IGN Review of Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm
In the realm of videogames, unusual releases are both highly anticipated and regularly abhorred. Where one gamer sees a unique diamond in the rough, another gamer will see something terrible. Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm can easily be classified as one of those games. Based on the hit Discovery Channel show Deadliest Catch, Alaskan Storm is a true simulation of the experience portrayed throughout the series. For those unfamiliar with the show, Deadliest Catch follows the lives of Alaskan crab fishermen who risk life and limb for the massive amounts of money involved in their industry. And if you think I'm being facetious in my risk comment, keep in mind that crabbing off of Alaska's Aleutian Islands is considered one of the world's deadliest jobs… hence the name of the show and game.
Alaskan Storm is a simulation and strategy game through and through, requiring critical thinking and planning to succeed. If you're not a fan of sims, you should know immediately that this game isn't for you. The experience that it does provide for fans of the show and fans of simulation-style games is a deep and engrossing one, however. Its crossover appeal between fanatics of the show and fans of simulation games in general is immediately evident as soon as you start up a new career, for you can either pick from some of the show's better-known ships (such as the Northwestern) or create your own from thin air. But that only scratches the surface of the game's depth. After choosing your ship, you have to hire a crew, outfit your ship with fuel, buy bait and other crabbing essentials and plot a route before you even leave the harbor.
Hiring your crew is perhaps the most daunting of your early tasks in the game, because there's a lot to balance out and consider. The more desirable crew members, those who have extensive skills and experience, can't provide the makeup of your entire party. They simply cost too much. Instead, you'll have to balance out your party between experienced members and outright novices (called greenhorns) who are completely new to crabbing. You'll also have to keep an eye out for the individual skills of each member of your party so that all five jobs – Deck Boss, Engineer, Medic, Cook and Bait Boy – can be filled out to the best of each member's ability. When you've done that, you then have to carefully balance out your purchased cargo, because no ship can carry the maximum amount of fuel, bait and pots you'll want to have with you. Instead, you'll have to compromise one for the other, over and over again as you play.
If you're not a fan of the television show then you will be introduced to a lot of new terminology while playing the game. For instance, the term "pots" refers to the bait-lined traps crabbers drop into the water to lure in their catch, while a "bait boy" is usually the lowest ranking member of a ship's team who prepares pots for deployment. This can be incredibly confusing, but that's where Captain Sig Hansen comes into play. Captain Sig is the most well-known ship captain from the Discovery Channel show, and he appears in the game time and time again to explain what's going on around you.
These videos offer a real draw to fans of the show, but their importance is much greater than that, because Sig will let you know when you're doing something right or something wrong, especially during the game's lengthy opening tutorial. He'll appear less and less as you start moving through the game's crabbing seasons (usually only when you've done something you haven't done before, such as stacking a pot instead of redeploying it in an area chock-full of crabs), but his appearance certainly ties together the game and the license nicely. Developers Liquid Dragon Studios should certainly be commended for making sure the game absolutely reeks of its license.
While playing through a crabbing career with your chosen vessel, the game is made up of three primary parts. The first is preparation, where you will establish a crew, outfit your ship and create an initial route using the pre-determined and highly-important knowledge found on your particular season's map. This map will tell you where the crabs are found in great numbers, where competing ships are located, and where your pots have already been dropped. The second part is finding a great place to crab, preparing your pots, and subsequently dropping them. This part of the game is perhaps the most time-consuming and monotonous, though it's as true to the actual experience as a game can possibly come.
The third step is definitely the most important to your overall success (or lack thereof) in any given season. After letting your submerged pots "soak" for a while (Captain Sig recommends a soaking of at least forty-eight hours), you'll have to go back to them and bring them to the surface to see how you did. Driving slowly next to each pot as it's brought on deck is the first of two highly rewarding parts of the experience. But it's the decisions you make all the while that are also integral to your success. While your pots soak, will you let time pass by (using the ultra-useful fast time option)? Will you head to another part of the sea to place more pots? Will you go to town to make necessary repairs and refill your inventory? It's this use of time that must be considered if you are to advance through the game. Just remember – once you've brought your well-soaked pots to the surface, be sure to head one of the game's ports to sell your catch. After all, money is the bottom-line. You also need to keep your crew happy and well-rested, so figuring out ways to do that should always be in the back of your mind as well.
There are numerous positives to the game, such as the ultra realistic way your vessel is controlled. But Alaskan Storm isn't without equally-numerous problems. One will immediately notice upon turning the game on that its visuals are decidedly last-gen. With the exception of the water, which looks surprisingly realistic, Alaskan Storm won't impress you with its graphics. In fact, it might be a turn off for some gamers. What's more, the in-game voice acting is irritating, the sounds of your ship and your surrounding environment are grating and monotonous, and the frame rate isn't only choppy, it's downright deplorable. Throw in the fact that the game froze up on us several times during our playthrough (including at one especially inconvenient time when I had just finished a rather successful freshman season), and you'll quickly realize that Alaskan Storm suffers from serious problems. The lengthy load times would suggest that the game would look a lot better than it does, but it just isn't so.
And even though the gameplay is true to the experience, it can be mundane. Alaskan Storm represents a tight simulation, but how exciting can crabbing really be when done ad infinitum? Do our aforementioned three steps above over and over and over again, and you might tire of this game quickly. There's strategy aplenty to be employed, but the game leaves a lot to chance (a la Oregon Trail), which will just frustrate you. Your well-rested Deck Boss just broke his finger. So, he'll need eight hours to rest (what?), which means the rest of your crew can't cast or retrieve pots. Have this happen to you at the most inconvenient times of a season over and over again, and you might find your controller flying across the room. In other words, plan and strategize as you will, random variables will still throw a wrench in your wheels. That's fine, of course, but your ship experiencing random problems during a storm when you're trying to retrieve your pots is only endearing one time. The more you're stymied, the more frustrated you're bound to become.
Alaskan Storm is littered with missions and mini-games that will break up the monotony, but they aren't incredibly well thought-out or compelling. In fact, it's the career mode that's makes up a vast majority of the game, and once you've had your fill of that it's doubtful you'll be back for much more. Thankfully, the game does have extensive Xbox Live functionality, but hiccups abound on there as well. If you're lucky enough to find a game online at all (your best bet is to host a game and wait for players to come to you), you'll be equally lucky to get into the game without crashing or receiving a mysterious black screen that effectively forces you to reset your console. If you managed past all of that, well then, thank your lucky stars. You're one of the fortunate ones.
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