STAFF REVIEW of Deadliest Catch Alaskan Storm (Xbox 360)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008.
by Rick Wallace

Deadliest Catch Alaskan Storm Box art Finally the wait is over and Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm has steamed its way onto shelves across the US and Canada. Greenwave Games, Liquid Dragon Studios and the legendary Hansen family bring you a pure crab boat simulation of what it?s like to be a Bering Sea crab boat Captain. So has the wait and numerous delays been worth their weight in gold? For the casual gamer, this game may not appeal, but for hardcore simulation gamers and fans of the show Deadliest Catch on Discovery Channel the wait has been more than worth it. Honestly there is a cult like following for this game that is almost scary. We?ve seen the clan thing is big in shooter titles, but to see something like that taking place in this game is simply amazing and scary at the same time. There are many folks that are simply fanatical about this game.

The game is inspired by the Hansen Family who own one of the most popular boats featured on the Deadliest Catch Show. Captain Sig, Edgar and Norman Hansen put their heads together to come up with a game concept that would allow fans of the show and gamers to experience what it is like to work on a Bering Sea crab boat. You?ll take the role of Captain on one of five boats featured in the game, or you?ll have the opportunity to create your own boat from those boat templates. Your primary goal is to catch as much crab as you can during the fishing season but you have secondary tasks to keep an eye on such as keeping up crew morale, giving them breaks, plotting course and pot strings, etc.

There is a general concern among gamers that the game is based on a TV show. The general TV/Movie based games tend to be well, really bad in most cases. You need to get that thought out of your head when considering a purchase of Alaskan Storm. This game carries the Deadliest Catch name and features boats from the show, but it is NOT based on any storyline from the show. The game is focused completely on what it is like to be a Captain on a Bering Sea crab boat. So clear your head completely of any thoughts that this is your typical TV show game. That is furthest from the truth.

Some of the stand out features in this game include: 34,000 miles of actually Alaskan coastline recreated in with great precision and detail, Four true to life Bering Sea Harbors, 20 real life fisherman, five authentic Captains and crab boats. Another big feature is the inclusion of the US Coast Guard for the first time in any video game. You?ll have a chance to pilot the 370 foot USCG Cutter Mellon.

Alaskan Storm features several modes of gameplay for you to enjoy. You?ll have your standard career mode where you will progress through King Crab and Opilio seasons. You also have a few mini games and challenges that you will need to complete in order to unlock some boat upgrades that can be applied for single player and multiplayer use. Speaking of multiplayer, yes, there is a multiplayer mode that will pit you against up to 7 other Captains online competing see who can make the most money in an online season. Those online seasons can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. All of which can be controlled by the host when setting up the match. There is also a virtual tour of the Northwestern that will allow you to completely free roam the vessel and learn a lot of interesting tidbits about the fishing industry and the boat itself.

The general physics in this game are simply amazing when it comes to the wave simulation on the Bering Sea. Since the weather is completely dynamic and in real time, you will experience calm seas at one point and then a storm could roll in and you?ll find yourself hanging on for dear life as the boat sways and rolls through 40 foot seas. Depending on the intensity of the storm and the time of the season, the storm could produce small nuisance swells all the way up to high winds, snow, icing, and 40 foot swells. You?ll have to focus on keeping the boat upright and keeping your crew safe on deck as you continue to do the task at hand. Sometimes you just have to grin and bear the weather in order to make some money, other times you can run for cover.

The graphics in the game have high point and low points. The water looks simply amazing and the sunsets on the Bering Sea are simply breathtaking. The boats rolling through the seas look outstanding and there is a lot of attention to detail on every vessel. Some folks have expressed concerns about drab terrains, but all in all it?s the top of the world folks. Its rock, ice and snow! What kinds of textures are you expecting truthfully? And seriously, why are you even worried about the land masses when your primary focus should be on the water and trying to haul in the crab. A few things I have noticed that have been a little disappointing would be the pile of crab that is dumped out of your pots. It literally looks like a pile of, well, I really can?t use that word in a professional review. I really think some more attention could have been paid to some of the smaller details in the game such as this. This is one of those things that?s painfully obvious and in plain sight throughout the game. This one thing could have used more attention in my opinion. It doesn?t detract from gameplay, it only takes from the overall visual experience.

The sounds in the game get a bit of a mixed emotion from me. The boat engines and standard workings on the deck of the boat are pretty much what I would expect. The ambient sounds of the sea are present as well such as the pesky seagulls that follow your boat around the sea looking for a quick snack. What the game is lacking in is the voice category. One thing that many fans will be disappointed in is the fact that Mike Rowe didn?t make it into the game. His voice has become a staple in the Deadliest Catch series and would have been .a top notch addition. The voice acting in the game is a little on the dare I say corny side at times. There are a few times I would rather the crewmember just salute me with one finger rather than say something. The mood would come across so much better in those instances. As an overall, the sounds are just a mediocre portion of the game. On a good note, how can you go wrong when Bon Jovi fires up the vocals in the opening title screen. That makes up for all below standard sounds!

Let?s move onto the game and gameplay itself. The game starts you out in a tutorial to give you the basics on piloting your vessel into a dock and around the harbor. You?ll head out to sea and drop a few pots, learn how to use all the tools at your disposal in the wheelhouse as well as how to command your crew. Once you have finished the tutorial you?ll unlock career mode. This is where the real simulation and fun begins. Its time to see what you have and how that will translate into profit by the end of a season. One of the great features you will learn to use in the tutorial is what is called Fast Travel. This comes in quite handy online for sure. Fast Travel allows you to travel quickly from point A to point B by setting a waypoint. In the single player mode, fast travel only allows you to avoid actually driving the plotted course yourself which could in fact get a bit boring if going a long distance. When in fast travel mode in single player, the clock will tick in real time as if you were driving in real time. Where as online, the season clock does not deplete when you use fast travel meaning you only use a few seconds compared to a few hours of the game clock when driving yourself. Very innovative idea and again it comes in quite handy. You will still have to drive the boat to pick up and drop pots and perform other tasks, but this is a great travel system for getting to your favorite fishing spots without losing much time online or having to fall asleep at the wheel when in single player mode. This mode does not detract from the game in anyway when used.

When you start your career mode, you?ll be asked what boat you would like to use. You can select from 5 real life boats and Captains, or you can select the customize option and create your own boat. The boat editor is very basic and only really consists of you selecting a boat template from the existing real life boat. You?ll then paint the boat to your own specified colors, including trim, hull etc. The paint system is very cool because rather than giving you standard colors to choose from, you in fact get to use a color wheel which gives you literally millions of options. Once you have painted your vessel, slap a name on it using the text tool, and then select your wheelhouse style. You?ll be able to upgrade parts and special items on your boat as you finish each season. It?ll take money though to make these upgrades so be sure to do well.

Before leaving the harbor you?ll have to hire a crew, buy some bait, fuel and pots. When hiring your crew you?ll have to assign job titles to each person specifically so be sure to read their description to see what job they are best suited for. Each crew members takes a share of the total profits at the end of the season, so make sure you don?t have all high percentage crew members on board your boat or you will make no money. You?ll have to take a look at their stamina and morale levels throughout the season and try to keep them rested and happy or some may in fact quit on you, get hurt often or just have a bad attitude which brings the whole crew down. If your crew?s morale is low, they aren?t going to work very well for you.

This game is very technical and it has multiple facets for you to understand and learn to become successful. Let?s first discuss a few terms for those that aren?t fans of the show. You have 2 types of crab you are in search of in the game which are King Crab and Opilio crab. You?ll only be fishing for one crab species per season, both in single player and multiplayer. To catch crab you have to use something call a ?pot?. This is basically a trap that allows crab to enter, but they cannot get back out once they have entered. Each pot is loaded with bait and dropped off the side of the boat to the sea floor. You then have to let the pot ?soak? in the water for several hours to allow for crab to enter and fill up the pot. Each pot is part of something call a ?string?. A string is basically a line you take where pots are dropped at intervals. In the game when you actually go through the process of dropping a pot, it actually represents 5 pots dropped so a string of 40 pots would mean you only have to drop 8 actual pots. This helps speed up the game little in a sense.

So your goal in the game is to drop strings in areas where you think the crab may be. You?ll use a fish and game survey chart to show you hot spots and give you starting points but a lot of the time you will have to use instincts and single test pots to determine where the crab are at. The crab move and migrate realistically on the sea floor, so where you might have been hitting them one time may be bone dry the next time you drop pots there.

Using a menu system you?ll have to command your crew to drop pots, pull up pots, break ice or take rests. From time to time more specific actions will be taken on an individual basis such as cooking a meal for the crew or fixing something on the boat. When you approach a line that you set for a string, or maybe a string you already dropped, you?ll have to tell your crew what action you are about to take. If you select drop pots from the menu, then your crew will prepare a pot for dropping into the sea. This includes getting the buoys ready, bating the pot, closing the lid and dropping it into the sea on your command. If you selected pull up a pot, then your crew will stand ready to retrieve a pot that has been soaking. They?ll throw a hook, pull up the pot and sort the crab. The third option in the menu is breaking ice. Your boat will collect ice on the Bering sea in the winter months and you must keep that ice from collecting on your boat or it will become unstable. Your crew will come out with sledgehammers and break the ice from the boat. This takes time and energy so be sure to rest them up after the task is complete. The final option is to give them rests. Some crew members will ask for individual breaks, and you can give it to them but there are times when you give the whole crew a break. These breaks raise moral and bring back energy of course. Breaks are usually given when traveling from string to string or heading into port.

As you pull your strings, you will get crab counts which add to your total crab weight and obviously your profit at the end of the season. You?ll keep the crab in a hold which will keep them alive until you get to port. Well most of them anyhow. When you finally go to port to offload, you will sell off your crab and will receive costs for crew shares, fines, and stored pots retrieved once a season is over. The final standings for both the single player and multiplayer aspects are based solely on profits and not the actual amount of crab in pounds caught.

The multiplayer aspect of the game is very similar in all aspect of the game with the exception of a few things. Instead of facing off against 5 AI boats, you?ll now face off against up to 7 other live Captains. One of the cool features but also down sides is the voice chat system in the game. To add a sense of realism, you will use a radio style communication system which will only allow you to converse with one other player at a time. Some one can hail to you and you will hear them, but you?ll have to switch to their channel in order to speak with them thus ending your conversation with the person at hand. In competition aspects of the game, it?s a great feature. But in social aspects of the game it?s a dagger in its heart. There is no group chat at all. It is neither in the pre game lobby or the post game lobby. Communication is just one on one throughout the entire match.

Overall the game is a great in depth simulation and the gameplay outweighs many of its bugs. The game is not perfect by any means and could definitely use some polishing via a patch for some of its issues. Most of the bugs are cosmetic and do not detract from the overall gameplay. They are annoyances more than anything. There are a few bugs that will be discussed among forums that could probably use some form of downloadable patch or update. But in my opinion no game is perfect and every game has something it can do better in one area or another. Most fans of the show will absolutely go nutty over this title, and casual gamers who take the time to get into the game will enjoy it as well. Will everyone enjoy the game? Absolutely not. It?s a love it or hate it type of game, but in the end I think more will love it than hate it. Greenwave Games and Liquid Dragon Studios have done an outstanding job on recreating the job of a Bering Sea crab boat Captain. And to all of those folks that have been wondering what its like, well here is your chance. I would highly recommend this game to anyone that watches the show or is a true life commercial fisherman. I would also recommend it to anyone that has the least bit of curiosity; you will not be disappointed in the depth of the game.

Group chat is a must!!! Please either send out a patch to include this OR at least be sure to include it in DCAS 2 if there is such a title in the pipeline. Try to include a few more real life boats or add some downloadable content. New crab variations would be cool as well. Make the boat editor even deeper and customizable rather than just using a template of already existing boats. Other than that, great job guys on making a good game. Definitely broke the unfortunate mold of shooters and racers on the 360. Kudos.

Overall: 8.2 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.7 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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