PS3 Review: CATHERINE [US Release]

We take a look at Atlus' controversial puzzler Catherine, newly released in the US, and hopefully soon to come to our shores...

Catherine has been one of my most anticipated games this year because it comes from the same people who made Persona 3 and 4 - Atlus - which themselves were two of my all time favorite RPGs. And the premise is irresistible: a video game that explores a person€™s fear of commitment and the effects of cheating on a loved one? Sign me up! So, was my excitement for the game justified and does it live up to the already good reviews? I can happily offer a resounding yes to both questions, and I will unreservedly add that this is one of the best games of the year so far. Catherine at its heart is a puzzle game with life simulation mixed in split into two distinct parts: the game the sheep-filled nightmare puzzle section and the bar called the Stray Sheep where you interact with other game characters. The beginning of the game takes a little while to get going, but there are some good cut-scenes introducing our protagonist Vincent. He is an average guy who has a fear of commitment, and when his long time girlfriend Katherine starts dropping hints about marriage he starts to panic. This leads to a not so good situation with another woman named Catherine, which causes Vincent to start having those afore-mentioned sheep-filled nightmares. It is in these nightmares we find the puzzle section of the game, where Vincent is expected to traverse a wall of blocks to the top every night, or die in the real world if he fails. The player in this section rearranges blocks in order to move up the wall, there is a time limit as blocks beneath you start to fall meaning you better move fast if you don€™t want to die. The challenges become increasingly difficult the further you get into the game, mostly because of the different types of blocks such as exploding blocks, ice blocks, and damaged blocks. Also the formations of how the blocks are arranged makes it more difficult to find the next path needed to move up the wall. The puzzle part of the game can be very difficult; however I beat the game on normal and had a lot of fun trying to move up the wall. I did die a lot but I never became frustrated, because crucially the game always makes you feel as if you just need to try something different the next time. For example, there were times when I just experimented to figure out my next move, and memorized certain sections of the wall so each time I fell I would remember how I got up there. There are a few different things to help you like pushing select will take back previous moves, check points, and pillows that give you retries. I would say that if you struggle with puzzle games I recommend playing the game on easy to begin with. After you defeat the puzzle section for the night, you return to your normal everyday life of getting plastered at the Stray Sheep. During this time you will talk with your friends and other NPCs about their life and problems. You can€™t enter the Stray Sheep without having some emotional problems, and you will act as psychiatrist to all these people. How you interact with people during your time in the bar dictates how events will play out during the game, for example, if you don€™t interact with certain people at the bar, they may not survive to visit the bar the next day. You will also get text messages from the two women you are seeing and get to choose the reply you want to send. All these interactions tie in with a morality meter you will see throughout the game, and will inevitably change the outcome of the game based on your decisions and choices, culminating with 8 different ending to the game. So far, I only have seen one and I liked it even though it was not exactly the perfect ending. Overall, I have to say that Catherine blends the mature story elements and the puzzle elements very well together. There are prizes for earning gold medals, such as new stages and a challenge multiplayer mode becomes unlocked when you defeat the game. The multiplayer mode is extremely fun, but be warned there is very little chance of either person reaching the top in the challenge mode. For me it ended with me and my opponent trying to kill each other more than trying to climb up the wall, which in itself of course is a diverting past-time! The game does have some issues, towards the end of the game some people may grow tired of the block climbing (personally I enjoyed the challenge of each new level), but the lack of diversity may put some off. Also, the camera can sometimes be a hindrance; trying to climb to the opposite side of the wall is very difficult because the camera doesn€™t move with you, so there are times when you need to be on the other side of the wall and are blindly trying to navigate the terrain. However, these issues are very minor and don€™t affect how great this game really is. Catherine is actually able to blend a great story into the gameplay so that your actions and the decisions you make actually affect the outcome of the game, like a traditional morality-led game. But despite that similarity, there is certainly nothing like it on the market today - for example, one of the best parts of the game for me was the beer trivia you would learn every night - and that uniqueness is one of the driving forces behind its success. There are so many things story wise players need to discover for themselves that I would actually recommend you play this with a friend or girlfriend, and having two people looking at the puzzle does help: there were times when I missed something very easy but my partner would see it and point it out to me. Cheating? Possibly, but adaptability is one of the strengths of our species after all. There is just something about this game that makes me very happy to play it; there is a maturity to this game that you won€™t see in any other game on the market today, and I fully believe that this is one of those games that more casual gamers may enjoy thanks to the story. I've recently written about the value of originality in gaming, and Catherine ticks that box firmly - so if you want something different, but completely entertaining, I would unreservedly recommend it as an essential purchase when it eventually becomes widely available. Just don't expect it to be anything like your favourite FPS, if that's what floats your boat.

Catherine is available now in the U.S. on PS3 and XBOX 360, but as yet there is no confirmed release date for the UK.

I have been playing video games all my life but not only that I enjoy discussing them just as much as I love playing them. Therefore after going through college to get a criminal justice degree I became a freelance video game writer.