Catherine has been creating quite a buzz. Not just because of its semi-questionable launch event (in a gentlemen’s club complete with Catherine double-act pole dance; no sheep, though) but because of how interesting it is. Atlus certainly know how to do strange and interesting (Persona) crossed with frustrating (Trauma Centre). Catherine fits neatly into their catalogue. From the moment a bloodstained Atlus logo appears, to the moment where a sheep falls to his death and the camera zooms out to see the protagonist tied to a block with barbed wire, you know that you’re about to have a bizarre experience. “Catheriiiine!”

Catherine, at its heart, is a puzzle game with RPG elements. Well, I shouldn’t really say RPG, I should say interactive animation elements. The game revolves around Vincent, who is in a steady relationship with Katherine but really starts to feel the pressure of marriage and babies. Matters aren’t helped when he meets the sexy Catherine and ends up embarking on an affair of sorts. Meanwhile, he’s been having strange dreams that he can’t remember the next day; dreams where if he falls in the dream, he’ll die…

The game is split into two parts: the “puzzle/nightmare” stages, and the “daytime/evening” stages. During the “day”, you’ll watch a cut scene or animated sequence. The evening will see Vincent in the Stray Sheep bar, where he can get drunk, chat to fellow customers and text Katherine/Catherine. The way Vincent responds to people and the way he texts or doesn’t text the two women changes where he falls on the “mysterious meter”, which is kind of the equivalent of a morality scale except it’s not really morality, it’s Law/Chaos, Katherine/Catherine. Where Vincent is on the meter will determine how he reacts to situations, and eventually how the story comes to an end. There are eight different endings.

In the Nightmare stages, you’re faced with fiendish block puzzles. You need to pull and push blocks to make a stairway to the top, and to freedom. The stage crumbles eventually, though, so you’d better get moving if you want to survive. It’s pressured puzzle-solving at its best, and each level ends with a boss which is a horrifying manifestation of Vincent’s deepest fears. My particular worst one is a decaying, bloodied, chainsaw-laden baby which screams “DAAAAADDDYYY!!! DON’T LEAAAAVVEEE MEEEE!” as it clambers up the tower. “The child has appeared,” says the calm public service announcement. “It’s a killer; do not die.” If you die, you’re treated to the sight of Vincent’s blood and guts splattered all over the blocks, or Vincent’s broken body. It’s harsh, but it’s amazing how quickly you’ll pick up the 3D puzzle-solving skills needed to survive the nightmare.

The gameplay feels quite short because there are only nine levels and it only took me so long to play through the first time (bar multiple retries) because the cut scenes are really long. A big draw of Catherine is the story, so don’t expect to be able to speed through it and get the same experience. The animated sequences are crisp and lovely to watch in HD and you’ll want to watch them. The whole game absorbs you, and the twists and turns in the story are fascinating. It’s kind of like the best kind of interactive anime. Talking of which, the voice-acting is spot on, so don’t let an English dub put you off.

It’s an unusual but very good game; a novelty of substance worth playing through at least once. There are multiplayer modes included, but they’re hardly worth mentioning when they’re basic challenge or two-player co-op/competitive modes. The main draw here is the single-player mode. Catherine is retailing for quite a steep price though: £44.99 for the regular version (on Xbox at least) and £54.99 for a limited edition version which includes a poster and the RAVE T-shirt that Vincent wears in the game. It’s a nice T-shirt, but they missed out on a marketing trick by not including a full body pillow with Catherine on one side and Katherine on the other. In any case, because the game is quite short for what it is, I don’t think that the steep price tag will encourage most to buy what is a curiosity rather than a full-on blockbuster title. The niche fans will snap this game up regardless of price, but others may want to wait a little bit longer. The Americans have had the game since last year; waiting a little longer for a price drop won’t kill those in the UK.







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