How comforting it is to hang out with Vincent Brooks, the hero of Catherine. Though if anyone would shirk off the weight of that role, it would be him. ‘I just want life to stay the same!’ he says to a friend. Everything about him seems an expression of that sentiment. He’s a 32-year-old boy, wearing a candy-pink T-shirt, a cream leather jacket, and a curly clump of hair on his head. And look at the way he walks: a perpetual, slow-motion slouch, hands in pockets, elbows stuck out as though he were wearing armbands, trying to stay afloat. His expression is hapless – eyes peeled and panicky – but it’s tinged with the hangdog, as if, on some deep level, he suspects he might deserve whatever calamity should befall him. He’s the embodiment of the expression ‘go with the flow,’ only the flow has swept him out to sea.
You’ve got an excellent chance to join him, in all his shambolic glory, with the recent release of Catherine: Full Body. The game is poised between a remake, a remaster, and a definitive redux of Catherine, which released back in 2012, for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It has been ported into the Persona 5 engine, glossing its colours with a brighter glow; there are an extra 20 lavish anime cutscenes; lighter difficulty levels, for those who wish to watch the story without steep spikes of challenge; and there is a new character, Rin, a naïf with a bob of bubblegum hair who sticks to the story, after a desperate chance encounter with Vincent, and adds further tangles to the love triangle at its heart. But the best thing about Catherine: Full Body is nothing. *Doing* nothing. The game has perfected, like no other, the art of inactivity.
Strange that such a lack of action would be so thrilling, in a medium built for the opposite, and I chalk it up to two things. First, Vincent’s nights are spent in the feverish grip of a nightmare, in which he climbs an ever-crumbling babel by moving blocks of stone to and fro to forge an upwards path – thus breaking a mechanical sweat and readying us for bouts of relaxation. Second are the nervous themes that thrum through every scene. The evenings see Vincent washed up at his local bar, The Stray Sheep. Also marooned are his childhood friends Orlando, Jonny, Toby, and Erica, who works there as a waitress. The bar is the place to be, plainly decorated but peppered with plush details – an old-school vinyl jukebox, polished brass railings, and a blinking arcade cabinet – and it’s filled with a cozy fug of booze and smoke.
What a place for the whiling away of idle hours. And yet, Vincent’s knack for not making decisions and moving forwards in life – the very thing so pleasurable about playing Catherine: Full Body – is what gets him into deep water. ‘I don’t want to sleep around,’ he says, right before cheating on his longtime girlfriend, Katherine (note the ‘K’ in the spelling). Meanwhile, tune your ear to the conversation bleating through the bar and you find a sinister undercurrent lurking beneath the crust. A spate of mysterious sleep-related deaths has broken out, and there are rumours of curses and creatures prowling for unfaithful men. Enter Catherine (spelt with a ‘C’), with whom Vincent tumbles into an affair. (‘I feel like I wasn’t even involved with it,’ he says to Erica.) And then there’s Rin, who is loyal to Vincent after he unwittingly rescues her from a sticky situation.
It’s enough to drive a man to drink, so that’s exactly what Vincent does, and it comprises one of a generous smattering of distractions. Along with using the jukebox, watching the TV that hangs above the bar, playing the arcade machine, and splashing water on his weary face in the bathroom sink, drinking doesn’t advance time in-game. What a conceit! It makes a mechanic of that pubgoing feeling of time turning into a tempest with you at its eye – the moment is still, but when you step outside you find the hours have blown violently by. Is there a finer portrayal of drink in all of games? I’m taken with the notion of drinking to stem the torrent of life and its attendant troubles; especially when those troubles are the game’s main challenge – it is, at its heart (and in Vincent’s head) a puzzle-platformer – is a daring feat.
Playing Catherine: Full Body, I can’t help but think of those kids in the Nightmare on Elm Street films: bleary-eyed, blaring loud music and spooning down mouthfuls of coffee, straight from the jar, the better to keep clear of their nightmares. I defy you not to fall for a game in which someone’s life is threatened, stalked by something deadly that waits in his dreams while his friends mock him for his fumbling infidelity. For a game that provides trivia for each beverage you partake in – ‘To be classified as craft beer, it must be made by small independent breweries,’ the narrator informs us. And for a game that wills its longueurs into languor, through sheer force of humour and human weakness. It tempts us into the very torpor that makes Vincent a figure of such shabby reassurance. Who knows what lies ahead? Can’t life just stay the same?
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