Murder She Wrote
Catherine, out now on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, can be described in a lot of different ways: a challenging puzzle game, a so-so platformer, an odd dating sim, an intriguing role-playing experience. Regardless of what you call it, one thing is for sure: Catherine is a gaming experience like no other.
At its core is a murder mystery. People are dying in their sleep, apparently victims of nightmares where they fall from an impossible height. When the dreamers don't wake up before they hit the ground in their sleep, seemingly their real-life bodies perish too.
Our hero is Vincent, a set-in-his-ways guy with a highly strung girlfriend named Katherine. Vincent's girlfriend is pregnant and wants him to take the next step in life by tying the knot with her. Unfortunately things take a turn for the worse when, drunk and stressed out, Vincent meets the confusingly named Catherine - a carefree, temptress who seduces him.
Explaining the story beyond this point would certainly ruin the experience somewhat, so we'll keep it vague and say Vincent, racked with guilt and on the point of a meltdown, begins to have nightmares where he's being chased up a pyramid of blocks. If he doesn't reach the top and escape before whatever is following gets him in its clutches it's game over time.
Sheep in Wolf's Clothing
The gameplay in Catherine is simple in design but can also be very challenging in practice. Players are tasked with scrambling up the Tower of Babel by pulling and pushing blocks to create steps he can hop onto or shuffle around.
Since these gameplay segments take place in the realm of nightmares they're incredibly surreal experiences. Vincent scurries around dressed only in his boxers, clutching a pillow, and somehow he has managed to grow a pair of sheep's antlers too.
The gameplay is made challenging by the constant threat of being chased, as well as a number of dangerous blocks that can explode, are booby trapped with hidden spikes or are made of slippery ice. Coins, bonus blocks and extra retries are also placed around the tower to tempt you from the simplest path.
When not being chased around by horrifyingly twisted manifestations of his real life problems, Vincent spends his time at the Stray Sheep, a bar also frequented by a few of his friends. In these segments Catherine becomes more of a role playing game in which you're required to mingle with other people, and talk to Catherine and Katherine, both in person and through text messages.
Over time relationships advance and the convoluted love triangle unfolds, often with terrifying consequences. Much of the joy of Catherine is in its presentation; Japanese animation house Studio 4C, which most recently created the TV Thundercats reboot, delivers gorgeous visuals and there's some top notch voice acting too.
Catherine also features a fairly simple online mode, It challenges players to answer moral questions between the tower stages and a pie chart shows how others responded, allowing you to gauge your moral compass against fellow gamers'. It's not particularly deep but is interesting nonetheless.
You probably won't see or play a game like Catherine again; it deals with mature themes and has simple yet challenging, thoroughly satisfying gameplay. It's definitely worth spending some quality time with.
- Beautiful to look at.
- Satisfying gameplay.
- Really interesting story.
- Basic online features.
- Can be very challenging at times.
- Some long loading times.