E3 2011: Catherine (Hands-On)

by: Tina -
Game: Catherine
Developer: Atlus
Release Window/Date: July 26th
What works: If you’re a fan of anime-style art, you’ll love the way Catherine looks and plays out in cut scenes. The drama of Vincent’s life in both the horror tale of his nightmares as well as the more social-horror of juggling two differing women is enticing to explore.
What needs work: I’d like to see more diversity in the puzzles. I was instantly reminded of ilomilo when paying the game, but remembered that ilomilo had many different kinds of blocks that you had to learn the nature of before being able to complete successfully.

Catherine is an adventure-puzzle game with a strong emphasis on the story of 32-year old computer programmer Vincent. He favors a simple, uncomplicated lifestyle, but he’ll soon see that his fate has other plans in store for him. The story is told to you through the hostess - afro-haired Midnight Venus, aka Trisha - of a television show.

Besides being pleasantly surprised that Atlus is bringing Catherine stateside, I found the game itself looks phenomenal in several ways. There’s the very obvious art style. The very prominent anime-style complements the theme appropriately, but beyond being fitting is also very visually pleasant. When protagonist Vincent makes expressions in cut scenes, his emotions couldn’t be more transparent. It’s almost freakish, actually. Waking up alongside Catherine - as opposed to his girlfriend of several years, Katherine - puts Vincent into a shock that is literally palpable. His eyes become bug eyed, and his jaw drops like he’d just been paralyzed by the Ring girl.

His two relationships are polar opposites, indicated even more clearly by the visual style. Katherine is a librarian-esque older woman, while Catherine is in her young twenties and dresses quite provocatively. It’s no question why Vincent is so enthralled by her. While he struggles with the pressure put on him by Katherine’s insistence on legitimizing their relationship, up waltzes a scantily clad Catherine spewing confusion over just that kind of girl and relationship Katherine desires. Vincent becomes betwixt when confronted with both females.

Unfortunately, Catherine’s appearance also brings on unfamiliar nightmares in which he will have to traverse threatening puzzles. Vincent is clad in his boxers and adorned by sheep horns while protectively clutching a pillow to his chest. The gameplay in Catherine is predominantly to create staircases out of blocks. Some blocks can’t be moved, others will crumble after too much use, etc. Vincent will have to maneuver his way around these blocks to reach the summit for escape each night. Along the way he can pick up items and powerups, which includes contextually relevant items like pillows for more tries after failure.

Vincent will have to hop up the blocks while the lower levels slowly fall away. As the game gets harder, you’ll have enemies slashing at the blocks below you thereby putting an added challenge of time constraint to the puzzle solving. On the landings between towers, Vincent can interact with NPCs. Some of these NPCs will be other nightmare-captured men that he can actually help. Other NPCs are vendors that can sell Vincent special items to help him through his nightmarish adventures. These range from energy drinks that let him leap up multiple blocks to tomes that wipe out any NPCs or sheep in the way of his path.

One of the features I am more excited about, however, is the ability to socialize with your friends and your two girlfriends a la the Persona series. I want to get involved in Vincent’s dilemmas and feel the same confusion he does. I’m curious to interact with his clingy girlfriend of 5 years while juggling his other relationship with a scandalous and very obviously sexual young girl. Vincent can have discussions with his girlfriend via text message, where Katherine will drop very heavy material on his lap for a text message transaction. As she insists on marriage, Vincent can decide how to respond to her. He can opt for a terse and cold response, or a more assuring but still distant one. As you make these decisions, you will be impacting how the game progresses and therefore how it ends. This is the most interesting part of the game to me, and something that has historically been Atlus’ forte.

You can make more decisions that impact the storyline through the confessional. While there, you’ll be asked different questions to which your answer will impact a gauge of a law of chaos in Vincent’s world. Depending on your answers, you will either prove to be deviating from the common laws of society or reinforcing them. If you’re connected to the Internet, you’ll also be able to check other people’s responses to the same questions. For instance, during our confessional session we were asked whether we would prefer to date someone younger or older than us. You’ll also learn more about characters, the environment and, most importantly, the nightmares that you have recently been experiencing.
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