped from it to solve frustrating puzzles that add nothing to the total experience. My advice? Rent it now, or buy it cheap down the line, just be ready to face the disapproving glances that inappropriate marketing causes.