If you check the title of this article, it lacks the ‘review’ part. That’s because I found Catherine a game I couldn’t really review. If you want to find out how good the port is, then there are plenty of places you can do just that. Check out this review from Nintendad (coming soon).
Instead I want to discuss my relationship with Catherine over the years as this becomes my fourth time playing and I still cannot decide where I stand with the game. I am not sure if I like it, hate it, or something else completely.
It is up there for me with a couple of films that I wondered the same about in the past. Firstly Irréversible from director Gaspar Noé whcih tells the story of a rape and revenge in reverse. I watched the film once and once only and couldn’t decide if it was pure trash aiming to shock for the sake of it. An arthouse film that was trying too hard to be something more, or a brilliant piece of cinema that did have something important to say.
It is a film that will be remembered for a brutal opening scene involving a fire extinguisher and a face, as well as a horribly brutal rape scene that was some of the most uncomfortable viewing I have ever seen. But it was one I couldn’t say how I really felt about it.
The other was Mysterious Skin from Gregg Araki and starring Joseph Gordon Levitt. Here it tell the story of two young boys who experience what they believe to be an alien abduction. They deal with this in two very different ways, where the film tries to be brutally honest with some pretty dark subject matter. Namely child sex abuse. It had a profound effect on me and again, a film I have only been able to watch the once and find difficult to put into words why I believe it to be so powerful.
It isn’t something that has really happened with games for me. Sure there have been a couple of games that can make you feel a little uncomfortable with the subject matter. But Catherine has left me emotionally stumped ever since its original release.
I cannot work out who I think the hero of the piece is and in actual fact, I honestly believe there are a lack of good characters within the game at all. I mean that in terms of their morals and actions, not the way they are written. Vincent is presented as the main protagonist but very quickly I felt like I was fighting against his character traits with choices I would make and what I’d hope he would say.
There are choice I would like to make in the game that would end it as a story early, but where the game is clever, is in how it gives you control of some important decisions, but then takes others out of your control completely. It pre-dates the big ending of The Last Of Us and makes you realise you are not playing as you, but instead along for the ride as Vincent.
Yet where Catherine does it better, is that the illusion of control is there throughout. Many times throughout the experience I had to stop, step back and wonder why on earth I had a certain outcome, when I made a choice that I felt was ‘morally good’.
I was at one point very critical about the binary choices you had between floors during the puzzle sections. One early on stood out to me when asked about marriage. Along the lines of ‘Is marriage the beginning or the end of life?’ Now I am someone who doesn’t believe in the act of marriage. I feel happier without it and my partner feels the same. But at the same time, I don’t think marriage is one of the other, it is neither the start of your life, nor the end. It is totally dependent on the person.
So it is the timing of the question that messed with me. Happen later in the game and I maybe make an easier choice. Yet here we are still within the opening hour. I haven’t yet had the chance to understand Vincent as a character, so how can I answer for him? I can only answer for myself and neither of those are options for me. So I pick ‘beginning of life’ as I feel that is the ‘right’ answer.
That morality meter pops up and moves to the blue side. So yeah I made a good choice surely? Well Vincent is continuing his affair with Catherine, cheating of his partner Katherine. So how can I have got a positive response to that answer, when the game alludes to have further affairs? I… or Vincent isn’t living by the morals we’d just given within his dream. When his life is supposedly on the line.
At no point early does he open up and be honest. An act that could have put things to bed and allowed him to live his life. Own the error and move on. Simple. But this is where the game continues to be clever, as the Catherine moves further into the story you start to see it isn’t a simple decision about owning up to an affair. There is a ton of character traits and faults with nigh on everyone you interact with.
I don’t want to go into them too much and potentially ruin the story. There is a lot of theory around the game but one that stuck with me was the idea around being in an abusive relationship. Katherine early on appears to be the obvious choice, she is the one you’ve been in a relationship with for years and she seems wonderful upon first impressions.
But and here is the thing. When you look at it, Vincent seems terrified of her in many ways. Katherine hold the power in the relationship and is emotionally abusive and has one hell of a psychological hold over Vincent. Which makes it seem like Catherine is Vincent’s escape, yet she too come across as manipulative and again is able to control Vincent like he is a puppet.
So this then makes Vincent come across as a victim, shining a light on male victims that you never usually see. He tries to be open with friends, but he never goes all the way, hinting that he needs help, without being able to ask outright. You should feel for him.
So why don’t I? Why do I find him to still be almost reprehensible throughout the entire game? Why is the game seemingly making a point that the women in his life are ‘villains’ and the ones who are ruining Vincent’s life? Why should he be the one climbing and moving those blocks? He has been manipulated hasn’t he?
But no, I don’t think he has, I just found that every single person within Catherine is deeply flawed. None are traditionally bad, nor are any traditionally good. They are all human with all the faults we have as humans.
Catherine feels like a game that somehow manages to be massively misogynist and plays to a whole bunch of tropes for the sake of it. Yet also tackles those same tropes and misogyny in a very clever and unique way. Or (there are too many ‘or’ arguments here) does it manage to do both accidentally? It can’t be an accident, this has to be a purposeful decision.
The first time I played it, I felt it was one and done. I could move on a little confused but so be it. It was just a game. But a chance to play again came from a backwards compatible release on Xbox One. I decided that my world views had been shaped further over the previous years and I could approach the game again with new knowledge. Not just of the world, but also the game itself.
I played through and honestly none of it stuck. I sort of just ambled through the game and never took it in at all. So I left it a few months and gave it yet another go.
This time I came away feeling like Catherine and Katherine were both definitely the worse of the characters in this world. Which made me feel super uncomfortable, as I do consider myself a feminist. So how could I believe that the women of the piece we completely the ones at fault. Was the game manipulating me? Were my world views wrong?
I went searching on the internet for answers and came across arguments for many different theories. Some lent weight to the conclusion I drew on the third play through. Others convinced me I had misunderstood it all and some were… well, hate-filled crap that doesn’t deserve eyes on it at all.
I was in a bad place mentally at this time too, so I decided I had to step back before I went down a rabbit hole that I really didn’t fancy exploring. I put the game out of my mind and decided that it would remain one where I just didn’t have a definitive thought about in any way.
So we come to Catherine: Full Body and a chance to play it in a much more personal way. This time in handheld on the Switch, with headphones in and a lack of distraction, whilst also being in a better place with my mental health.
You know what… I still cannot decide how I feel about this game, about the story and about the characters. The introduction of Rin for me did very little to change opinions for the most part. It did make me think more about Vincent and his role within the game. I no longer felt he was the victim I saw him as at one point. I instead saw he was the architect of his own downfall. Yes Katherine was a strong willed woman who knew which buttons to press, but in all my interactions with Vincent, I saw why she knew that and why she did some of the things she did.
It was the same with Catherine too, she isn’t an innocent by any means, but Vincent here too play a role in every single action made around him. This all stems fro the introduction of Rin and a very early bit of back story where Vincent admits he didn’t realise her full name is Qatherine. It is fairly innocuous and the story around Rin goes places as the games progresses. But this tiny little interaction shows that Vincent is lost in his own world, he is completely self-absorbed and for me a sociopath.
He is manipulating everyone he knows be it, friend, lover or anyone. He is managing to manipulate them into manipulating him. He is even manipulating me as the player, I went from distrust, to feeling something for him, so even placing blame elsewhere. But after this fourth and now final play I know what I see as truth. Vincent is a vile person who deserves everything that comes to him.
I know there are various endings, depending on choices you make and every time I played, I got the same ending. But I drew a different conclusion each time too. I could play more times and follow some guides to see the various good and bad endings and the supposed ‘true’ ending. But I feel that would be cheating myself out of the experience I had with the game.
Now this could all be a bunch of crap that my brain has somehow managed to piece together into a completed puzzle, yet somehow done so with pieces from 3 or 4 different puzzle sets to make a mess that somehow fits together. Or I could be onto something. I just don’t know.
I still haven’t decided if Catherine and in turn, Catherine: Full Body are works of genius that deserve praise and discussion, or something that I absolutely hate for taking up so much of my time mentally. Part of me wishes I never returned to the game, in the same way I have never and will never rewatch Irreversible or Mysterious Skin. But then I am glad I did go back because it really has made me think beyond the confines of my play-time.
It takes a certain something to do that and Catherine is one of those rare games that nails it. Now that doesn’t mean it is a good or bad game, because I have watched awful films that have stayed with me and made me question things, as much as I have watched classics that do the same.
I urge anyone to at least play Catherine once and ideally play Catherine: Full Body as it really does more to give the story some extra context, for better of worse.