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Catherine terrifies me, for what it says about me. The supposedly nightmarish images it conjures up pale alongside the way it reflects my decisions back at me -- ultimately making me question my real life choices.
Catherine came along about eighteen months too late. Could it have changed my life had I played in a year and a half ago? I don't know, but it makes me question a number of life changing decisions.
The underlying theme of Catherine is love and commitment. Its hero, Vincent, is a 32-year-old man who has been in a relationship with his girlfriend, Katherine with a "K", for five years.
Stuck in a strange Japanese influenced America, their relationship feels stuck between worlds. Both live alone in single room apartments and their habits feel foreign. Yet they share one universal situation; Katherine's mum is asking when they will marry.
This is the thrust of Catherine's story that takes place over lunch one afternoon. It seems innocent enough, as Katherine casually mentions the fact her mother is asking about when the two will settle down, but it is statement laced with meaning.
Vincent nods and agrees but questions why they should change things when they are happy. It is only later that night at his local bar, The Stray Sheep, that his worries are revealed. With a new job he is financially insecure and (as fast becomes apparent) he is scared of losing his freedom he has enjoyed through out his life.
Sat in the bar he discusses all of this with his friends, but as it gets late they depart leaving Vincent to his drink. Then Catherine with a "C" enters. Young and flirtatious, the provocatively dressed girl seats herself with Vincent and the two hit it off.
Catherine terrifies me, ultimately making me question my real life choices.
For Vincent, Catherine represented everything Katherine was not, fun loving and fresh. In light of his day's worries, combined with alcohol, the outcome is all too predictable. From here Catherine sets about dealing with the emotional fall out from this single night of passion.
It is a story that resonates deeply with me due to parallels in my own life. It was three years ago I was 29, living in Japan with a fiance of four years. She was Japanese and, due to greater social pressures, eager to marry. We were in love but the responsibility of marriage scared me, eventually driving us apart. Thus Catherine offered me a chance to revisit this pain and drama from an emotionally safe (or so I thought) distance.
Catherine's story unfolds beautifully. Although you don't directly control Vincent's choices you can influence proceedings by interacting with people at The Stray Sheep. Relationships formed here slowly reveal Vincent's personality, a personality not dissimilar to my own.
It was fascinating to watch, and a testament to the idea that we are the sum of our choices. My Vincent tried to be quite chaste after his initial infidelity, trying to dissuade Catherine at every opportunity while reassuring Katherine. With his persona established, at every junction of the story Vincent would do what he could to be faithful, even when circumstance made his efforts futile.
Catherine's story and emotional conflict felt grownup and well observed. It's a shame that this is not matched by the gameplay between the story segments which is far from well realised.
Catherine's story and emotional conflict felt grownup and well observed.
Linking the story and bar sections are prolonged overly complex block puzzles. Taking place in Vincent's dreams these see him trying to climb his way to salvation. Filled with grotesque contortions of Vincent's fears these areas are nightmarish, but often for the wrong reasons.
Constantly fighting a clunky camera makes the process of pushing and pulling blocks to solve the puzzles infuriating. This combines with their increasing length to make Catherine ever more painful to play. The final dream was a torturous slog I put up with solely to see the culmination of the story.
It is only thanks to the quality of Catherine's story that I pushed through. I was invested in Vincent and desperate to see if his fate would be the same as mine. Looking in to the mirror of my counterpart I found that it wasn't.
Now I am left wondering if the older 32-year-old me would do things differently if I had my time over again. The journey was one I was happy to have made. Unfortunately though the effort involved means I doubt I will replay it to see the other outcomes.
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