Thursday, 16 February 2012

Catherine


What makes a protagonist engaging to an audience is if said audience can relate to the heroes’ problems and issues. Catherine puts you in the shoes of Vincent, an ordinary guy who just can’t seem to get his love life in order. His struggle resides predominately in his nightmares where he is forced to overcome a barrage of intricate puzzles that are manifestations of his problems. Vincent is a great protagonist, one that many people could relate with – coupled with a terrific set of characters, narrative and very engaging puzzles; Catherine is certainly an experience unlike anything you’ve ever played.



What makes Vincent such a terrific lead character is his average Joe nature – he doesn’t like change, if anything it scares him. His current relationship with girlfriend Katherine is leading ever closer towards marriage and Vincent is by no means embracing this proposed future. While sorting his thoughts out at his favourite bar The Stray Sheep, Vincent meets a beautiful and fun-loving girl called Catherine – the polar opposite of his Katherine. Catherine clearly represents freedom and living for the moment, while Katherine leans towards a direct future and lockdown for our hero. Needless to say, his urges win and Vincent wakes up in bed with Catherine the next morning. Stuck in a position where no man wants to be, Vincent can’t choose between the girls before him and as a result, tries to find comfort and consolation from his friends. The narrative is excellent throughout and the storyline is told through beautiful anime-style cut scenes. It is so easy to care for Vincent and want to help him find independence and the answers to his problems. Even both Katherine and Catherine are engaging characters and female gamers who have experienced an unfaithful man will be able to consolidate with the situation and embrace their attitudes towards Vincent, who through his actions can also be considered an anti-hero.

Catherine operates using two different game mechanics by splitting the day into two sections. During the day Vincent roams The Stray Sheep and here you talk to your friends, mingle with locals and strangers, answer text messages from both your ladies and watch the news reveal mysterious murders that are somehow related to Vincent’s dreams. The text messages in particular impart a sort of morality system into the game. However, it is implemented in such a way that the boundaries between good and evil are difficult to judge and stick to as you are subjected to choices that test your loyalty and resolve, as opposed to how much of an angel or devil you are. The fact that Vincent is cheating doesn’t necessarily make him a bad person, in fact his personality will lead you to believe that everyone makes honest mistakes when they are trapped in loops of unhappiness and don’t tackle them directly. The fact that Catherine makes this system quite complex allows you to answer in a more honest manner, as opposed to trying to follow a particular path to unlock one of the various endings available.

Vincent’s major problems really come to life during the night portions of the game. His nightmares are home to the gameplay element of Catherine, the puzzle towers. Your goal in these sections of the game is to climb to the top of the tower by moving blocks, avoiding traps and overcoming some incredibly difficult bosses. Dramatic audio compliments your torturous climb to the top and the visuals ensure you are just as terrified as you are tense, with Vincent’s nightmares coming to life in a dark and twisted fashion.



Moving blocks and climbing up doesn’t sounds particularly difficult, but rest assured that Catherine is a seriously tough game, so tough that the difficulty curve may be just too much for some gamers. You must arrange blocks in a methodological fashion, meaning just like in chess, you are forced to think way ahead. There are so many stumbling points throughout each level that checkpoints seem way too far apart and some tricks Catherine throws at you will leave you in frustration. Nevertheless, the puzzles are well thought out and a strong sense of satisfaction will be achieved when you finally get to the top of each tower.

This level of mayhem occurs in just basic levels – when you get to the bosses, you could very well break down and give up. Bosses have lots of cruel tricks at their disposal like reversing your controls, moving you around the tower, nullifying blocks and to the games detriment, the camera circles to show you the boss, which totally messes with your perspective and can leave hanging for dear life.

Catherine keeps going back to the idea of relating to Vincent and indeed you will replicate his happiness and sheer delight when you get to the top of a puzzle tower. Getting to the top doesn’t ultimately signify victory because each level has stashes of gold, collectables and of course, a timer for how fast you get up – all culminating in a bronze, silver or gold medal for your effort. This of course increases Catherine’s replay value and the versatility in levels makes them easy to come back to and enjoy once again.

Once you have finally completed a puzzle stage, the game chooses to test your morality by asking you a question that affects the morality metre. These confessions serve as a way to congregate other Catherine players by showing a pie graph that shows how everyone else answered the question posed before you. Questions range from deep and engaging, to just plain ridiculous, but all serve to get you to a designated ending.

Catherine does have other modes to engage with if you unlock a certain number of gold medals in the story mode, which is difficult enough in itself. Nevertheless, a competitive multiplayer mode can be unlocked that allows you powers similar to that of the bosses to try and stop your opponent from reaching the top of the tower. It’ll be a long while before you unlock this game mode though I assure you.

Ultimately there is something very beautiful about Catherine. It is a game that unveils itself as a puzzle experience that challenges your resolve, speed and ability under pressure – but in reality it really seeks to enter your heart and challenge your morality as well as your emotions. Who’s right and who’s in the wrong? Whatever the case, Catherine is a devilishly difficult, yet delightful experience that is really unlike anything you’ve ever played before.

9.0 | Gameplay | 
Two distinct variations on gameplay are both entertaining – especially the nightmare puzzle towers, which are engaging, engrossing and very difficult.

10.0 | Presentation | 
Beautiful artistic design, fantastic audio and a great narrative ensures the story is told well and you engage with the characters on many different levels.

6.0 | Replay Value | 
You can go back to the puzzle towers to try and get the gold medals and subs sequentially unlock the competitive multiplayer towers, but this is no easy task. 

8.5 | Final Thoughts | 
Catherine is beautiful; it engages your morality at one moment and then tests your skill and resolve in exciting and tense puzzle segments in the next. The story is intertwined with emotion and it will keep you sucked in from beginning to the end. An excellent mix of story and gameplay makes Catherine a new experience you won’t forget.

Igor Kharin.


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