Whenever a new fishing game comes out, I’m usually at the front of the queue to get my hands on it. I am a massive fan of fishing in real life, and even if I can’t always go as often as I’d like, what with work and family commitments, I can at least fire up the Xbox and go for a virtual fishing trip. Usually, a few quiet minutes would find me spending time with Fishing Sim World, the gold standard in virtual fishing experiences up until now. However, there has recently been a new pretender to the crown, in the shape of Fishing Planet.
Starting life as a free-to-play title, with everything hidden away behind microtransactions, The Fisherman – Fishing Planet is the latest edition of the game, collecting all the DLC into a single package, and reworking the way that the in-game economy works. But more to the point it also adds some extra goodies in the shape of boats, fish species and so on. However, can this game now supplant the ruler? Strap on your waders and let’s find out!
The first thing to say is that The Fisherman is completely separate from the F2P version of Fishing Planet, even down to completely separate achievements. It was a pleasant surprise therefore to see achievements popping for completing the tutorial again, just a few minutes in, and as such this game immediately sets itself apart from the previous version. Even if you have played the F2P version before, none of your progress will carry over, so please bear that in mind if you are tempted to get this edition. Luckily, although I had played the F2P version, I had lost patience with the microtransactions, so restarting wasn’t too much of a wrench. This time around the game takes you by the hand a lot more than previously too, with a series of missions introducing the important mechanics and teaching you what you need to know.
The fishing action on display is fairly true to life, but is very much setup to the American way of fishing, and it has to be said that as a Brit some of the terms are a bit weird. For instance, in my mind, match rods are used when you are fishing for smaller fish, trying to build a weight on a hard day. In this game, match rods are heavy tackle, used for taking down predatory fish with fish as bait, built to throw a substantial bait a long way and bully big trout or bass into the net. Still, terminology changes, and the game does do a good job of explaining how to put a set of tackle together to achieve a given aim.
There are four main styles of fishing in The Fisherman, covering a range of options. Bottom fishing sees you using either a weight or a swimfeeder to fish a bait hard on the bottom, and relies on watching the end of the rod in order to see if there is a bite, sometimes in conjunction with a bell to give you an audible warning. Float fishing is a technique where the bait is suspended beneath a “bobber”, watched closely to see if there is a bite. Spinning involves trying to make an inanimate piece of metal and plastic resemble a wounded fish, making it irresistible to predators; there are many different retrieval patterns with spinners, from stop ‘n go to straight retrieves, and each different way seems to attract a different species. The last fishing method is trolling, which is when one of the artificial lures mentioned previously is towed behind a boat, again in hope of fooling a fish into thinking an easy meal is escaping.
In the game, as in real life, I’ve spent most of my time either float fishing or using a swimfeeder, and the thing that has stuck in my mind is the way the bites are presented. The visuals of The Fisherman – Fishing Planet are lovely, with believable water effects and beautiful settings, all surrounded by breathtaking scenery. Whether you find yourself in the Rockies or in Czechoslovakia, seeing the difference between the locales hammers home the amount of work that has been done with the look of the game. The sounds are good too, with splashing fish, birds, woodpeckers and so on ensuring a nice level of immersion. Waiting for a bite has seen the odd dragonfly sit on my rod, which weirdly had happened to me just the day before while fishing in real life. Things like this ensure that The Fisherman has some really nice touches.
However, once the rod is cast, your entire attention is focused on just the top right hand corner of the screen, where either a representation of the float or the rod tip is displayed. And you have to stay staring at this section, waiting for the right moment to strike, until you hook a fish. The beautiful scenery pretty much ceases to exist from that point on, as you cannot look away from the top corner of the screen, lest a bite be missed.
And similarly annoying is the way the fish play with the bait, particularly when float fishing, and it is this which makes me want to chew my pad; it can literally be two minutes of bobs and dips before the float finally slides away and can be struck. I’d be tempted to throw bricks in if the fish in the real world messed me about like this! The issue with the rod tip view is different, but no less annoying. You see, the representation is white, with a red tip, but if you have it against the sky it’s very hard to see, and if you position the camera so the rod tip is against the backdrop, then it’s extremely difficult to make out the red part of the icon. Spinning is better, in so far as you are constantly winding, so the feel of a bite, and the vibration down the rod, has been accurately reproduced and works well.
Fighting the fish is a lot more simplistic in The Fisherman than in any competitor. As long as the drag is set correctly on the reel, changed by using left and right on the D-pad, there is no need to ever stop winding in. Sometimes the fish will come, sometimes taking the line and moving further away, but the only way to tell is by looking at the amount of line left on the reel. There’s no feeling of tension, there’s no sense of drama, and sadly this robs the game of a lot of the point. You don’t even need to move the rod to oppose the direction the fish run in, and if you are fishing on a boat then the line can pass through the space that your head should be occupying – the game is played out from a first person perspective, so you see the arms and the rod of your person – and this kills a lot of the immersion.
Add to this and we have the fun of the casting mechanic that lets you set a target with a press of LT, as a tap of RT starts a meter rising, and another RT press lets the cast fly. If you don’t quite get the meter to stop in the box, instead of the cast falling a little short as it would in real life, the end tackle lands in a heap about two feet in front of you. This is a clear case of game logic trumping the laws of physics, and I can’t think of any reason why this would work the way it does in the game. Other things that annoy me are the fact that no matter how long it takes you to land the fish, they are swung in to hand at the end of each fight. You’d need a rod like a poker in order to swing in a 10lb carp, never mind a hook the size of a grappling hook and line like rope, but it happens each and every time. Also, the fish themselves look strange, and the size doesn’t seem to match the claimed weight.
All in all though and except for a few oddities The Fisherman – Fishing Planet on Xbox One is a pretty competent game. It makes a very good fist of capturing the complexity of the sport, with many different ways of setting your rigs up, and different lines, floats, baits and rods providing over 1000 variations of tackle. Add to this a wide and varied range of locations to fish, and species to fish for, from the banks of the Volga to The Everglades, and fish from Shiners all the way up to Pike and Sturgeon, and there’s no shortage of things to do. Missions add to the excitement, and if it wasn’t for the actual fishing feeling flat, this could well have been a contender as one of the very best virtual fishing experiences. As it is, the actual fighting of the fish is a lowlight and that drags the rest of the game down.
If you want a fishing game then Fishing Sim World is still the daddy, however if you want to try something different, then The Fisherman – Fishing Planet just might scratch that itch.