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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Game Review - Catherine

So I finished playing Catherine about a week or so ago.  As the cover-art above is already telling you, it contains mature content... and is also disturbingly weird.  It's a game that came out in 2011 unless you happen to live in Europe or Australia.  For some reason, they had to wait another 6-7 months until early 2012...  but anyways, what I'm trying to say is I'm a little late to this game, I know.  It flew completely under my radar at release, and I didn't become aware of it at all until a friend of mine bought it for me as a gift.  I don't know what that says about how he thinks of me, LOL (my wife's name is Katherine, giving things a whole new level of awkward here), but he says it was because he wanted to give me a mentally stimulating puzzle game.  And that, it is.

"Mentally Stimulating" is a description that doesn't necessarily denote "good or bad" ... and it's an apt description.  The game itself has an interesting morality mechanic that doesn't just come down to good or bad, either.  There is a little more nuance to it.  As a character in the game says: "There is no wrong way to climb the tower."

The game itself comprises three parts: Anime-style cutscenes, interactive intermissions (in a well done cell-shading style), and the actual puzzle-oriented game.  The puzzle levels are what progress you further in the game, of course, but the interactive intermissions are where you gather information about what's going on as well as where you make your "morality" decisions which will affect the cutscenes and endings you get.  All in all, there's a ton of story here, to the point that it can feel more like an interactive movie at times with the actual "game" itself seeming underplayed.

You play as Vincent, an early 30's guy with a low-end job and a studio apartment.  He has a long-time girlfriend named Katherine, a group of friends with whom he regularly spends his evenings at the local bar, zero ambitions, and not much of a care in the world... until things get weird that is.

There are moments where I felt the game was surprisingly deep, and others where it felt predictably shallow... but it honestly exceeded my expectations, so in summary: I thought it was a good game when I finally beat it.  Note that:  It felt like a good game once I beat it.  Up until that moment, it was Frustrating with a capital F.  Vincent's life spirals into madness in a way you (the player) have absolutely zero control over and you're basically tasked with taking stock of your shitty situation and forging a path towards some semblance of happiness.  Depending on how you play and what choices you make, you'll get different conversations/cutscenes leading to like 8 endings, and not all of them end up with Vincent getting what he wants.  So even in beating the game, you might not get a kind of satisfaction to your struggle.  I get the feeling, though, that this frustration is what was intended by the game designers, as it is similar to what the main character is going through.  In that sense, well played.


From a story perspective, Vincent's life is thrown into disarray by the titular character Catherine, with whom he cheats on his longtime girlfriend Katherine (confused yet?).  Katherine was starting to broach the subject of taking their relationship further, AND reveals that she's pregnant...

Add to that, every night he has a recurring nightmare where he and several sheep people have to frantically climb a tower of blocks or they die in their sleep.  The storyline itself is frustrating.  It's frustrating in how events outpace Vincent's ability to manage them, in how he has so little control over decisions being made (some even his own) and of no one believing him when he tells about what's going on.  But again, I think that's what the game was going for.  Vincent (and thus, you) will try anything to get out of a desperate situation, your decisions at times made more desperate by the colossal mess around you.

And this same feeling is played out within the puzzle-game portion itself.  Vincent enters each night's nightmare equipped only with his boxers, a pillow, and a pair of sheep's horns coming out of his head.  With all the dangers thrown at him, it's a rather helpless feeling... and frustrating.  The puzzles themselves can get quite difficult at times, leading you to try almost anything in your panic to escape.  And if things didn't feel weird enough...

they get even more terrifyingly weird.

With 8 endings, and only 3 of them really "good" I would suggest figuring out as soon as you can how the decision mechanic works, pick a direction, and put all your chips towards that goal.
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