Deadliest Catch: Sea of Chaos Review
It’s one of the most popular shows on the Discovery Channel and that popularity has spawned several video game incarnations. The second is Deadliest Catch: Sea of Chaos and while it provides the high-seas fishing fanatic with a decent real-time strategy feel, the actual gameplay suffers badly. It’s too bad, because I really liked the RPG/strategy aspect of the production; i.e., maintaining your boat and crew, setting and retrieving your pots on a timely basis, and of course, reaping more riches than the other captains. Really, it’s a surprisingly solid foundation. Unfortunately, there’s none of the intensity and danger that goes hand in hand with such a profession; we see it clearly in the TV show but here, intensity is nonexistent. Furthermore, the monotony of the process makes the game feel uninspired and bland, which doesn’t promote longevity. The hardcore fans might like it but it’s a pass for everyone else.
The graphics are the low point, as one might expect. This isn’t exactly a big-budget production – despite the $50 price tag – and there’s very little in the way of polish and special effects. Especially because this is the second effort, I wanted to see terrific waves crashing over the side of the boat, deckhands frantically running about, a nicely detailed crabbing vessel, and a few other frills. Sadly, I get none of that. There’s only a plastic-y ocean, a drab, very undetailed boat, and a few rigid deckhands seen from afar every now and then. It just doesn’t cut it these days, even though the visuals aren’t the focus. In order to instill much of that intensity we lack, developer DoubleTap needed to amp things up from a presentation standpoint. It doesn’t need to be flashy, but it does need to convey the fearful nature of the job, which is the entire point of the show. Graphically, it doesn’t get much plainer.
The sound is a little better, thanks to that competent narrator who helps you with the tutorial, and some fitting music. But again, we’re missing what we most need: where’s the shouting and cursing? Where’s the crashing and rolling of those waves? Why is everything quiet as a tomb when I’m setting, retrieving, sorting and unloading? It’s nice to have some solid classical pieces for the soundtrack and I suppose a few of the effects are okay, but I’m not sure this would satisfy the fans. It’s just too blasé the whole way ‘round from a technical standpoint, and although I can appreciate the focus on strategic thought processes, the graphics and audio need serious updating. The next time they make another Deadliest Catch title, I would strongly suggest utilizing more money and resources to provide viewers with a more robust production. We deserve cleaner, sharper, more in-your-face sound effects and more immersive, involving visuals. It’s also long past time for a new engine.
In all honesty, I wouldn’t have any idea how to turn this concept into a video game but for the record, DoubleTap makes a valiant attempt. Obviously, it makes perfect sense to have the aforementioned strategy/role-playing elements, where the captain – that’s you – must oversee most every aspect of the job, and that includes the boat, the crew, and the cash. You need to keep an eye on your boat and apply repairs to avoid broken equipment, you have to hire your crew and insure that they receive proper experience, and in the end, you need to come back to port with a full load of premium king crab. Your crew can get injured and tired, they’re rated on stamina and each of the major skills (Setting, Retrieving, Sorting, etc.), and you will fish various parts of the Bering Sea. You have to time your setting and retrieving and attempt to master each of the mini-games that goes along with each crucial process.
I also liked the fact that your crew receives experience and stat boosts if they perform well in their tasks. Furthermore, you have to consider that better deckhands will cost you more, so sometimes it’s well worth the effort to sacrifice performance to get a greenhorn properly established. Plus, there is something to be said for keeping an eye on everything; it requires patience and planning. But that’s where the good ends and the issue begins, because the mini-games in question are questionable at best, and the basic control is mediocre. The only positive element of the entire process is that performance really is based on speed and accuracy, which is faithful to the “Deadliest Catch” milieu. In addition, you will get better with time and practice, despite the occasionally wonky control and painful tedium. Oh, they can get awfully tedious. But maybe that’s a bonus; maybe it should feel more like work than entertainment.
…but I’m not buying that. The Setting mini-game has you piloting the boat and dropping the pots, but driving the boat is an exercise in total irritation. You have to constantly re-center the rudder with the Circle button while adjusting the throttle with the shoulder buttons and the direction with the left analog stick. It’s just terrible. The Retrieving is the best mini-game, as you toss out the hook to snag passing buoys; you can speed up the boat to grab more pots in less time, and you have to time your throw accordingly. Then there’s the Sorting, which is just plain boring; it’s a standard point and click type process, where you move your hand over the pot contents and toss them into the appropriate chutes. The big red crab goes into the right chute; the smaller crabs, green crabs, and fish all go into the left chute. You grab with the X button and throw with the right analog, and it’s just loose and a little ridiculous.
The last game has you tossing crab into a swinging basket during the offloading process. You have to time your throw and avoid the swinging crane; hitting it with your throw will cause you to incur a penalty. Now, this is not only extremely boring, it’s also even more ridiculous than the sorting. I refuse to believe this is the best idea the team could come up with when it comes to offloading. The problem is that the entire game is just a rotation of all these processes and mini-games and although the strategy element is there, the gameplay fails to deliver. When you factor in the severely lacking technical elements, one can only come to the conclusion that this isn’t anything like the TV show, and it’s nothing like being an actual fisherman. The thought involved – taking care of the boat and crew – is a nice touch and of course, quite realistic in its own way, but the overall experience feels monotonous, irksome, and unfulfilling.
Deadliest Catch: Sea of Chaos has a few good ideas and takes a decent stab at producing a fishing RTS of a certain kind. But controlling the boat sucks, the mini-games aren’t exactly engrossing, and the total lack of intensity drags the entire experience down. I suppose it could appeal to avid followers of the show but I get the feeling that few of them play video games, and I’m willing to bet most don’t even know a game adaptation exists. And even if they did, I’d have difficulty recommending it. One could applaud the attempt in some ways but for the most part, it’s just ho-hum with several poor elements and only a scant few highlights.
The Good: Some good ideas. Strategy/role-playing elements are fitting and appreciated. Mini-games reward speed and practice. Good accessibility.
The Bad: Seriously lackluster technical presentation. Poor control. Repetitive and tedious gameplay. A few poorly conceived mini-games. Complete lack of intensity. May not even appeal to fans of the show.
The Ugly: Reviewer experienced massive struggle with boredom.
12/16/2010 Ben Dutka