Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sheep Men: Choice and Individuality in 'Catherine'

My latest PopMatters article is no live! Sheep Men: Choice and Individuality in 'Catherine'.

I have a hard time thinking of a videogame protagonist I dislike more than Catherine's Vincent. The dolt has very few redemptive qualities, shows little if any foresight, and has the most sudden, bizarre, and incomprehensible character arc I have seen to date, regardless of what decisions players make. In regards to the greater themes through which Catherina navigates, I agree with Michael Abbott lamentation that "prime moments for player choice - situations that might lead one to fully explore Vincent’s darker desires - are off the table." In some ways I feel bamboozled by Catherine's marketing and risque subject matter. It was a weird game, yes, but it fell far short of expectations.

In regards to the tower-climbing puzzle levels, I actually quite enjoyed the gameplay. Various reviews cite the Catherine's sudden difficulty spikes. Knowing of this complaint going in, I played the entire game on easy. In this mode at least, the difficulty seldom posed any serious problems. There were certainly a few daunting moments in each section that took a frustratingly long amount of time to surpass. The worst puzzle sections demand one specific solution from the player. If the solution does not come quickly, then you will likely force your way through the puzzle using trial and error.

The fact players can make the game more difficult for themselves while playing is an interesting part of Catherine's gameplay. One might make a staircase to reach a certain point only to realize the same staircase now impedes their progress. Alternatively, pushing blocks out of the tower entirely to cause entire sections to lower can both help and hinder players. With the higher reaches sometimes difficult to comprehend from Vincent's vantage point, even with a quick camera peek, the strategy proves quite risky. At times, however, one quick push of a block can result in a beautifully elegant solution opening up before your own eyes.

Each of the puzzle segments, themselves composed of three or four stages, add new block types or reward new strategies, making for compelling adjustments to play styles. In certainly behooves players to learn techniques from their fellow sheep, some of which become invaluable in subsequent stages. By game's end, I found myself quite confident in my abilities, speeding through towers until I hit one or two snags, and then forcing my way through using trial and error. I should say I made liberally use of the "undo" feature available, I believe, only in easy mode. The game plays far better as a puzzle than a race against time. If you do want to give Catherine a try, I encourage you to play it on easy. Also, do your best to drown in Vincent's incessant whining and remember you're just a sheep in the herd.

Image from ~ClydeVII via Deviant Art.

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