Xbox360 Review: CATHERINE [EU Release]

We take a look at the not so easy to define game, Catherine, in celebration of it's release in Europe.

rating:5

Attempting to classify Catherine is difficult at best. Is it a puzzler, a type of survival horror, or some kind of love-sim? In ways it is an ambiguous game at best, but for those who are familiar with other games made by Atlus, it is both innovative and rather classic, making good use of mythology and symbolism in standard Atlus fashion. It is very much a story driven game which centres around three key characters. Our hero of sorts is Vincent, 32, a man who could be described as being content with drifting through life of work, his regular bar, and his girlfriend, Katherine. The local news is rife with men dying in their sleep, looking almost drained, with friends and relatives speaking of how their loved one was speaking of having nightmares. Katherine, also 32, is the first woman in Vincent€™s life at the time our story is set, having met again at a school reunion five years ago, the two started dating. Recently things have been getting serious with Katherine speaking of marriage and settling down; Vincent is a little less than thrilled. This is where our title character sashays into the picture. Catherine is, to Vincent, his ideal woman. At the age of 22 she is a young vivacious woman who is seemingly everything his girlfriend isn€™t. Catherine is, in fact, near enough the opposite of Katherine. She is seductive and flirtatious where Katherine is serious, her clothing is revealing where Katherine€™s is reserved, light where Katherine is dark. Even small elements such as the makeup of the two women are reversed; Catherine has pink nails and blue eye shadow, Katherine blue nails and pink eyeshot. Now these might seem like superficial aspects, but they become all the more apparent as the story progresses. The night Catherine and Vincent meet an affair begins, and Vincent finds himself having some unusual nightmares. Being chased by facets of his imagination and fears, Vincent must climb a sometimes seemingly endless wall of blocks, pulling and pushing them to create a path, to reach the top of the floor. Each floor is split into varying sections, and a platform can be found in-between each section. It is here that you find you are not alone in this nightmare, but instead you have some oddly familiar sheep for company. You can speak to the sheep, encourage them to keep climbing, you may be surprised at the results. The nightmare sections themselves, while not easy, are satisfying once you work out how to get past whatever was giving you trouble, perseverance is the key though. Once these precedents have been set out, near enough a set formula happens for the game. During the day you have the main story with various cut scenes, and you spend your time at the bar, The Stray Sheep, with your friends. It is here that you can drink, speak to the other patrons, and send and receive messages from either of the two very different women. How you respond to these messages results in either a €˜lawful€™ (if you favour Katherine) or €˜chaotic€™ (for Catherine) rating, and it is where this rating is at the end of the game that decides which of the 8 endings you get. It is because of the multiple endings that I feel this game has a big replay potential, simply because you cannot find out the whole story from one ending. I am on my third play though of the game now, first I got the €˜True Law€™ ending, the second time the €˜True Chaos€™, and personally the True Chaos ending was not only more entertaining, but it explained much more about what had been going on than the lawful ending did. It is a little too easy to claim that this is a game of good and evil, or even of staying faithful or cheating, some have even said it is a €˜man-hating€™ game. I say it is none of these things. While at first it may seem like any number of the above, it is at its core much simpler. It is a game of choice. You can choose if you drink at the bar (drinking will make you move faster in the nightmares), you can choose to speak to the patrons, and you can choose which girl to favour, or even to favour neither at all. It is also, in a sense, a game for fans of other games Atlus have produced. For example at the bar you can see an oddly familiar bear. Vincent himself has made an appearance in another game from Atlus, Persona 3. You can first meet Vincent at the nightclub. While he is unnamed he speaks of relationship troubles and nightmares. In relation to this, at the bar which you go to in Catherine, there is a jukebox which plays a number of familiar tracks from other Atlus games. I could spend a huge amount of time pointing out where the symbolism and mythology comes into play in Catherine, but I believe that it is much more fun to find out on your own. The game is not without fault, as much as I may seem to say otherwise. Playing on normal difficulty when it comes to the nightmare sections of the game can be incredibly frustrating at times. It is not an easy game, I would say that if you play on normal, and find you like the story more than the puzzles, you have the option on your next play through to skip the puzzle sections and can focus entirely on your €˜moral€™ choices. However I must say having played both the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, I personally find part of the difficulty is down to the d-pad on the 360€™s controller. Again with the nightmare sections the camera is not your friend. If you have to go behind the wall of blocks at any point the camera does not follow and the controls reverse themselves. However the times you find you have to do this are few at best, it is possible to play the puzzle sections and nearly never have to go behind the wall. I find that when considering the game as whole, these minor aspects can be forgiven for the bigger picture. Catherine is refreshing in the game market today, and while it may not be everyone€™s cup of tea, I believe that it well worth playing at least a couple of times, you may be surprised at what you miss the first time around.
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