for the Bargain Bin
Based on the Discovery Channel’s hit reality documentary, Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm takes players to the icy waters of the Bering Sea in order to haul in their limit of “Red Gold.” That’s crab to you landlubbers in the lower 48! The game does a good job capturing many of the nuances, perils, and strategies associated with Alaskan crab fishing. Sadly, the deathly slow pacing and the poor mix of hands-off and hands-on gameplay has this title “Bering Straight” for the bargain bin.
Alaskan Storm allows players to begin a career as captain of their own boat, run side missions for short bursts of play, and even head online for a little multiplayer “action.” This offers a sufficient amount of varied gameplay, but not a single mode is particularly compelling. The Career mode is far too slow and uncomplicated, the missions in Mission mode are either silly or boring, and online play in Multiplayer is virtually non-existent due to the fact that no one is playing this game.
Like most games, I found Career mode to be the most convincing portion. While discovering the ins and outs of piloting crab boats via a four stage mini-tutorial, I unlocked Career and began designing my own craft. After tricking out the Crabbin’ Cabin to my exacting standards (just glorified coloring really) I selected my crew, assigned them tasks and percentage shares appropriate to their abilities, half-filled the tank with petrol, loaded up with bait and pots, and went out to catch me some King crab.
During Career, you will come across a number of challenges and hazards. A proper captain always needs to take the safety and well-being of their crew into account if they want to make any money. Crab seasons are very short (just a few days) and this will have you working your crew as hard as you can without getting them hurt or crushing their morale; between bad weather, pots full of female crab, and long hours, it’s a bit of a balancing act. I’m a huge fan of both strategy and fishing games (good ones that is), so the Career mode of Alaskan Storm had me initially excited. It looked as if this was going to be a thinking man’s fishing title that would have me constantly manipulating situations to keep my crew on track. However, in just a few minutes of actual play, I realized the developers became lost in a no-man’s-land between simulation, strategy, and action. As a result, none of the game’s elements turned out to be very fun.
The prospect of using tools like the Plotter (the Fish and Wildlife’s mapping tool) to identify schools for laying strings of crab pots and developing a fishing strategy was intriguing. Moreover, controlling the ship’s ballast, organizing the cargo, and managing the crew, mechanicals, and weather seemed to be right up my alley. Unfortunately, other than the useful Plotter, the ability to micromanage these various aspects is painfully shallow. For example, keeping up crew morale is just a matter of hiring a good cook or giving specific crewmen four hours of sleep. Keeping your boat’s mechanicals in good shape is simply a matter of time and money; there’s really no way of preventing or avoiding breakdowns. Furthermore, the conversation mechanic between you, your crew, and other captains is so rudimentary it probably should have been left out. These kinds of missteps are constant and combine to make the simulation and strategy sides of the game feel pretty cheap.
Looking back, I guess the trivial micromanagement options wouldn’t have been so bad except for the atrociously slow gameplay. This is where the action side of the title fails. While heading out to sea, the Plotter allows you to use a fast time option to speed ahead to your target locations. This is a very important tool that does away with macro-boat navigation. Unfortunately, this slick tool is not used for setting and retrieving pots. Literally, players will have to suffer through hours of doing nothing but adjusting their ship’s velocity. That’s because, as the ship’s captain, the lowly A.I.-controlled crewmen will do all the heavy lifting for you. You’ll just sit back, answer a few radio calls, and press a buzzer when it’s time to drop the baited pot. I could have seen this hands-off game mechanic working if it was implemented like an RTS, but there are too few things to keep you occupied, and your ship is about as fun to navigate as an RV is to park.
The development team tried to mix things up a bit by providing a Mission mode and Multiplayer to the mix. Disappointingly, the missions typically involve a cheesy slalom course for a skiff, the plodding rescue of another crew, or navigating through mildly challenging, ice-filled inlets. As for Multiplayer, good luck finding anyone to play with! If you do, you’ll be able to slog through hours of play against others rather than challenging the CPU.
The game has solid sound effects and voice acting throughout. All the live action video clips and crew commentary are performed by the stars of the Discovery Channel program. Familiar captains and deck hands such as the Hansen brothers, Edgar, and Jake add to the ambience of the title. Additionally, the sounds of the crashing ocean, the hydraulics on deck, and the seagulls overhead help to keep players in the setting.
The graphics in Alaskan Storm are bad. Other than the foam on the water’s surface and the realistic swells, the visuals are on par with budget PS2 titles. The ocean’s spray looks blocky, you can see the bow’s wake through the crew’s quarters, and the catch you unload from the pots onto the table looks more similar to dog food than crab.
Graphical pitfalls aside, Alaskan Storm does have an easy-to-learn control scheme. Even so, it fails to be engaging. Controlling your ship feels realistic enough; maneuvering the lumbering vessel is challenging and complete with cavitations and a Sea Sickness cam. But, who cares about piloting a ship? I would have rather gushed over solid command controls and menu interfaces. Alas, the controls are nothing more than passable.
Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm could have been a very good game if the developers would have sped up the action and further fleshed out the game’s more cerebral portions. Unfortunately, the game gets caught between simulation, strategy, and action, and it doesn’t pull any of them off. This game will be translated to the PC in the coming months and I expect that version to be far superior to that of the 360. If this title was priced at around $40, I might have recommended it to fans of the show. However, at $60 plus tax, there’s no way anyone should buy it.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.2 Graphics
Other than the foam on the surface and the realistic swells, the game really struggles visually. 3.0 Control
The controls are good enough, but certainly not engaging. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sounds are the highlight of the title. The voice acting is done by actual members of the television series. 2.6 Play Value
There are a lot of quality aspects to this title that simply weren’t well executed. The final result is a game that is too slow and too simplistic to be any fun. 2.7 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.