At its core, the genre-busting Catherine is about one man’s spiraling descent into guilt and paranoia, triggered by a night of impromptu infidelity. It’s a survival-horror game in the guise of a puzzler, all wrapped up in a uniquely bizarre tale of love and the fear of commitment. It wears its quirkiness on its sleeve, deftly balancing some genuinely unsettling moments with a sense of humour that manages to be both macabre and goofy, and while it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, one thing’s certain: you’ve never played a game quite like Catherine, and that’s a good thing.
You fill the shoes of Vincent, a 32-year old developer who would still rather go for late-night drinking sessions with his friends than spend time with his long-time girlfriend, Katherine. His life takes a turn for the undeniably strange when he meets Catherine; one thing leads to another, and the encounter acts as the springboard for the remainder of the game.
The cheating starts a cycle of nightmares for Vincent – nightmares that seem to be shared via a common dream space between similarly unfaithful men – and it’s here that the bulk of the actual gameplay exists. It uses the popular dream concept that if you die in the dream, you die in real life. Each night you’ll be tasked to overcome a series of towering puzzle blocks in a race to reach the top and finally escape the nightmare.
Interspersed between each Nightmare, the story unfolds in a series of cut-scenes relaying the events during the day. These are linked to a morality meter of sorts, where your choice of conversations and text-message replies would steer the meter left or right. There are also bizarre personal questions which offer no real bearing on the gameplay as such, but do influence which one of the eight endings you will get.
The game runs on the Gamebryo engine and utilizes a cel-shaded look that manages to gel perfectly with the anime cut-scenes. It’s not as technically impressive as some of the bigger guns out there, but works perfectly within the setting and has loads of charm to boot.
In the end it’s a game that is hard to slap a label on. At once innovative and unique, it’s a daring experiment placed against the current trends in gaming. And even if it doesn’t fall within your personal gaming tastes, it’s one of those rare experiences that doesn’t come along often enough, and should at the very least be given a chance. Whether you choose Katherine or Catherine, you’ll be won over in the end.