Reviewed: July 8, 2008
Released: June 16, 2008
The Discovery Channel has been making leaps and bounds over the past few years with their array “Docu-Reality” television series. Over the years, the Discovery Channel has treated watchers to the likes of Man vs. Wild, Survivorman, Dirty Jobs, Mythbusters and many more. And in Discovery’s knack for sparking human interest and developing drama out of everyday events is second to none.
Such is the case with Discover’s television series Deadliest Catch, which chronicles the incredibly dangerous life of the deep-sea crab fisherman. While most would not think of the high seas would be a place for high-drama – Deadliest Catch delivers all of the trials and tribulations of the world second-deadliest occupation (Logging actually tops the list), in an exciting and captivating theatrical package.
While we were not really expecting a much from Discovery’s attempt to develop a resource management gaming title out of their prodigious television series – Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm is so overtly complex, so slow, and so poky that it is hard to make a recommendation to anybody but the hardest of the hardcore resource management fans.
Zzzzzzz….. Oh!, You made it to the Gameplay Section, eh? Sorry, I just snoozed off while. It happens a lot with Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm since the game is possibly the slowest game I have played on any console to date. Forget Viva Pińata - Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm takes the cake for, er…”relaxing” gameplay with its pluggy ship piloting sequences, painstakingly monotonous pot setting sequences, and endless layers of uninspired menu screens.
Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm puts you in the Captain’s chair on one of five fishing boats from the television series. As Captain, you must handle every detail of the crab fishing process ranging from maintaining the boat, hiring and assigning the crew members, purchasing fuel and supplies, scouring marine fishing surveys and maps for prime fishing locations, motoring to and from the spots, and setting and retrieving the fishing pots.
While on paper it might sound like Deadliest Catch just might have promise – the fact that each and every one of these tasks is anchored down by layers upon layers of mundane repetition, overtly bland presentation, and painstakingly deliberate action sequences – they just make the game one of the most boring titles on the console market.
The resource management mechanic is quite involved – requiring meticulous management of items ranging from food, fuel, ballast, pots and bait. The captain is also in charge of maintaining the boat’s maintenance and repairs, and well as managing a five-member crew by maintaining morale-affecting parameters including work and sleep schedules, and even job assignments. Each crew must consist of a Deck Boss, a Bait Boy, and three Deck Hands – of which there must be members who can double as a Cook, a Medic, and/or an Engineer. There are a slew of crewmembers to pick from at dock – each of which comes with his or her own specialties (and downfalls) as well as his or her own salary.
Once the crew has been chosen, the Captain is tasked with stocking the boat with fuel and supplies for the upcoming trip. The desire is to optimize fuel and food stores to result in the least impact on the boat while keeping the crew well fed and enough fuel to get home. Early on, the game does a pretty good job of handholding the gamer through the process – but as the game wears on, more and more of the decision-making falls on the gamer.
Once the crew and supplies have been secured, it is time to head out of the harbor. The Captain must first plot a course – which is developed using maritime fishing surveys that have been projected over the GPS-style plotter. Areas of heavy crab concentration show up as red dots, near which the Captain is encouraged to plot strings of fishing pots. Once a location has been chosen, it is the Captain’s job to pilot the boat to the intended locations – which given the size of these boats is about as exciting as taking a bulldozer across a barren desert. Luckily, the game includes a Fast Travel option to automatically zing the boat back and forth between spots – which quickly becomes the preferred mode of travel.
Setting and snagging the pots is a fairly arduous affair – requiring the Captain to take complete control of the plodding crewmember through a series of on-screen commands and directions. It would not be so bad if every single nuance of their movement did not need to be controlled so precisely – but as it stands the pot-setting scenes are more laborious than they ought to be. Once a string of pots has been pulled, the crabs are sized, counted, and stored below deck. This starts a countdown to get the catch back to port and sold before too many of the crabs die off. Again, Fast Travel is the key.
During certain missions, Captains will find themselves answering distress signals from rival fisherman, or maybe even aiding authorities in the capture of poachers or smugglers. These definitely add a break from the humdrum fishing sequences – but a marred by the same slow pacing of the rest of the game.
The game features two main modes; Mission and Career. Mission modes are basically a series of stand-alone challenges to make X dollars in X days – whereas the Career mode follows the captain through an entire fishing season. The game also features a multiplayer online mode in which gamers race to get the biggest catch in a fixed amount of time.
Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm does some things right in the visual department – but is hampered overall by severe slowdown – up to and including complete system freezing. The most amazing part by far has to be the incredible representation of water and waves on the open seas. I myself have spent quite a bit of time on the waters of Lake Michigan, and the Deadliest Catch’s waves are some of the most accurate I have seen in any computer-generated medium.
Better yet is the seasickness-inducing boat physics – rolling along with the waves as accurately and naturally as in real life. Thankfully, the game allows for a “Seasickness Cam” option to fix the camera isometrically outside the boat, allowing for a bit of relief. Pretty much everything else is less than stellar. The on-boat visuals are dull and flat, the textures are bland and overused, and the character animations look stilted and forced.
Most likely the result of the amazing water visuals constantly churning in the background, Deadliest Catch exhibits massive slowdown and horrendously inconsistent framerates. The game often slows down to a crawl – or an outright stoppage – many times during a single mission. It became so bad at times, that I thought more than once that my Xbox 360 was going through its swansong before flashing the fateful “red ring” on me. Thankfully, switching over to to the graphically intensive Rainbow Six Vegas 2 proved that the problem was with Deadliest Catch and not with my hardware.
The game does feature in-game FMV of the television series’ Captain Sig during the initial tutorial missions and later in the game – but the video appears so compressed and pixilated that I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been show on a first generation Flip-Video handheld. There is some enjoyment to be found in Captain Sig’s feigned drama and concern, but overall the scenes only sever to further drag down the already slow gameplay.
While the visuals did have a silver lining in the water effects, the audio package is dull and boring. Most of the time, gamers will be treated to the dull, unending drone of the boat’s motors, coupled with the constant cries of voracious seagulls and the lapping of water on the hull. Every now and then a crewmember will voice his or her, err, “concern” over your treatment (expect to be dogged throughout the game) – but the effect is more to clue you in to moral issues than it is to deride you for your Captain’s skills.
The voice acting itself gets the job done, but with absolutely no input from series narrator (and Dirty Jobs host) Mike Rowe – the game lacks the one piece of authenticity that might have drawn fans in to the drab gameplay.
Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm would do much better on a PC than it does on a console. The PC world has a whole slew of anal-retentive resource management fanatics playing simulators of railroads, amusement parks, and societies. On the console however, it just doesn’t make much of a splash.
I am sure Deadliest Catch has many hours of engrossing gameplay, but I hardly could make it thorough five hours before surrendering the controller in utter boredom. And while little additions like online multiplayer play and offline minigames like slalom add a semblance of variety to the proceedings – they are all hampered by the slow paced gameplay and sketchy visuals.
Deadliest Catch is only going to appeal to specific gamers – and I am not so sure those gamers will be found on the Xbox 360, or any other console for that matter. I am sure the game will sell well based on game recognition alone, but as it stands Deadliest Catch nowhere near captures the excitement or intensity of the Discovery Channel series.