Catherine

Because I have both time and semi-inspiration at the moment, there seem to be a lot more reviews waiting to be written than I thought. Therefore, it’s about time for my first video game review. First of all, I was pretty much raised as a gamer, and with a brother who is able to surprise me with new games every time I visit him, I’ve gained insight into quite a few. While most of them are certainly review-worthy, I’ll focus on the one that I have just finished an hour ago: Catherine.

Catherine was released in 2011/12 (for PS3 and XBOX 360) and almighty Wikipedia calls it a “puzzle-platformer psychological horror adventure game,” which is quite a long description if you ask me and already explains pretty much everything about it. The story is quite simple as well: The protagonist Vincent is having commitment issues in his long-term relationship and ends up cheating on his girlfriend Katherine, with a game that is ironically called Catherine. At the same time, he is plagued by consistent nightmares and according to news reports, he’s not the only one: more and more men seem to die because they have died in their dreams.

Throughout the game, you accompany Vincent during his nightmares and through his everyday life as well, which mostly consists of drinking with his friends at their regular pub. There are two main parts to the game: the adventure part (i.e. everyday life and parts of the nightmares) and the strategy part that his nightmares mainly consist of:

  • The strategy part is where the main gameplay takes place: Vincent has to climb up giant stairs that collapse underneath him, dragging him down, and has to do so by moving around giant blocks as quickly and efficiently as possible. He occasionally meets other men in form of sheep there who either talk to him (in between the levels) or try to push him down. As the levels progress, they become more and more complicated, leading up to different types of blocks that are more difficult to deal with, as well as changing blocks. Also occasionally, he is chased by nightmarish monsters trying to actively kill him in addition to the falling blocks.
  • As already mentioned, the adventure part as well as the video sequences are part of the Daytime scenario. (The whole game is kept in anime style by the way.) Here, Vincent can talk to his friends and other guests at the bar, read and reply to text messages, gamble, drink alcohol, etc. Based on his choices (mainly his interaction with others in text messages, but also some choices during the nightmare adventure sequences), the game finally leads to one of its multiple endings.

The first thing though that I can say about Catherine is: What. The. Hell!?

In general, I think it’s a really cool game; before playing it, I’d heard three things about it: That it was extremely obscene (yup, true), messed up (certainly true), and very hard. I didn’t believe the third statement until I actually started playing it. It sounds simple enough after all, and normally I’m all for puzzles and riddles in video games. What I am not quite capable of, though, is speed and orientation. I get easily confused, I like to have time to look around and think about what I’m doing. The hard thing about this game is that you have very little time (especially in the final stages) to actually think and have to act extremely quickly. You climb the hell out of this level, and if you go wrong only once, you may either lose too much time, or move around the blocks in such a way that you have no choice but starting over even though you can undo a few of your last steps. Now, while I absolutely love the concept, I failed epically. There were a few stages/parts of stages that I managed just fine, but for someone like me, who has poor spatial orientation/imagination, this was hell. More often than not, my lovely brother had to take over and get me out of there because I had no idea how to. Because of this, and because you have to focus so much on what you’re doing, you can’t play it for too long at once, and you probably can’t do it drunk either. So I suppose it’s safe to say that I mainly took care of the adventure part of the game, while my brother focused on the strategy part – good teamwork. It certainly helps to have someone sitting next to you who starts to gain a better overview than you do. I suppose that very often, what you could hear from the room were loud shouts, mainly coming from me: “UP! DOWN! PUSH! PULL! LEFT! BACK! NO, NO, NO! TAKE CARE!!!!”

As I said, I love this concept; I’m just bad at it. What I also love is games where your choices have a definite effect on the ending, and you won’t know until it’s too late. (Like the ending that I ended up with: I stared in horror at first because it wasn’t what I had set out to, but I soon realized that it isn’t all that bad; I suppose there was at least one more ending that I would have hated a lot more. Still, I probably got the most boring ending of all; I looked up one other on Youtube, I should probably check out the others too – either that, or play the game again.) On the whole though, the game was extremely interesting to play, not only because of the really challenging strategy concept, but also because the storyline was quite lifelike (well, the basis was – if you don’t count the nightmares and curses and demons and all). The characters, too, were all quite different and realistic. It wasn’t all black and white: all the characters had their good and their bad sides, and that’s what the very essence of this game was about – finding out how to deal with your strengths and weaknesses, making decisions, getting to know yourself, taking responsibility. Therefore, my attitude towards all (save two) characters were quite ambivalent and although I had two favourites, I was quite sceptical about most of the others. There was one that I simply disliked a lot, and then there was a bunch that I wasn’t sure about, which is rare – especially in games I make up my mind quickly. Like this, I could understand Vincent and his behaviour at the beginning, up to a certain point. After this, though, I started to dislike him more and more until probably after two thirds of the game, I was sure I’d never had so little respect for a character that I was playing. So just speaking of the characters, this game is top; they were all extremely fascinating. My main “what the fuck” moments were focused on the nightmare monsters. With pretty much every stage except the last, I believe, I sat there staring in horror, eyes and mouth wide open, with a confused: “What the HELL did I just SEE?!” And that suits the rest of the game very well, too. If you ever play it… well, you’ll see what I mean. Especially with the, I think, second stage…

So personally, I thought it was a really good game, even though it was very WTF-triggering. I found it really intriguing and scary how much the game actually taught me about myself. (You also learned a lot of interesting trivia about alcohol by the way.) Having only answered (to some extent, as much as I could) the way I would, without keeping in mind a specific ending, I did realise that I may have some attitude problems in some respects. Especially the questions that you had to answer in the nightmare scenarios were quite revealing if you actually answered them truthfully. That was quite an unexpected part of the game: to see that such a weird, strange, messed up game: something so personal at the very basis. (Also, seeing that if I did everything the way I would I’d end up completely alone wasn’t very reassuring either.) Even though it had quite a simple style, the story and the characters, and the overall idea were completely worth playing it – so I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind the sometimes really, really quite disturbing moments. However, the humour is just hilarious in there; really well done. And who knows, maybe I’ll give it another try at some point…

And now I’ll see if finally having finished this game will get me a decent night’s sleep again. Coincidence? Yes, very much so. At least I never encounter any sheep or strange monsters (or such strange monsters at least) in my dreams.

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