Friday, September 9, 2011

Catherine Review!

While it is not normal practice to write about console exclusives on fragworld, the staff has encouraged me to do so. To be honest, I'm not sure why. I think, perhaps, I come off as a misanthrope who hates everything, or a simple curmudgeon on a good day. While Activision is terrible, Coldplay still sucks and mainstream TV not staring Hugh Laurie or on HBO is garbage, I like a lot of things. Catherine is one of them. But how to start talking about this game? It's a lot like a Monet painting. Looking too close, you see squishy wobbly even clumsy blotches of color, the beauty is seen from a distance. There are flaws to be found when thinking too much, but not so overbearing to despair the whole piece.

Catherine is made by Atlus, the team behind the Persona games and is remarkable for being their first foray into glorious high definition. And without a moment to spare, the cut scenes are from Studio 4°C, known best stateside for there theater quality work, Catherine being no exception. Atlus also premiers a new graphics engine and the results are fantastic. The cell shading is natural: never looking too much like a cartoon but also not forgoing it's aesthetic. A feat that is impressive to say the least.
Vincent is our protagonist, but I almost regret using the word immediately. He's a milquetoast man child who lives in a small studio apartment and works short hours at a vague position I can only assume is a dead end. He is however, somewhat lucky in love, having a girlfriend, named Katherine. She's a purple haired 30 something who is under family peer pressure to settle down and make a family with Vincent. While this is happening, Vincent meets Catherine (with a C!) who is the vivacious blond on the cover of the PS3 version and is the reason I'm known at the local Target, thanks Google! We meet her in the sketchy bar Vincent and his friends hang out in. Stories of unfaithful men dying in there sleep are rapidly spreading. It is here Catherine approaches a half lit Vincent who is seduced about as quickly as Gabe Newell downs a KFC bucket. Vincent wakes up next to the wrong Catherine (yes, the one NOT his girlfriend). To add to his troubles, Vincent suffers intense nightmares. These nightmares comprise the puzzles of the game and we're told if you die in the dream, you die for real. With the stakes set, the story beings! While engaging and always interesting, the story's middle section suffers bit for scant story to game play ratio, thankfully the big animated finishes prove worth the effort –and oh the effort!.

Catherine's puzzles are many times frustrating but the payoff and ecstasy when done is worth your time. The game is split into two main sections: the Japanese dating simulation like ('daing simulation' bringing our “word I regret to use' count up to two!) bar sections where you can talk with Vincent’s close friends and other bar flies. Next is the 'true game' portion. Vincent is dropped into a nightmare world of blocks, tasked with climbing the towering Gothic constructs. You can push and pull the blocks in various directions and must do so to advance to the top of the huge wall of blocks that comprise the stage. You will encounter enemies and monsters that chase and bother your ascent, which is already challenging enough as the blocks you just climb up are ever falling. Not lying, the game is hard. Memorization and quick thinking are the tools at your most immediate disposal. Some parts will require memorization more than skill, some parts are simply not fair. Not to say the game does a bad job of training or scaling, no, the game shows you all the patterns and moves you could ever hope to deploy and more. It only refuses to hold your hand or coddle you.

Catherine is a well packed game offering about a 10 hour campaign and a couple more challenge maps that even I won't touch. Many little goofs withstanding, only real flaws are a certain escort mission and some cheap bosses however, the rest is largely subjective and the enjoyment of this game is dependent on how engaged you are by the story. If the trailer grabs you, pick this game up. If your reaction is anything less than dumb awe, you probably should look into something less dialog-y and more action oriented.