Ever since it was announced, Catherine has set Atlus fans on fire with anticipation. An HD game from the Persona 3 and 4 team? A game about infidelity? Naked cartoon pussy? Sign me up! The fact that it wasn't going to be an RPG didn't deter fans, since the game would no doubt be appropriately crazy when it came to plot. So now Catherine is out in America and Atlus fans finally got their grubby little hands on the game. I'll admit to having a morbid curiosity in the game but to say I was hyped might be stretching it. I have toyed with the game for about three hours or so now so I feel like I am the best person suited for the job of talking about initial impressions.
Catherine is not like most games. Hell, it's downright unique. From word go the game assaults you with so much weird shit that if you don't go "The fuck?" you're a liar. The game itself is presented as an episode of a television show in the same vein as the Twilight Zone. Which is both fucking ridiculous and entirely appropriate. You play as Vincent Brooks, a 32 year old computer systems analyst or something similar to that who is about the last person you'd expect to be a video game protagonist. He's just a dude. He has no super powers. He doesn't shoot aliens. He isn't the chosen one and he isn't out to save the world. He goes to work, spends the night drinking with his friends, and has a relationship with five year girlfriend Katherine; Vincent also has no drive or ambition in life. He just wants things to keep on going as they have been. Katherine, on the other hand, is a lot more mature and concerned about her future, namely settling down and starting a family. Vincent sees this as a threat to his casual lifestyle. And then Catherine enters the bar one night.
Catherine represents everything Vincent desires: someone who just wants to take things as they come and fool around without getting too serious. The problem, however, is that after a one night stand Vincent finds himself evaluating his relationship with Katherine and realizes that he has some kind of feelings for her. But yet he keeps waking up with Catherine at his side.
As expected the best and most interesting part of the game is the story. The cutscenes play out spectacularly and the colorful cast of characters are as believable as they are interesting. Vincent's trio of friends, Jonny, Orlando, and Toby provide comic relief and provide insight into Vincent's whole dilemma based on their own ideals and experiences with women. The divorced Orlando is quick to say marriage is a bad idea while Jonny defends the notion of soul mates and spending a life with a loved one. But it's not just them that make up the cast, other patrons of the bar are just as entertaining to interact with. Erica, the waitress, being the sole exception since outside of cutscenes she doesn't really add anything. Though early on, the seeds are already planted for some crazy dramatic and insane shit to happen. So I'm hoping the game continues with this early story potential.
Ironically enough the worst part about the game is the part where it is a video game. The gameplay manifests itself in the form of towering block puzzles that you must solve and scale in a short amount of time. These sections aren't bad but they are a giant roadblock. Also, and perhaps this is just me, but sometimes it seems like the controls in these sections are kind of hit and miss. Sometimes I am on a roll and then sometimes Vincent will push the block I need straight off the edge of the world immediately after I press X. It is kind of...slidey and oftentimes I find myself fucked over without it feeling like it was my fault. The camera can also get pretty bad which also leads to deaths. Also FUCK TRAP BLOCKS. Sorry, I needed to get that off my chest. When the big monster creatures get involved, there is some tension but sometimes the fact that you have to go fast seems to go against the whole 'look around for solutions and don't just rush your way' thing. Plus they are kind of annoying, like the one who has an AoE attack that, if you get hit by it, will reverse your controls for far too long. You definitely get used to how the systems in the puzzle sections work (even though they constantly throw more shit on top of it like the god damn antagonist sheep that I hate hate hate) but they are still the lowpoint of the game. For me, anyway. Though talking to the sheep in the intermission is interesting. Not as interesting as talking to the boys at the bar, but interesting in its own way.
The game also has moral choices, though they aren't a black and white issue. Before advancing to a new puzzle section you will be asked a question like "Does life begin or end with marriage?". Your choice shifts your little karma meter and the answer you think may be the 'good' option may not be so good, such as "What is the worst form of cheating: A physical encounter or an emotional tryst?" Your karma doesn't just shift in these question and answer sessions. When you are at the bar you will get text messages from Katherine and Catherine that you can choose to respond to. How you respond to them will also change your karma. These are a bit easier to see how they change karma. Being nice and honest to Katherine will bump you up. Being flirty and nice to Catherine will bump you down. But not always. You have to read the situation and respond accordingly. During one section Katherine called me and asked if our discussion earlier upset me. I said "No" and it cost me karma points.I was being honest, but Vincent wasn't. Though when it comes to the question and answer sections I urge you to answer as you would and not try to game the system. A little neat touch is that after answering the question you see the result of other players' answers. Though it doesn't give you a percentage or anything and so far an ungodly amount have been the 'good' karma.
Catherine is a unique game, I'll say that much. I am not nearly far enough to make any sort of proper judgment call, but so far the story is engaging enough to make me want to keep playing. If only because I want to see some titty mmm-bop-bop-tittays.