Let me get it out of the way by saying I am a hardcore fan of Deadliest Catch on the Discovery channel. I have been watching it since the original Pilot (The World's Deadliest Job) episodes several years ago and I was very excited to take a look at this game and get a taste of life on the Bearing Sea. When I put the disk in and hit the title screen, the game opened with the familiar bars from Bon Jovi’s ‘Dead or Alive, which is the show and games theme song. The screen has an animated (and detailed) image of the Northwestern and the three Hansen brothers. Unfortunately, I found out that the title screen was the last time I would experience top notch graphics.
As the game loads up into Career mode, if automatically takes you into a tutorial to learn the different aspects of running the boats out on the Bearing Sea. The first taste of action is to get the Northwestern back into Dutch Harbor before a storm hits. By doing so, you start unlocking the next mission content. The crash course in boat piloting continues with a race into Dutch Harbor against another fishing vessel (The Shellfish) and then docking the boat to pick up Matt and all the groceries. Upon successful completion, another mission gets unlocked.
These first five missions through the game are essential, as they teach players how to navigate the boat (so you don’t put her on the bottom) as well as set and pull pots. They are also critical because completion results in the unlocking of more missions to get deeper into the game as well as some of the extra content (Videos.) The single most important tutorial is how to use and read the Plotter. It is the heart and soul of the game, and is essentially your lifeline to finding the crab and knowing what the fleet is doing, or gong home empty handed. This is also the place where you can shorten up the game by setting coordinates and initiating a “fast mode” of travel and auto docking. This is very helpful while trying to offset the grind of pot pulling.
The control scheme in the game is unique and does take some time to master. Those that are familiar with piloting a boat or have watched a lot of the show will probably pick them up quicker than others. There are two main sections of controls, with several sub controls. The primary ones involve piloting the boat and directing the crew. The crew controls come from cycling through the ‘Y’ button to have them sleep, pull pots, set pots or chip ice. You can also interact directly with them through a sub menu by pulling the controllers’ left trigger. The other trigger brings up the radio so you can contact any of the other captains about fishing or to radio the coast Guard. The second set of controls comes from the previously mentioned Plotter screen, where you basically do all the planning for your trip and long-haul travel for the game. From this screen, you control what you see (think a fully interactive radar), placement of your pots, way points for travel and key points on the map. This uses about all of the controllers buttons and bumpers in some form, but has a guide listed for each action right on screen.
Career isn’t t only action in the game, as there are quite a few minigames in Deadliest Catch can be fun, but do get repetitive after a while. I actually found the skiff-racing in the harbor be the most difficult, as the controls on the outboard were touchy as hell. I have driven 12-foot aluminum boats with 10hp outboards in real life and they sure as heck don’t over respond like the one in the game. I did much better in the Crowded Harbor games where you have to dock the boat between other vessels in an area that gets increasingly difficult. There is also Jake’s Challenge (which is a throw-the-hook game with the Northwestern’s Greenhorn) and Coast Guard rescue games among others. They’re not a bad diversion from the monotony of pulling pots, but these are mainly for the hardcore fans and probably not the casual player.
The multiplayer over Live is designed to allow up to eight boats to compete in a season. The biggest issue here is getting one other person, let alone seven more, to spend some time on the Sea in multiplayer mode. I attempted to connect multiple times over the last several weeks and was successful only once, which promptly ended when some kid with a high-pitched voice called me an obscenity. I really wanted to yell “Shut up and Fish!” at him like Sig Hansen does in the commercial…alas; he had jumped off Live before I had a chance. I was shocked, as I have never had that happen before <sarcasm off>.
The Extras in Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm are some of the best surprises in the game, especially if you are a fan of the show. Literally dozens of videos become unlocked as you complete missions and progress further into the game. The highlight of these is the walk-about tour of the Northwestern. As you walk around the ship, the videos are marked with a question mark at various locations on deck, in the cabin and the engine room. When you click on one, a video player pops up in the middle of the screen and shows off what the corresponding area of the ship does. The videos range from a couple minutes to 10-15 seconds and depict such things as changing the sodium lights, fixing a propeller, what the circulator does and how the coiler works. After you watch all the Northwestern videos, an achievement is unlocked.
Unfortunately, the gameplay is plagued by several issues relating to the physics and graphics, as well as frame-rate problems. The frame rate issue is inexcusable, as the Xbox 360 has been around now for almost three years and games should come out clean and ready to play when they go gold. Essentially, the game gives small freezes throughout, and there are problems loading up cut-scenes, tip-scenes and delays in transitioning from the plotter back to the boat view. There is also a dearth of multiplayer availability, as I was only able to connect once out of about seven attempts to a multiplayer game on Live. Whether this is due to a connectivity issue, or just a lack of players (I’m leaning toward the latter) it does not make for a complete gaming experience.
As I mentioned, the quality of graphics in Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm fall all over the spectrum. There are times when you marvel at the intricate details, and times you shake your head at the half-ass attempt you see on the screen. The boats and facial scans of the crew are re-created faithfully, down to the last rust spot in some cases on the boats. However, there is this overwhelming feeling that you are looking at a scene that is the image quality of a painting, when it be that of a digital photo. While the painting has every aspect of the scene on the canvas, there simply isn’t close to being the amount of detail that you would get from a digital photograph. I commend them for getting just about everything in there; however the lack of high-end graphics is disappointing for a next-gen title.
The physics are also another let down, especially the way the water and crab flow across the deck of the boat. While the open water of the Bearing Sea does look fantastic anywhere four-feet from the boat and out, any wave breaking over the bow or down the boat looks like a solid sheet of ice running along the rail. There is no movement to it at all, just a solid white mass until it falls off the end of the boat. Another issue is retrieving and stacking pots on deck. As the boats crew member stands dead-center at the very stern of the boat and simulates hooking and unhooking the pots, the pots vanish or appear on deck from the hook when they are lowered to within five feet of the deck. It’s like a bad episode of Mindfreak from Chris Angel.
And this takes me to the last physics gripe, which is probably the most important action in the game…dumping and sorting crab at the sorting table. Wow, where to start. First of all, when the lift starts dumping the crab into the sorting table, you would expect them to tumble out of the pot. Well, in this game, the “crab” comes out of the pot like a slab of frozen cod bait (those that watch the show will know what I am talking about). Then, as it slides onto the sorting table from the pot, the graphic changes from what appears to be a rectangular frozen mass of King or Opilio crab, into a big lump of reddish brown muck. As the “crab” is being sorted off the table, it sort of just “melts” away while the guys are moving their hands back and forth like they are trying to shoo a fly or something. Obviously this was a shortcut the developers took, as there are not any true crab-sorting animations with the crab keepers being put in the tanks and the non-keepers being sent overboard.
While the physics, graphics and frame rate issues hurt this game considerably, the audio is probably its crown jewel. Having watched the show since inception, I was pleasantly surprised that the ship noises, soundtrack and voice-overs were done as well as they were. Whether it is the seagulls, engine rumble and cavitations or the sounds and words uttered by the crews, the game is spot on with what is expected. There are a couple of caveats though, the first of which is the ridiculous Russian sailor accent that Nick of the Northwestern recorded his voice-overs in. For those that do not watch the show, you wouldn’t know the difference. But for those that know it well, it strikes another mark against the authenticity of the experience I believe the Hansen brothers wanted to bring to the game. The other issue is with the overall lack of variety of voice-overs while interacting with the crew. Just like the animations, there simply aren’t enough tracks laid down to fulfill what was needed to make this a really good game as there are simply too many one-liners.
As for the achievements in Deadliest Catch, there are a total of 20 of which the first three are earned just by completing the five-mission tutorial. They are a nice cross section of earning for longevity (Complete 5 king crab seasons), playing online and completing mini games. There are also a couple of fun ones for spotting such things as a shipwreck, or a whale. They equal a full 1,000 points, but I would be surprised to ever see any additional achievements via DLC to get to the current max of 1,250 points.
Over the years, Deadliest Catch (the show) has evolved the formula for which ships and crew appear on the show. Originally quite a few ships shared equal time with the show changing out most ships every year. As the seasons have gone on, the formula has been to focus on four core ships with footage from a couple of secondary boats. These boats include the Northwestern, Cornelia Marie, Time Bandit and the Wizard. From that group, only the Northwestern and Cornelia Maria are featured in the game. Other boats included (but not limited to) in the game are the Shellfish, Sea Star and an unnamed vessel of your choice you create from the ground up. I was disappointed that the Time Bandit was not one of the original boats in the game, as the Hillstrands are some of the most entertaining characters from the television series. I’m sure additional boats and crew could be made available through DLC, but I highly doubt the time and effort will be put into that development. It will be interesting to see if another version or additional content for the game becomes available.
Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm will appeal to the hardcore fan as well as the casual observer of the show, but will disappoint any gamer that is looking for a high quality experience. The game premise itself is sound, but there are serious flaws with the development (frame rate and Jekyll and Hyde graphics). While there is a lot to like about the game, there is simply too much to overlook to say this is a keeper. The fact that it plays like a Beta that is missing its final coat of polish is what eventually drags the game, and the entire fleet, to the bottom of the Bearing Sea.
It pains me to hammer Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm, as the potential of the game was unlimited. However, the bottom line is that it feels like it was rushed to the market to coincide with the release of 2008 show schedule.