Sometimes, you just need to leave well enough alone. Deadliest Catch, a reality program about the dangerous crab-fishing industry in Alaska, is one of the Discovery Channel’s biggest hits. That doesn’t mean it needs a videogame counterpart. As a reality program, Deadliest Catch thrives on the fast edits, interpersonal drama, a musical score and the ESPN-like highlight reel of one or two captivating days at sea. Its videogame counterpart, however, benefits from none of these.
Technically, Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm does nothing wrong. The game is unabashedly a crabbing simulator, complete with day/night cycles, ship upgrades, crew hiring and management, injuries, the need to eat, and even federal fines if you’re caught crabbing before or after the season starts. Players start by taking charge of a ship from the TV show; buying crab pots, fuel and bait; hiring a crew of seasoned pros and greenhorns who can get the job done without breaking the bank; then evaluating where in the Bering Sea to look for a record catch.
On its Easy setting, Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm forgoes much of the I’m-about-to-die intrigue of the TV show and lets players ply the waters relatively unmolested. With a quick check of the radar (for weather, other boats and crab locations), you’re off and running to place your crab pots, avoid icebergs, pull up your pots after 36 hours or so and then decide whether that’s the best place to go crabbing. Bump it up to Realistic, and the weather can be downright brutal, your crew’s fatigue and morale drop at a moment’s notice, injuries happen much more regularly and with more severity, and all in all your life will be Hell.
Welcome to life on the Bering Sea.
I have no doubt that this is, in fact, realistic. I have no doubt that the simulation aspects of the game are spot-on, at least in concept. And I have no doubt that Sig and the rest of the real-life Deadliest Catch crew can sit back with Alaskan Storm and think “f**k yeah, man, *this* is our life.” The only thing I doubt is that a crab fisherman’s career actually makes for a compelling videogame.
On the aforementioned Easy setting, the game can actually get a bit tedious, as it’s essentially comprised of watching your crew drop things in the water, fast-traveling to other locations while the first batch of pots sit in the briny depths, then returning to the original group of crab pots to watch the crew pull them up. Once the season is over (about an hour of in-game time), you head back to shore, watch the money roll in and make any needed upgrades to the ship. Crank it up to Hard, however, and you’ll not only have that monotony to deal with, but also the seemingly random dice-roll of a crewmate’s death or dismemberment, as well as crab migrating from a once-hot spot to another.
Again, this is no doubt realistic, but the best part about the TV show isn’t watching guys pull up crab pots. It’s the interpersonal conflict and Jerry Springer-like drama that transpires on board the Northwestern and other vessels. None of that is really captured in the game, even with the Sims-like personality-management aspects in full swing. There are a few moments of forced intrigue and rescues, and even shrewd interactions with the other captains as you communicate about where the crab fishing is best, but they really seem forced and not all that engaging.
For fans of the show, Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm includes a host of bonus content, from a shotline-throwing mini-game where players toss the rope to the buoys to about 30 minutes of live-action footage in which deckhands from the Northwestern give you a behind-the-scenes look at the ship’s maintenance and operations. The game also includes online multiplayer via Xbox Live, although even when those options are set to Arcade, it’s still only so compelling to compete with your buddies when you’re watching your crew drop and retrieve crab pots.
The graphics, too, leave something to be desired, as the in-game ship and character models are on par with a late-stage Xbox game. There are a few places where the next-gen aspects shine through, though. First off is the camera, which moves with the waves. It can induce vomiting in big storms, so you always have the option to turn the “vomit cam” off from the options menu. The game also has physics-based waves, and the lighting effects from the xenon lights atop the masts can’t be beaten. As seagulls circle your ship at dusk, they’ll go into and out of the light with a remarkably realistic look. Of course, from an audio standpoint, that’s really all you hear, too; be prepared to listen to a whole LOT of bird sounds.
Again, Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm technically does nothing wrong, and its simulation aspects are as well-done and in-depth as other sims on the market, crabbing or not. It’s just that the concept of crabbing doesn’t really translate well to the world of videogames. Deadliest Catch is a great reality program filled with intrigue and drama. But as a game, it feels mired in tedium and struggles to be compelling without the real-life drama and interpersonal conflicts that make the TV show special.
- Score: 6.5
- The game mechanics are sound, but the subject matter doesn’t make for a compelling game. Sorry, guys…better stick to the TV shtick.
— Jonas Allen