A new year is always time for predictions, so here’s another: you’ll not play another game like Catherine all year. Catherine is a horror-puzzler-cum-thriller for PS3 and Xbox 360 that rarely fails to draw you in, as Stephen Ebert discovers.
Catherine finally hits the shops next month, looking destined for cult hit status, blurring the line between horror and puzzle genres. You play as 32-year-old software engineer Vincent Brooks. He has a girlfriend, Katherine, who becomes pregnant, and hints of marriage. The idea of commitment scares Vincent to bits, but not nearly as much as the awful nightmares he’s been having. Even worse – he’s just found out that others in his town have been dying in their sleep. Beneath the story is a neat, although not exactly revolutionary stone-shifting brainteaser.
It’s when Vincent falls asleep that gameplay begins, in levels made up of building blocks that you must push, pull and then climb to help Vincent escape his nightmares. A countdown timer leaves little time to spare. This is puzzling at its most frantic and nail-biting, calling for cool heads.
In the race against time a rewind button lends you more time to stress about your next move. Gameplay is easy to grasp, but that doesn’t make things any easier. Seriously, we had to play on easy mode (stop sniggering at the back). Finally clearing them grants you a strange sense of accomplishment and relief. And then it’s back again into Vincent’s crazy world.
Vincent’s story is riveting, and you won’t want to skip it. There is something about Vincent’s downtrodden personality and sense of victimisation that makes following his story so intriguing. Mini games within this world force players to answer questions that will change the course of the game. There are eight different endings, warped by the choices you make. The witty script will at least ensure you enjoyed the journey towards them.
Catherine is still just a puzzle game, where all you do is push blocks. There are plenty of games like this out there, Catherine just make it look both sexy and scary, yet you’ll still want to play on just to see how it all ends.
The bottom line
Fun, mind-numbing, and absorbing. Catherine is a freaky puzzler with an interesting story attached, and gameplay that’ll leave you tearing your hair out. If you’re a glutton for punishment, you’ll feel all the better for it. However, despite all its dressing up, Catherine is still just an overelaborate puzzle game – a sometimes annoying girlfriend that you can neither live with, or without. But if you’ve got the patience, this is one short-term love affair worth hanging onto.