Over the past week, I feel like I’ve been tortured by
Catherine (PS3 [Reviewed], XBox360, PC)
Release Date: July 26, 2011
Nothing about Catherine is particularly satisfying. The climbing-on-blocks gameplay is repetitive and boring until it’s hair-pullingly annoying, and the social side of things is so insubstantial as to be utterly weightless. And there aren’t even any naked breasts.
I assume I expected more from Catherine because it’s the product of Atlus’ “Persona team,” but it turns out there’s nothing here that would lead you to make that connection on your own. It’s sort of amazing that a group of people would regress so much from their work making the social aspects of Persona 3 and 4 so interesting and fun.
Really, it’d be a misnomer to call anything about Catherine “social.” That part of the game, which takes place between puzzle sessions, consists of you making Vincent get drunk, triggering conversations that you only occasionally get to take part in and maybe replying to three or four text messages from Katherine, your girlfriend, and Catherine, your new secret lover. And none of that matters much to the game until the very end.
The story of Catherine follows Vincent, who is more or less a non-entity loser who lives in a tiny apartment and somehow has a hot girlfriend named Katherine. Why are he and Katherine dating? Good question. We never really get to know Katherine, and as far as I could tell they have nothing in common, they don’t talk to each other often and they don’t even really like each other that much.
So ten minutes into the game when Vincent discovers a blonde bombshell in his bed one morning after a night of hard drinking, it feels like a good thing. We, the players, don’t give a rat’s ass about Katherine, and Catherine has bigger boobies, so yay! Vincent, though, is filled with guilt, because maybe he actually does like Katherine. And that’s where the main plot kicks off.
There’s also another main plot. When Vincent leaves the bar and goes to bed, he dreams of a world where he has to climb giant towers of block puzzles. But while this world is a dream world, it has real-world consequences; if you die in the Matrix, er, the dream, you die for real. The puzzles are simple in spirit; you move blocks around so you can climb up the tower. It’s all complicated by different types of blocks — there are blocks you can’t move, trap blocks that impale you with spikes, ice blocks, and so on.
In between towers are safe areas where you can speak with other real people trapped in the nightmare. From some folks you can learn dozens of techniques for climbing the towers. For the most part you’re only use a few techniques and forget the rest, until it comes time for you to use them, at which point you’ll get stuck and spend an hour or two trying to figure out how to progress until you accidentally stumble upon the solution.
Unlike with, say, Portal, there’s no sense of triumph after completing these challenging sections. That’s because these more difficult puzzles are not intuitive in the least. I liken it to an old PC adventure game in which the only solution is to come up with some totally esoteric combination of items, and the only way to determine what said combination is is to slap a bunch of s–t together until something works. That’s how it is with the most difficult portions of this game; you just move the blocks around at random until you can move on.
The two plots only sort of intertwine for most of the game. Men who die in the collective dreams end up on the news the next day, and a night of climbing leaves the surviving men exhausted. And there’s this rumor going around that men who cheat on their women are curse and whatnot. But, since the dreams are, in fact, dreams, the men don’t really remember them when they wake up, and thus they can’t pull any Nightmare on Elm Street tricks to try to stay awake.
Eventually, the two plots collide head on, and the result is spectacularly bugf–k insane. It’s stupid beyond belief. By that point, I was already so irritated that it’d probably be incorrect to say that where the plot went also irritated me to some great extent, but I really can’t oversell just how ridiculous this game gets.
The worst part about it is that it applies an epic meaning to Vincent’s specific situation that is just so unnecessary. Vincent’s awake plot is relatively grounded until it meets up with the dream plot, and that’s probably why it shocked me so much. Until then it felt right to think of the dreams as a giant, almost literal metaphor for the real-world plot, which was uniquely small scale for a video game.
The dream stuff does still serve as a metaphor, though, and the folks at Atlus really want to make sure you know that. Once the game is over, a woman with a giant afro explains the game’s metaphors, just in case you missed them. I’m sort of appalled that someone thought that was a good idea.
That’s pretty much how I feel about the whole game, which was a huge chore to get through. Catherine is a pretty thorough miss from the Persona Team, which is sad in more than one way. Hopefully they’ll remember how to make games before they try another one.
- Technically well made game
- The puzzles are, uh, unique…
- …but not really fun in execution
- Poorly written story
- I don’t give a damn about the characters
- You don’t really need to explain the very obvious metaphors