You’d think that the very first Deadliest Catch tie-in would be subtitled ‘The Game’ to make it apparent that it was based on the TV series. But no – this is the latest in a long line of tie-ins, and the first to make it clear that it’s a licensed product. The early noughties run of Deadliest Catch games did have far more enticing sub-titles though. A few were released, so they presumably sold. Certainly well enough for a different publisher to grab the license, years after Crave was done rinsing it.
For those who’ve never seen the popular American reality TV show – currently on its 19th season, I kid you not – it involves a group of crab fishermen who brave treacherous waters. The show gets its name from how dangerous commercial fishing can be – a combination of wind, rain, ice, and heavy machinery means quite often someone becomes injured, or worse. The experience here seems tame in comparison, lacking a sense of danger. It also lacks the show’s personality, known for its lively and sometimes crude ‘banter’ between fishermen and their rivals.
This, unfortunately, is the least of the game’s problems. The tutorial is the best place to begin with this sordid affair. It’s a step-by-step guide that lasts around 20 minutes, detailing how to purchase items and fuel and then complete a fishing trip. This entails moving crab pots with a crane into their allocated areas before loading them with bait and buoys, lowering the pots into the water, and then skipping time ahead several hours. The pot then must be caught with a grappling hook, pulled in with a winch, attached to a hook, and the contents dumped onto a sorting tray. All of these actions require a few button presses and are mostly effortless – save for grappling, which involves a light mini-game.
And then? The next part is quite astonishing. You’re required to sort through your entire catch, one crab at a time. Bear in mind here that a pot can contain 250 crabs. Each crab must be grabbed and rotated via the analogue sticks to determine their sex and size. This only takes around 5-10 seconds per critter, but when you have a couple of hundred to sort, it can be time-consuming. As such, this becomes the bulk of the experience, rather than something more exciting like steering the ship through choppy waters. Just to reiterate, you’re going to be spending most of your time in Deadliest Catch: The Game rotating crabs to see which reproductive organs they have. Unbelievable.
I guess the idea here was to hammer home that commercial fishing is both responsible and sustainable – something perhaps the license holders insisted on. Crabs that are female or juvenile get thrown into the sea. Big lads are tipped into the cargo hold. Fish, meanwhile, are ground into new bait blocks. This process is repeated until the season is over, giving a chance to return to the docks.
Back in the docks is where things sink to new lows. It’s here that crabs can be sold, equipment purchased, the skill and upgrade trees accessed, and more. This location is visually crude, casting us back to the days of the original Xbox with buildings coated in the blurry textures seen in decades.
Oh, but it gets worse.
Returning to the docks after my first season – which lasted a couple of hours – I entered the marketplace and was able to indefinitely sell by cargo hold of crabs by hammering the ‘A’ button – taking my balance into the millions. I made a save file in case things went awry (incidentally, there’s no auto-save) and was duly informed to end the season by heading to an office. On the first visit, I was told I had fines to pay but my balance was too low – prompting a Game Over screen and being abruptly thrown back to the menu. My only choices were to start a new game and lose two hours of progress, or reload an old save. Eventually, I opted for the latter, loading a save without glitching money. I progressed to the end of the season once again, sold my cargo hold of stock, approached the office, and…. nothing. After a few retries, either the menu wouldn’t respond to button presses, or the game became stuck on a loading screen. A loading screen I could seemingly pause because even the glitches here have glitches.
Other people’s experiences may vary, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t progress past the first season. It matters not, as the tutorial sequence is the entire game – there’s very little outside of it that isn’t shown in the first twenty minutes of play, save for employing staff – which can you only push around the deck, weirdly – and choosing upgrades. The most positive thing I can say is that the controls are better than in other recent simulators from the same publisher. Still far from intuitive, but certainly better.
When I went into Deadliest Catch: The Game I thought it might be an okay time, harnessing the sights and events of the show to make something faithful and reasonably engaging. A game where profits come first, and safety second. Instead, it’s a drawn-out slog that’s downright boring, and worst of all – unbelievably broken. Even a remaster of one of the Deadliest Catch games from the PS3/Xbox 360 era would have been better than this.
Ultimate Games’ Deadliest Catch: The Game is out now on Xbox Series, Xbox One, and Switch. It first launched on PC in 2020.