Catherine is one of the most conflicted games I’ve ever played. On one hand it’s an in depth character led story of love and adultery with smatterings of the supernatural and horror, and on the other hand it’s a block shifting puzzle game. It’s odd as it works on both levels despite there being almost no crossover between them until closer to the end. A very adult game – and I mean in the mature sense, not the dirty sense – this isn’t one for the kids, but rather for a player seeking a genuinely grown up and rewarding experience.
The game follows the tale of Vincent, a man who feels pressured and put upon by his girlfriend Katherine (note the K) as she wants to move their relationship further on and talks to him about marriage and children. Frightened by this he ends up cheating on her with the titular Catherine who is every part the opposite of Katherine; blonde, carefree and up for fun as Katherine as dark haired, stern and always concerned with the future.
During the daytime and the character segments of the game, it’s fairly linear and although there’s not a lot to do, it’s engaging and very interesting. Using a mixture of game engine and animated sequences, the story coasts along on rails, and although you can talk to Vincent’s friends and other customers in local bar the Stray Sheep, you cannot directly affect what Vincent’s course of action is. The choices he makes in the story are based on the position of a bar that indicates either Law or Chaos. Changing the bar is done via the puzzle game.
Each night when Vincent goes to bed, he finds himself in a nightmare world populated by sheep that are reflections of many of the people you meet in the daytime. They are all being put through trials and forced to climb a block puzzle tower for their lives. If they die in the dream, they die in real life, which is reflected in the story sections with news reports of mysterious deaths. When you reach a plateau you are given a question before you can proceed. The questions are simple yes or no affair, but are all moral quandaries, the result of which will change the position of the Law/Chaos bar.
The block puzzles themselves are at first fairly simple, but very quickly get much more difficult as the types of block increase to include spike traps, ice blocks and blocks that move of their own accord amongst others. You decide your own path up the tower by shifting the blocks around, which sounds easy in principle, but in practice, is far from it. Each of the plateau sections include someone who’ll discuss techniques with you, which are very useful, but difficult to remember as there are so many. They make sense and are very clever, but it’s up to you to remember which method to apply and when.
Each of the puzzle segments has a final section which sees Vincent being chased by his inner thoughts and fears given a nightmarish physical form. Some of these are actually quite unnerving, but if you’re fast enough you’ll be leaving them far behind and won’t see them for long. The game is touted as a horror, but truthfully there’s not a lot of horror in it except for these abominations.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I cheated a few times while playing the puzzle game. Some of the situations are so mind bogglingly difficult I defy anyone not to consult Youtube for a path up the tower at least once. And that’s on Normal mode. Strangely, I didn’t see that as a drawback, but more a testament to the draw of the game. I always wanted to get through all the puzzles and persevered even when frustrated to the point of almost quitting as I was hooked by the unfolding story and wanted to know what fate awaited Vincent.
I won’t spoil any of it, but I will tell you there are 8 endings all depending on the position of the Law/Chaos bar. I chose to answer the questions based on what I personally would do rather than what I thought Vincent would or should do. It made the game much more personal as I wanted to see what my own actions would result in.
You’ll be pleased to know I was a good guy and got the “True Lover” ending. With careful save management you can see as many as 4 of the endings without repeating the whole game, but to see all 8 you’ll need to play through it at least 3 times. This does mean I’m going to have to play it again being a complete and total bastard, which oddly I find a little displeasing as I got quite involved in the game and will actually feel bad about being nasty to the people I should be nice to. To have a game leave me thinking like that should tell you how involving the story is.
There is more life in the game too with a couple of modes which allow you to replay the regular puzzle sections in an offline co-op mode, plus a challenge tower which is different every time you play. You can go back to these as many times as you like, plus the story progression puzzle sections are scored depending on your performance giving you reason to challenge the game again on a new play through instead of dropping to the very easy difficulty just to see a new version of the story.
Catherine is literally a game of two halves. The story is great, the puzzles are infuriating, but it does make for a unique whole. I’d recommend it to gamers who want to play something that’s considerably different from the norm. If your game collection is made up entirely of Battlefield of Duty, or you have no patience, this isn’t for you. But if you’re a grown up and open to all new experiences, please do give it a go.
Check out the trailer on Youtube