Catherine follows the story of Vincent Brooks, a web programmer who has been in a long-term relationship with his partner Katherine. Despite this, Vincent is unwilling to commit to marrying Katherine despite loving her. One night, Vincent meets another woman at his local bar named Catherine. She represents everything Katherine is not, younger, and carefree without the need for a long-term commitment. Vincent has a one-night stand with Catherine and starts being plagued with nightmares as he wrestles between his love for Katherine and dealing with his feelings for Catherine.
When it first released, critics praised Catherine for dealing with concepts and themes that we often don’t see in games. But several years on I can’t help but feel that it’s all slightly sleazy. I like the idea of a video game dealing with infidelity, especially when I’m playing as the person who does so. But I don’t like that the game boils down its women to the most reductive of stereotypes. You can argue the game has feminist themes with the way it ends, but a late-game twist quickly removes any semblance of this idea.
Despite these sleazy themes, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t find Catherine engaging. The situations that Vincent finds himself in are gut-wrenching, and one of his interactions with one of the girls is especially uncomfortable. The writing, no matter how problematic you find it, does an excellent job at establishing Vincent. He is someone you don’t want to root for, and someone I found myself wanting to steer in the right direction. Your mileage might vary, but you’d not be surprised to learn I ended up with Katherine at the end of my first run.
Catherine: Full Body is a complete version of the original game that released for Xbox 360 and PS3 in 2011. It introduces a wealth of new content that appeals to newcomers and veterans themselves. For one, it adds a new girl to pursue. Named Qatherine (yes, I know) she is a more demure option for Vincent. Her story slots in seamlessly to the content that was already here. Also, the entire game can be played in a remix mode, offering a better challenge to players who are familiar with the original game too.
The game splits itself into two distinct phases – one is in the normal world while the other is in Vincent’s nightmares. You’ll play through around seven days with your time as Vincent, with the way you play and behave affecting which path his story takes. The day plays like a pretty standard visual novel, where you’ll interact with characters and discussing events that have just transpired. The nightmare segments are the core of the gameplay and play out like a puzzle game in which Vincent must climb a tower. But more on that later.
When you’re outside of Vincent’s nightmares, you’ll spend your time drinking at the Stray Sheep. It’s here where you make a few decisions about how the story will play out. Vincent can talk to his friends, get their take on events, and respond to text messages from the three girls. Creating the text messages is intuitive and lets you create the message you want to send. Your chosen tone for these messages and the answers you give your friends in conversation affect which of the paths the story will take. You can also drink, and how drunk Vincent gets affects how quickly he moves in the nightmare too.
The nightmare is a dreamscape inhabited by other men, who appear as sheep to Vincent. In the nightmare, you’ll have to climb up giant staircases as they slowly collapse before you. Think of it as Jenga, except instead of removing blocks you move them around to create a path to climb. Vincent can push and pull blocks, as well as drop-down and sidle along the edges of the blocks he moves. The pressure comes from the fact that the level falls away below you, giving you little time to relax as you plan your next move. As such, a lot of the difficulty comes from the pressure placed on you, forcing you to make decisions on-the-fly.
As a puzzle game, Catherine is immaculately paced. You slowly develop your little strategies, formations that best let you climb quickly. Then, the game introduces a new block or a new mechanic that makes you change up your approach. It makes for a game that never really gets boring. As an example, ice blocks mean that Vincent slides across them, changing your approach to a tower completely. Finally, at the end of each nightmare, a macabre boss is waiting for you. Bosses alter the tower or characteristics of the tower to add extra pressure and are creepy to boot.
When it released all those years ago, Catherine was a challenging game. Notoriously difficult. To the point where I know people who didn’t finish it because they found themselves stuck in later levels. Thankfully, Full Body comes equipped with a suite of difficulty adjustments that make Catherine much more approachable. You can undo your last move, as well as play the game on a story-only mode to ease the challenge. Items can be purchased and used to remove some of the more difficult blocks from the area. You can even press a button, and the game will play for you. It’s excellent for those who want to experience the story.
If you choose to skip the puzzles and most of the conversations in the bar, you’ll probably breeze through one of Catherine’s many paths in about six to seven hours. But to get the full experience, a standard path takes about twelve to fifteen hours. Full Body introduces Qatherine and three of her endings, as well as a new conclusion for the other two girls, meaning that this game has nine possible endings. There’s a lot of stories to get through, though I’m not convinced it’s worth it. I managed to get three different paths in my time with the game, and a lot of story does overlap in the opening chapters.
There is a heap of extra modes to jump into outside of the story, though. These appeared in the original have but have been retooled. Babel is a super hard challenge mode that randomises each time you play it. Colosseum allows you to go head to head with another player as you both race to climb a tower. Both modes are now unlocked from the get-go (they could be unlocked in the previous release) and support online play too. In this pre-release period, I could only get two matches, but both performed admirably.
Being the predecessor to Persona 5, you can see the visual roots for that game in Catherine. The game presents as if it was an in-universe television show, which allows it to use ridiculous dramatic camera angles to help sell its story and drama. Everything is bright and vibrant, and the cast here, especially Troy Baker as Vincent, hand in excellent performances that help sell the intensity of their anxieties. The soundtrack is exceptional too, giving a cruisy late-night feel to the scenes where Vincent is at the bar. It’s just a shame the same few tracks are reused so much outside of the Nightmares. If you’re into it, you can play the game in Japanese too.
I’m at an odd crossroads for Catherine: Full Body. On the one hand, it’s easily a better game than its predecessor. It’s one of the most engaging puzzle games I’ve ever played, and for that it deserves credit. On the other, the introduction of a third girl to pursue doesn’t help the game’s undeniably sleazy undertones and presentation, and that’s a bit of a problem.
THE PLAYSTATION 4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED ON A PLAYSTATION 4 PRO FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Catherine: Full Body is a marked improvement over the original Catherine, offering more ways to play for those who want to experience an engaging yet slightly problematic story.