Catherine follows the story of a man named Vincent Brooks.
A series of bizarre and unexplainable deaths that only happen to young men in their sleep begins to crop up in Vincent’s neighborhood. Rumors quickly spread as to the cause of these mysterious deaths, with many saying that the victims had been cheating on their significant others and had been cursed with strange nightmares where if you fall, you will die. One day, Vincent’s longtime girlfriend Katherine begins to pressure him about marriage. While contemplating his predicament at his favorite bar that night—The Stray Sheep, Vincent meets a beautiful, young, and mysterious woman named Catherine.
She is his type in every way, and the two end up spending the night together at Vincent’s place. Soon after, Vincent begins to have nightmares where he and several other men appearing as sheep must escape various horrors trying to kill them, and if they die in the nightmare, they die in real life. The two women start to pressure Vincent endlessly, forcing Vincent to have to decide between the two of them while trying to survive his nightmares.
The story’s central themes revolve around morality, relationships, infidelity, commitment, fear, and the pressures, problems, and consequences stemming from them. Because infidelity is a major point of the storyline, Vincent cheating with Catherine is completely unavoidable and integral to the game. The story is told in the forms of dialogue, CG, and traditional animated scenes. Atlus did an amazing job weaving these themes together to create an interesting, engaging, and truly adult story about love and sex that showcased how gray and complex romantic and sexual relationships are and can be. Will Vincent give into the seductive temptations of Catherine, or will he beg Katherine for forgiveness? Will he leave the others to their fate, or will he help his fellow “sheep” traverse their nightmares and come out alive? The outcome is entirely yours to choose.
The game is a mix of puzzle, platforming, and adventure. There are several modes of the game throughout each day; puzzle platforming during Vincent’s nightmare sequences, and adventure-type gameplay during his day sequences. In his nightmares, you complete a series of stages and puzzle levels within each stage where you must move blocks around in various ways to climb up to the top in order to move to the next floor. Each level has a time limit, as levels of blocks fall down at random intervals; If you fall down, or the level of blocks you are on crumbles, you will die and get a game over. However, you are able to retry the level from either the beginning, or a checkpoint if you’ve hit one—if you have retries, which appear in the levels as “mystic pillows”.
As you go higher up in levels, the puzzles get increasingly more complex and special blocks begin to appear, such as ice blocks that you will slide on if you walk on them and trap blocks that will skewer you alive if you stay on them too long. Between levels there are “rest areas” where you can save, speak to other sheep, and later on shop for items before moving onto the next level. You can choose to ignore the other sheep, but I would highly recommend speaking to every sheep at each rest area, as these interactions have an effect on who lives and dies in the real world, as well as help you learn useful block platforming techniques.
“Block Techniques” increasingly become your best friend as you progress onto the harder levels, and are basically a necessity to beating levels. Boss levels work the same way as regular levels with the tacked on difficulty of having to avoid the bosses attacks in addition to trying to climb up the block tower in a time limit. Boss fights were fairly challenging and fun, with each boss being a different representation of Vincent’s fears with varying deadly, and sometimes giant pain in the ass attacks.
There are several modes of difficulties for the puzzles, allowing people of various skill levels to play the game and test their abilities. I will say though that the puzzles can be at times fairly punishing. I like to think I’m somewhat decent at puzzle platformers, and even on easy mode I came across levels where I spent hours smashing my head into my controller trying to figure out how to scale certain sections before I finally gave in and looked up video walk-throughs for that level. The Doom’s Bride boss was a particular pain in the ass, and was actually harder than the final boss battle for me.
I played the game on Xbox 360, so I cannot comment on the PS3 controls, and found them to be very intuitive and fairly decent. My only real gripe about the controls would be the camera panning. I’m not sure if this was a game restriction or just simply a 360 control one, but side panning was a pain and there was no way to do a 180 with the camera to view the other side of the block tower. This made climbing/moving on the backs of the towers and seeing what blocks were behind others pretty hard, and sometimes impossible, causing me to fall to my death quite a few times.
Game-play outside of the nightmare realm takes place at Vincent’s local bar The Stray Sheep, and is the adventure portion of the game. While at the bar, players are given a slew of various things that they can do that affect the story and eventually what ending you get. You can drink alcohol to hear Vincent’s inner thoughts, hear alcohol related trivia bits, and even get him piss drunk if you drink enough. You can choose between beer, whiskey, sake, and cocktails. What you drink will affect what kind of trivia information you get (beer trivia if you drink beer, cocktail trivia if you drink cocktails, etc) and how fast or slow Vincent will climb up blocks in nightmare sequences. Who the hell would have thought drinking alcohol and bullshitting with your friends at a bar in a video game would be so damn interesting and informative? I ended up hearing Psychostick’s “Beer” song in my head constantly. (LETS GO DRINK SOME BEEEERRR!!!)
In addition to your rag-tag band of friends, you can chat with the other bar patrons, which, like speaking to the sheep during the nightmare, has an effect on who lives and dies, and to some degree your morality meter. In short, be a good buddy and listen to others gripe and bitch while enjoying some adult beverages and getting sloshed. As time goes by in the bar patrons will come and go and you will occasionally get text messages, and sometimes phone calls, from Catherine and Katherine. How, and if, you respond to these text messages and calls will affect your relationship with said lady, your morality meter, and your ending. The bar also has a bathroom where you can see some trippy shit when you wash your face and look at dirty sexts while sitting on the toilet, a jukebox where you can change the background music, and an arcade game named “Rapunzel”, which you can play to practice your puzzle platform skills and test techniques.
Catherine is truly a unique, fun, and engaging gem of a game, and so I highly, even fervently recommend it. Not only was the game-play addicting, but the game owned its adult themes and story in an amazingly well done way that is extremely rare in adult gaming, and games in general. The game also has a pretty high replay value with several different endings and ways to play Vincent in the “Golden Playhouse” mode as well as “Babel” and “Coliseum” game modes for those who just want to play the puzzle sequences with the chance to try new levels and replay story ones for trophies and unlockables, giving this title a huge bang for your buck.