Review: Catherine (PS3)
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation3
Developer: Atlus Persona Team
Publishers: Atlus, Deep Silver
TL;DR: Morality themed romantic horror puzzle game
Family Friendly?: Click here for more info
It seems like you can’t make a horror game these days if it’s not got a girl’s name as the title. With this in mind I ventured into Catherine (that sounds wrong already) in the hope that it would be a darn sight better than Amy. Okay, I can see this is going to go a little Frankie Howerd with all the double-entendre, so I’ll leave it to you to add an “Ooo Matron” where appropriate. If you’re not familiar with Carry On films then just ignore the innuendo entirely. It’s a British thing.
Catherine is the story of a man in his thirties whose girlfriend of many years, Katherine, is hinting at marriage. Coincidentally Vincent meets a girl, Catherine, who seems like his ideal woman, at his local bar. Along with some mysterious events, he finds himself entangled in a romantic situation he never intended to fall into. It is at this point that Vincent is struck by nightmares where he must climb, move blocks, and climb some more to escape from the void below. That’s pretty much the crux of the gameplay, the nightmares hold most of the horror and the puzzle part of this game. The romance belongs in the “real” world, where you guide Vincent through conversations with his friends and locals at the bar.
So when this game was being teased I thought “Wow, a romantic horror game, that’s pretty new”, but in truth Catherine is a puzzle game with some story on the side. That’s great if you enjoy puzzle games, but if, like me, you like Tetris but that’s about it, then Catherine is in danger of being a huge disappointment (now would be the time for some Frankie Howerd). The game is essentially a block moving climbing puzzle with a whole bunch of cutscenes in between. Every now and then you get the opportunity to engage in conversations with people, but the punishment for staying up late talking is that you get in more trouble with Katherine. So if, like me, you want to be a good guy and also enjoy the story side of the game then bad luck.
It is perhaps unfortunate that we enter Vincent’s life at the tumultuous time we do. We don’t get to see any sort of relationship between him and Katherine, so there’s no incentive for the player to be faithful other than guilt, and Catherine seems like such a headcase that there’s no appeal there either. Through the game’s morality system of conversing with friends and answering moral dilemmas in your dreams you can guide Vincent to Katherine or Catherine. But if I were Vincent I’d choose the local barlady: Erica. She seems much cooler and more of a genuine human rather than the two robots: void of emotion Katherine, and sex-obsessed Catherine. Additionally Vincent is incredibly frustrating to play as. Firstly the controls in the puzzle stages will have you pressing the (thankfully included) “undo” button as if doing so released chocolate from the screen, and Vincent’s inability to just say things is incredibly infuriating. I suppose that’s the point of him though, so well done there.
There’s plenty the game does brilliantly: you can’t find fault in the voice acting. The art in the game is great: the switch from animé to 3D and keeping the same style is no mean feat. The music’s pretty good if you like Holst and Handel on endless repeat. And the story is good, albeit it does suffer from Fahrenheit Sydrome near the end (for North Americans that’s Indigo Prophecy Syndrome) in that it goes completely mental. But I can forgive that because it hints at its own insanity throughout. The trouble is that I like the story, I like the pretence that it’s all an interactive TV show complete with the broadcast channel’s watermark in the top left hand corner, I like the feeling that what I do has a detailed effect on Vincent’s actions (not just good or evil), but I don’t like the puzzle gameplay. But I must admit, if you like to do Sudoku in your spare time this is a revolution in your genre. If you like the idea of a romantic horror game focused on morality, and puzzles aren’t necessarily your thing, then Catherine is going to frustrate the hell out of you.
- Top quality art
- Morality system is on a scale, not just good or evil
- Pretty engaging story and very likeable, well acted, secondary characters
- Puzzles have a slightly sporadic difficulty curve
- Can feel like you’re watching rather than playing
- Primary characters are difficult to relate to
PEGI 18. On my playthrough I didn’t encounter anything too racy, there’s plenty of innuendo, but thankfully it’s not a sexually explicit game.