Publisher: Navarre Corp
Developer: Liquid Dragon
Release Date: June 17, 2008
If there was one game getting released mostly under the radar that I was waiting for, it was Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm. The title promised to make the transition from Discovery channel to video game and put you in the role of a captain of your own crab boat.
I imagine the game is really only going to appeal to the hardcore "Deadliest Catch" fans or of unique simulation games because let's face it: It's a game about crab fishing on the Bering Sea. It's a bit of a unique niche, to say the least. The title respectably adds a lot of content and features such as Coast Guard rescue missions, arcade-style skiff racing, and more live video than you can shake a stick at. There are definitely pros and cons, but I'll focus on the meat of Deadliest Catch, which is the Career mode.
Before even setting foot on your own boat, you'll be walked through some orientation missions that teach you how to use your throttle, rudder, auto-pilot, radar, as well as give basic orders to the crew. The missions are very simple and broken down to enough fine detail that by the end of it, you should feel comfortable with docking, setting waypoints on the map, and generally running your own crab boat.
Once you begin the Career mode, you'll be able to choose a boat from five of the more well-known rigs in the series, rather than a plethora of sizes and types. Sure, there are some varieties, but you'll essentially be picking the Northwestern, the Cornelia Marie, or another "big name" boat. A nice feature, though, is the ability to paint your boat, rails, hull, and trim in any color your choose. You can also rename the vessel, which is reflected in your choice of fonts right on the bow of the boat. Needless to say, by the time I was done, the Sea Otter was painted a nice combination of red and black and was quite the pirate vessel.
After your boat has been tricked out with paint, you'll have the ability to choose how much fuel and how many crab pots you want. There is a nice balance you'll have to find with ship weight and capacity, since factors like weather and time can affect everything during your fishing season.
And finally, and most importantly, you'll be able to pick your five-man crew. Again, there is a balance to strike based on who you choose and what job you want them to do. There are primary and secondary jobs, and you can match up an individual crewman to his best features, such as Bait Boy, Cook, Deck Boss, Deck Hand, Engineer and Medic. Of course, if you want talent, you're going to pay for it. Seasoned vets like Edgar Hansen command a larger percentage share of the profit than does greenhorn Josh Harris. If you want a crew of seasoned vets, sure things will likely run smoothly, but prepare to pay accordingly. Likewise, the S.S. Scrooge McDuck might be saving money by hiring all greenhorns, but prepare for a lot of accidents and a crew that doesn't always know what to do. The trick is to find a happy medium.
Once you have your crew, fuel, and pots on deck, it's time to go crabbin'! Your charts and radar thankfully show you census data of where crabs were located approximately five months before season, so you can either go toward known grounds, or try to factor in some migration and go for the big score. There really is the entire Bering Sea to explore and set your pots and fish, and the developers did a good job of lending a large scale to things. Yes, there are ice flows. Yes, there are bad storms. Yes, there are 40-foot swells that can sweep your crew right off the deck.
Lest you think you'll be playing Deadliest Catch like a real-life crab captain, there are some fast travel options that let you set a waypoint and travel with sped-up time so you're not actually running your boat for 24 hours to find a good spot. The game also has a sped-up clock system whereby three seconds in the game goes by for every one second in real life. Yes, I counted. You notice these things during some of the game's slower moments, but I'll get to that shortly.
If you're a fan of the show, there is a sense of excitement in plotting a route and dropping off the first string of pots. It's wonderful fun to see your crew setting up crab pots, baiting them, and then dropping them on your command. For every one pot you drop, it counts as five so you're not micromanaging too much, and while it feels like a bit of a cheat at first, you'll welcome it when you're 72 hours into the season, blurry-eyed, and squinting into dark waters looking for your buoy markers.
Likewise, pulling your first string of pots is great. There is a sense of anticipation comparable to watching the TV show and hoping for a big crab haul. Your crew will also often make comments based on the haul size to help you figure out your best course of action. A high crab count will elicit responses such as, "Set it back!", "That's money!", and "Now that's one full pot!" It's exciting at first, but it's like any other simulation game where canned responses become more annoying as you hear them over and over again.
And really, that is the bulk of your season: set the pots, let them soak, pull the pots, and either re-bait them and set them back or pull them to drop somewhere else. We're not talking glamorous here; this is the heart of crab fishing. As I mentioned, there are weather conditions to be aware of, as well as the crew's morale and maintaining a working vessel. Believe me when I say that there is nothing quite as frustrating as having a deckhand injure himself and have a hydraulic line break with only five hours left in the season. I found myself screaming at the crew and boat as only Sig Hansen can.
That's when it occurred to me, too. This game is darn near a perfect representation of the "Deadliest Catch" television show, only with far less swearing, smoking and cheering. That's not to say that any of those things makes or breaks a game, but it's certainly a factor. When I pulled in a king crab pot with 92 keepers in it, I expected my little crew avatars to virtually cheer for the awesome haul. No such luck. Sure, I got a few pop-up windows telling me the same canned responses as before, but I think a little audible cheer would've been a nice touch.
Once your crab season is over, you'll dock back into one of several available harbors to offload crab, refuel, and add or remove more crab pots. There is certainly a thrill to watching your profit climb and to see your guys paid accordingly. You even get a nice friendly competition graph showing where you fit in the hierarchy of other crab boats in terms of crab count. It's all very Discovery Channel-ish and very cool.
Before I paint too rosy a picture, let me just say that this title is not without its flaws. There are horrible clipping issues; you can't go above five knots in clear water without seeing waves literally coming through the front of your boat, which is kind of unnerving. Also, your crew will frequently and without issue walk through one another in their travels. It breaks the realism to see Normal pass through Jake as if they were both ghosts on my pirate crab ship.
The constant pop-up videos are another game feature that, while helpful and nifty at first, quickly reaches an annoying level. Hansen will pop up early on in the game to give you tips and pointers on everything from crew happiness and setting pots to steering in reverse. It's a nice way to get more depth out of events in Deadliest Catch, until the same videos start popping up while you're in the middle of doing something. After a while, I just thumbed the B button to close the window before he even began to talk. I hate to say that an intended helpful feature is a negative, but in this case, it does drop things down a notch or two.
Additionally, there are glitches in the title. One such example is that I gave the orders to a deckhand to go take a break since the end of the season was nearing and he had almost no energy left. No problem. Two pots later, and another deckhand got injured and had to go in for three hours of bed rest. I attempted to get my first deckhand back to the deck to fill in, but none of the menus or speech options gave me the ability to wake him up and bring him back out. It's like once you give someone leave to take a nap, he is going to take that nap and not wake up until he's fully rested.
There were also a couple of occasions where I pulled the boat right up to my buoys for the deckhand to pull a pot, and he'd just sit there with hook in hand. Now, I can't say whether that was an intended feature of the deckhand's personality and that there was something just not clicking right, but I ended up having to leave that pot, go to the next one, and then go back to the prior one for the same person to hook it and haul it in. I'm sure it could be excused as some personality simulation issue, but I call it a bug.
My last negative about Deadliest Catch is that the game just runs long in Career mode. I suppose it's not really a negative when you're simulating such a long and dragging real-life mirror, but with the ability to travel quickly between points and to set a 1:5 pot ratio, there comes a point when the title goes from fun to grinding. Maybe that's a feature for some people, but I found myself wishing that there was a quick and automated way to set and retrieve pots on a string with a single button press. Obviously, this would take away the dynamics and heart of the game, but much like the Discovery Channel has shown, there are highs and there are lows, even in the game world.
The multiplayer portion is essentially the same as Career mode, except that you'll be able to play with up to eight other players. The fuel, crab pots, crew, and boat management occur exactly the same; the only difference — and the most horrendous issue — is that while you can still set a fast travel route, you can't speed up time. You know, that whole dynamic real-time environment. I suppose if you have seven other friends who all are extremely hardcore about playing every single second of a crab season for bragging rights, then kudos. This is your game. Otherwise, I really don't see many people flocking to the multiplayer mode.
To sum it all up, Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm looks great. The modelers did an absolutely fantastic job of virtualizing massive crab boats and making it believable. The waves, water swells, storms, ice floes all make for a very immersive environment that just feels right. Real voices with real crab fishermen (and women) and tons of video make the title slightly more robust. Unfortunately, there are clipping issues and some bugs that make what would've been a very polished game feel like it released maybe just a bit too early. I'm holding out hope that there is a fix sent down at some point to address some of the minor issues, but if you're a fan of the television series, then the Deadliest Catch game is definitely worth your while.
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