The cult classic game; Catherine, which deals with relationships, important questions on love and cheating while adding in surrealistic elements is finally out for PC. This is great news for anyone that loves Troy Baker, sheep, murder and romance. I mean, who doesn’t!? This is also great news for anyone who’s not played the game already since its release in 2011. Which from my understanding is a fair amount of people, shame really as this game had some great ideas. But maybe there were too many ideas which didn’t work?
Catherine is a weird game I can tell you that. But in all the right ways, I might add. Well, mostly.
In Catherine you play as Vincent, voice by the lovely Troy Baker. He’s a typical guy who enjoys hanging out with his friends, drinking, eating sushi and has a long term girlfriend named Katherine (who I believe he cares for). He lives a pretty normal life but seems content with the way things are and would rather not move ahead with his relationship. It’s not the case he’s unhappy or doesn’t love Katherine (I think) but by his nature he’s a simple guy who’s happy with the way things are.
Understandable, as change is scary and one of the more compelling themes in the game’s narrative is the fear of change and moving on. But soon enough Vincent’s world turns upside down and he ends up cheating with another woman named Catherine. Oh yeah, there’s also a strange shared nightmare happening to young men who cheat on their partners and die in the real world if they fall in said nightmare. Also everyone is the dream are represented by sheep.
Yeah I did say Catherine is a weird game.
So it’s story features a long list of characters, mostly males with differing problems and ideologies on relations and women. Catherine is very well written, creating diverse and interesting characters who all have a purpose in the greater scheme of things. I could actually see these guys in real life and even know a few who remind me of these characters. Such as Tobias, a young, sweet guy who likes older ladies and dreams of having a long term relationship with the girl of his dreams. Another is a smooth talking playboy who rather not have a long term relationship but deep down actually desires companionship and having someone care for him rather than endless one night stands.
There’s plenty of people to discuss important matters with and depending on how much you talk to them throughout the game, the more you learn and the more things will alter. I liked this aspect of the game, as the main story does show some cracks.
Vincent, while likable in many ways is a complete tool. Let me say that again, HE’S A COMPLETE TOOL. Pathetic and unforgivably stupid at times, he can grate on your nerves. While the game does offer choices throughout, many of these are often overwriting to serve the purpose of a structured story and only make a difference at the end. So for example when you meet Catherine (the girl Vincent cheats on) you can tell something is not right and even in early stages of the story shows alarming signs of being *slightly* unstable.
Yet, Vincent acts as though nothing’s wrong with her at key moments and the game does it’s best to give you the option to relish in her affections, despite the fact he’s a *slightly* mental. Even though you may not want too and try to push her away as much as possible. But in the next act the game says “nah, here she is and Vincent will just act all shocked and surprised but goes along with it anyway”.
Why? These were the moments I felt didn’t work as well in the narrative but often enough Vincent will share his thoughts and say the right thing. But then do the wrong thing. It’s still a very good story and worth tuning in for.
Now it’s time to discuss the gameplay ladies and gentleman. The core of the game are the Nightmare segments which features Vincent climbing a giant wall made of various blocks, while avoiding an impending danger that follows you from below. Each Nightmare is broken up into stages, with each stage increasing in difficulty. These are pretty intense and require a combination of lateral thinking and quick reflexes. Or just combine the two to make “Quick Lateral Thinking”. That’s a thing right?
Well to break it down, Vincent has to traverse a giant wall by moving various blocks to create a path. It’s a simple concept but the designers have implemented a number of dynamics to change the pacing from level to level. You have different types of blocks which can kill Vincent or allow him to travel faster. There are enemies in some stages and even this game’s own form of boss battles. Vincent can use a variation of tactics while the climbing which the players learns by speaking with other sheep in the moments between each stage. Useful for later stages as Catherine will get increasingly difficult with each night.
I do mean this and overall, Catherine is a tough game. There’s little room for error but at the same time, the designers have made sure the learning curve is not too steep. You can undo a previous move, find plenty of pillows which allow you to retry a stage (yes this game has continues in nightmare stages) and has plenty of those tactics you can look upon at any time and remember there’s always a way.
At times it can feel like blind luck but I often found the simplest tactic to be the most effective. There are only two real issues with the nightmare stages, the bosses and the camera controls. Bosses are a massive pain and can be the end of you with even a couple of ill-advised moves. They’re fast, often spew out projectiles and make the most annoying sounds ever. The baby boss was just infuriating to listen too, so much that I muted the sound.
It doesn’t help as well that when they shoot projectiles, the camera decides to focus on them and move away from Vincent. There are also the weird controls while manoeuvring the edges of blocks and how the directional shift will change depending on which side of the block you are.
Still, the Nightmare sections are inventive and it’s nice to see something highly engaging that does not rely on combat. It’s a compelling form of conflict that’s intelligent and relentless. But as mentioned before, they’re rather tough even in early stages.
These two concepts make up Catherine, the surreal and lateral nightmare stages with the grounded and heart-breaking tale of love and suffering. It’s a compelling game and one that should be checked out for anyone who likes anime, drama, surrealism and explore the complex workings of a relationship. This remaster is pretty neat, with smooth visuals, good sound design and a fluent frame speed. There are some odd bugs, such as the pivotal anchor (a tool used for cut scenes to move certain parts of a character) shows up in some cut scenes. It’s a little distracting but nothing to break the game itself.
So I highly recommend Catherine for those looking for something different, original and meaningful.
++ Engaging story with meaningful themes (even if Vincent has some annoying characteristics)
+ Great concept with Nightmare stages and block puzzle gameplay
+ Nice visuals and great voice acting
- Some minor graphical bugs
- Too Punishing from time to time in nightmare stages
A Steam copy of Catherine Classic was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.