Cathrine for PS3 is one of the most unusual games I have ever played. It is a puzzle game combined with a unique storyline that forces players to not only think about strategy, but their own lives. Interwoven throughout the gameplay are questions of morality that can border on uncomfortable. Catherine can be frustrating at times, but it is also addictive and leaves the player wanting to get to the next level just to see what happens next. Catherine intriguingly bills itself as a “romantic horror” at the beginning of the game, and it does not fail in this exciting premise.
The story focuses on 32 year old Vincent. Vincent thinks he is happy with his life until he is forced to think about taking on adult responsibilities. His girlfriend Katherine is talking about marriage and having kids. Vincent is happy with Katherine, but he is afraid making a commitment will ruin what they have. Vincent trudges off to drink with his friends at the Stray Sheep bar. They have just learned their friend has mysteriously died in his sleep and rumors abound that a curse is plaguing the men of their city.
It is at the Stray Sheep where Vincent meets Catherine (with a “C”), a hot young blonde who takes an immediate interest in Vincent. The next morning Vincent awakens to find a naked Catherine in his bed and no memory of what happened the night before. Vincent is stuck in a moral dilemma. He must figure out how to handle his girlfriend Katherine, who wants commitment and the young Catherine who lives a freewheeling lifestyle of no responsibility.
Each night Vincent has a nightmare where he is frantically climbing a tower of blocks to reach an exit at the top. This is where the majority of the gameplay takes place. Vincent must move the blocks around in order to create a path to the top of the tower. He must climb eight floors, one per night until he reaches the pinnacle where absolute freedom is promised. The puzzles get harder with each level passed. There are new obstacles that pop up including blocks made of ice, bomb blocks, and blocks with spikes that shoot up and kill you if you linger too long.
The path to the top is not always obvious and takes an increasing amount of maneuvering. The solutions are not always obvious and require a lot of creative thinking to get the right path. There is a boss at the end of each floor (each floor has more than one level), that makes it so you cannot spend a lot of time thinking about your moves, you just have to use the techniques you’ve learned and move on as quickly as possible. In between each level there is a platform, where you talk to “sheep people.” These are people who are also having these nightmares, and they offer clues about the game.
The platform contains confession booth that takes Vincent to the next level. A voice in the confession booth asks Vincent a different moral question. Vincent can either answer “good” or “bad.” There is meter throughout the game that shows what path Vincent is on. This is completely controlled by the player, which adds a level of excitement to the game. Players can choose Vincent’s responses in conversations and text messages. How Vincent responds can affect what happens in the game and how Vincent interacts with the other characters. This gives the player to chance to play the game a couple of different ways. On the one hand you can choose the most salacious answers, or you can try to choose honest answers as if you were living through this situation.
Graphically the anime style is quite good. The detail is excellent and the locations are cool. The atmosphere is dark and foreboding which fits the storyline. There is a kind of creepiness to everything. Vincent spends his time in the Stray Sheep bar, his tiny apartment, some kind of cafeteria, and a small café where he has coffee with his girlfriend. The nightmares take place in some kind of endless pit where Vincent and the other sheep are clamoring their way to the top. The bosses at each level are really quite frightening, and their very presence makes you want to finish the climb just to get away from them. Along the way Vincent meets the likes of a grotesque bride, a giant baby constantly screaming for “daddy,” and a baby with a chainsaw.
What’s best about this game of puzzles is that there is an interesting story behind all of it. Though the metaphors might be a bit obvious with people becoming sheep as they trudge into the monotony of marriage and careers, they added an extra depth to the game that made it all the more compelling. Overall I found Catherine to be a refreshing change from combat style platform games. The puzzles are quite challenging and require a lot of thought to get through. It can be frustrating, but it was also very rewarding to figure it out and make it to the top. The characters are fun to watch. In addition to Vincent, Katherine, and Catherine, there are several friends, bar patrons, a mysterious bartender, and a wise waitress that Vincent interacts with. Catherine is a fun game full of challenges and intrigue.
Catherine is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol, Violence, Sexual Themes. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360