Being the resident fishing nut, it seems only fitting that any time a game is released that features that magic word, the review copy lands squarely on my desk. Sometimes this is a pleasure, with the likes of The Catch: Carp & Coarse being a joy to play, while other times its poorer fare such as Ultimate Fishing Simulator. One game that stood out, however, and not for good reasons, was Fishing: Barents Sea, a simulation of the life of a commercial fisherman in the icy Barents Sea. Well, it must have been a hit, as now there is a follow-up, Fishing: North Atlantic. Coming again from Misc Games, it’s time to set sail again and see if I have what it takes to be a rough, tough, salty sea dog. Let’s weigh anchor and seek out that horizon!
First off, and Fishing: North Atlantic looks very nice, albeit with a couple of niggles. The sea and the boats, even the fish and the crabs that you catch, all look super, and there is a real sense of distance as you look out over the waves to the distant horizon. The sound is perfectly pleasant too, with some nice ambient music putting the player in mind of those from the likes of Minecraft, whilst appropriate engine noises from the boat play out nicely. The niggles are only small ones actually, such as when you are sat in the driver’s seat of the boat, the controls move about and the boat steers itself, while you sit there with your hands in your lap; clearly these North Atlantic boats are steered telepathically. And why, when I’m driving (sailing?) from an interior viewpoint, can the mini map no longer be seen? If you want to see where you are going in this fishing title, it’s external view only I’m afraid.
The tutorial does a good job of teaching how to pilot the boat, and also how to navigate to various points. A high point is when we have the opportunity to harpoon some swordfish, mostly as I didn’t know that was a thing. I mean, as an efficient way of hunting and catching one of the fastest fish in the ocean, a pointed stick is surely the way to go. Surprisingly, hitting these ocean-going racers is however pretty straightforward, and the reeling in mini-game (press A until the line goes red, release for a bit, hold it again and so on) is actually pretty fun. You’ll soon have hundreds of kilos of swordfish rolling about the deck (there’s no fish hold on the starter boat, at least) before heading to port to sell them.
It’s here where Barents Sea fell down, and sadly that’s also the case for Fishing: North Atlantic as it hits the rocks, gets holed below the waterline, and sinks without a trace. Sailing the short distance in the tutorial is all okay, and when landfall is made, all the usual amenities are available. You can sell your catch, upgrade the boat with better engines and so on; even upgrade the trusty harpoon. Talking to people in the bar can lead to tips about where best to catch fish and all in all it works well. There are also different boats to find, which then become available to buy, so if you manage to amass enough money (or take out a loan from the bank) you can change the style of fishing you partake in. However, in the port, there are other jobs, for instance delivering some supplies to a distant port. “How hard can it be”?. I set sail.
As it turns out, it isn’t hard at all. Just mind-numbingly tedious. Setting out in a little boat, with a maximum speed of about 7 knots with a following wind, the journey to this other port took two hours. Yep, one hundred and twenty minutes of doing nothing but looking at the rear of a boat, listening to the engine chugging, while the sky goes dark and becomes light again. In the end, I pointed the boat in roughly the right direction, and then switched over to watch some TV, checking in every 20 minutes or so to make sure I hadn’t run aground. Apart from a little light beaching, I made the journey unscathed. It’s nice that Fishing: North Atlantic does warn that fast travel would not be available during the mission, but even so, this is a dull, dull process, and effectively kills any desire to spend any further time on the ocean waves.
This is a shame, as should you press on, new boats and different fishing styles begin to appeal. It’s also massively helpful that the fast travel mechanic is a lot better this time around, as you can sail off wherever you fancy, instead of having to follow the course of earlier journeys, as was the case in Barents Sea. Wandering around the open sea, checking out likely looking spots where bird activity is visible, is pretty good fun, and catching a box full of crabs is a good feeling. However, having to take in the missions where there is no fast travel – admittedly a small part of the game – is a terrible feeling.
This all means that should you fancy yourself as a commercial fisherman and want to prove it in the virtual world, Fishing: North Atlantic is the new game of choice. However, this is a very niche genre, the competition isn’t awfully strong, and saying that feels like faint praise.
Sail the seas with fish in tow, with Fishing: North Atlantic on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One