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.
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