Catherine is at its core a game about the nature of love, commitment and what ‘forever’ means when it’s past time to grow up. On the surface, however, it’s about choosing between two beautiful women – featuring the shabby sort of protagonist that always seems to end up with that particular double-edged dilemma.
Vincent is a gangly, mop-headed and perpetually dazed 32-year-old whose primary interest seems to be drinking with his friends. We never see his job, but he’s implied to be a systems engineer without much upward mobility. He lives alone in a studio apartment where the rubbish always needs putting out. Katherine, his girlfriend of five years, is poised and ambitious, fulfilled by her work at a clothier. She starts hinting that she’s ready for marriage; Vincent, on the other hand, wonders why things just can’t stay the same.
While Vincent is drinking away his anxiety around Katherine’s new agenda, an attractive young woman appears, as if summoned by his indecision. She’s Catherine-with-a-C, and she very quickly becomes trouble for the story’s decidedly unheroic hero after he drinks too much and wakes up next to her in bed.
By day, Vincent hangs out in the Stray Sheep, a regular haunt for him and his friends. Here, he gets his pals’ take on his evolving situation and can talk to strangers with similar burdens, and not so similar – rumour has it that there’s a curse killing off men who cheat by attacking them through their dreams. Vincent’s circle of friends is interesting and believable: cynical Orlando scoffs at the institution of marriage, apparently having been hurt in the past; young Tobias is eager to hook up with Erica, the Stray Sheep’s comely waitress; and reticent Jonny is apparently dating someone about whom he never speaks. These sequences are largely scripted, although there are regular dialogue options. Beyond a cutscene there’s no obligation to hang around in these sections, but doing so adds much to the story, as you walk around the bar and talk to patrons who come and go as the night goes on.
During these bar scenes, players receive text messages from Katherine and Catherine, and can choose from various reply options. The mobile phone, which also accesses the menu and saves, is a canny recognition of the role digital communication increasingly plays in romance and intimacy – Vincent won’t look at some of the photos Catherine sends in public.