Vince, the lead character of Catherine, wants to hold back the tide. His long-time girlfriend Katherine is talking marriage but the very thought of tying the knot terrifies him. The only thing that gives him the willies more is having to choose between Katherine and Catherine, the one-night stand that never stopped.
At night his infidelity and commitment issues haunt him, dragging him into a world of bipedal sheep and other horrific interpretations of his problems that he must face wearing nothing but his spotty boxers. In these twisted dreams his only hope is to the climb up and up to escape death at the hands of the furious, demonic responsibilities that chase him.
If this sounds more like a Haruki Murakami novel than a game then you’re thinking along the right lines. Catherine is artsy and unashamed of it. It has no time for the Call of Duty set and teenage thrills, instead it dwells on 30-something male angst about growing up and settling down.
In its daytime story sequences Catherine succeeds in its daring stab at mature gaming. Vince’s waking world is believable, mundane even. A world in which the idle chit-chat and small choices the player makes steer Vince towards one of eight possible endings.
The nightmares are more conventional: block pushing and pulling action puzzles where the goal is to make a path that Vince can use to climb away from the monstrous apparitions that chase him. Alas, this simple puzzle formula is ruined by the game’s difficulty curve. Even on easy the nightmare scenes lurch wildly, leaping from absolute pushover to unfairly brutal at a moment’s notice.
This taste for unfairness makes Catherine tough to love. So while we’re happy to fall for and applaud its attempt to give gaming a brain, the flaws in its most game-like moments ensure it’s a tainted love at best.