posted 7/20/2011 by Tina Amini
other articles by Tina Amini
Platforms: 360 PS3
Last month, during E3, I checked out one of my most anticipated titles: Catherine. I got to venture into the action, puzzle-platformer that delves into the deeply disturbed mind of protagonist Vincent. Although the cause for his nightmarish plunges into each of the puzzles is from a not-so-noble conflict between his passion for two women, his experiences are certainly entertaining. I recently got a chance to endeavor into Vincent’s world yet again, and even see a little bit of the multiplayer components of this upcoming game from Atlus.

Something I’ve always detested about multimedia, particularly films, is that so many concentrate on one main character. It’s completely unrealistic to think that interactions in relationships are central to solely one main character. That’s why I was so pleased to see that interactions between the characters in Catherine seemed to be much more even weighted amongst things that concerned Vincent and how each character could personally relate to that with their own stories rather than everything being about Vincent all the time.

Much of the game will be spent exploring the story, particularly via conversations with your friends. Even beyond your group of close friends with whom you interact at the bar, the sheepified NPCs - who all desperately try to conquer the same nightmarish puzzles as you - will also tell you their tales. This will often result in helpful tips as to how to traverse the steps in each puzzle, but you will also occasionally interact with unfriendly and just downright hostile sheep-men. Although each of them has a different reaction to their troubles, one thing is the same amongst them: everyone thinks they are the only real human being while everyone else is wearing some sort of crazy sheep suit. Later, back in the bar, you can interact with these men again while they are awake. They have a distant recollection of you, and they’ll nervously talk to you about their issues and anxieties.

Seeing Vincent’s text messaging behaviors reminded me of another aspect of Catherine that really intrigues me. There is so much diversity in how you can respond to your girlfriend, Katherine. You can be empathetic and sincere, or cold and disconcerting. This has a long term impact outside of your girlfriend’s outrage; the way you decide to interact with Katherine will affect your lawful meter and influence the path your particular game takes.

This is, of course, not the only way to influence your meter and, by virtue of that, your game. Each puzzle ends with a confessional session during which you are asked somewhat prying psychological questions that gauge your character. Are you a commitment-phobe? Do you revolve your life around your career? Do you prefer a younger or older mate? Each question makes you consider your own feelings, and is reflective of the kind of person you decide to make Vincent. This all culminates in a personalized experience of the game, and is why you may very well arrive at a different ending than someone else playing the game who might give other responses.

There are so many clever ways that the game, including the gameplay, will tell you its story. Boss levels, for instance, are designed to represent some of Vincent’s greatest fears, as nightmares are want to do. Vincent’s memory of his girlfriend, Katherine, haunts one particular nightmare (and boss battle) I was privy to. Vincent’s subconscious translates the memory of his girlfriend eating dessert with a fork into a bony, putrid hand that slashes at the cubes beneath his feet with a blood-soaked fork. Each slash renders that row of blocks into larger, heavier versions of their former selves, making them much more difficult for Vincent to move. Also, it’s pretty much terrifying.

Although I had already seen most of this at the E3 presentation, there are still a lot of aspects to Catherine that run outside of just the single player experience. You can play a Rapunzel-based arcade game paying homage to the 8-bit history of video games. Rather than being a timed race to the top of the puzzle, the game will challenge you based on your decision-making skills. You’ll have to pick which blocks to move - and how to move them - very critically.

For those looking for a multiplayer experience, Catherine provides a competitive Colosseum mode that I did not fathom would be as fun as it looked watching PR Manager Aram Jabbari face off against one of the designers on the game. While attempting to knock each other off, and box each other into helpless corners, you will compete to reach the top of the puzzle before your competitor does. The competitive multiplayer mode takes the themes that are integrated into the eight sanctuaries (nightmares) of single player. Based on wholly different environments, however, Babel is the co-operative option for multiplayer in Catherine. Puzzle blocks come raining down as you and a friend attempt to traverse them to the top. You’ll navigate either Vincent or love counterpart Katherine up to the top together in local play on one screen (which is much easier on the eyes, don’t you think?).

Although not all of the themes and implications in Catherine will be morally inclined - like, for instance, the fact that drinking more at the bar during the evening will make you a faster climber in your nightmares - this game plays with a lot of questions that it will literally ask you to answer. While you are discovering the mysteries behind both the scandalous Catherine and the nightmarish, near-death escapes from each puzzle, you’ll learn more about your friends and the NPCs that are struggling against similar fates. From what I’ve seen so far, Catherine feels more interactive than many games I’ve played, and that at the very least warrants it a solid playthrough.
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