Surprisingly, there’s never been a freediving and spearfishing game on the Xbox One before, but in happy news that lack has now been rectified with the latest game from Strongbox3D, and Freediving Hunter: Spearfishing the World does pretty much what it says on the tin. And it comes with a great backstory too as the developer took up spearfishing to feed his family in Cuba, and after various scrapes managed to reside in America, where he decided to turn his fishing experiences into a game. So come with me now to an underwater paradise where we shoot some fish in the face.
From the beginning, the underwater world and graphics in Spearfishing the World are beautifully realised. From the first training mission in a pool full of barracuda, to the open ocean complete with reefs, fish and sharks, the game looks fantastic. The way the shoals of tiny fish flash about, changing direction as one, is great, as is the way the target fish react to your presence – it all seems very realistic. Obviously I’m basing this on watching the likes of The Blue Planet though, as I’m not sure that spearfishing is allowed in my local canal. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t a few graphical glitches to see. The sounds of the game are on the minimalist end of the scale; the twang of your bow gun and the clicking of the reel as you attempt to bring the fish in before a shark eats it being the main standouts.
The story of the game, such as it is, is that you have to travel to locations around the world and challenge the spear fishermen there. If you beat them in the challenge that they set, then you can play across an unlimited mode thereafter, catching fish and levelling up your character to enable them to be at a high enough level to challenge the next area. It’s pretty much rinse and repeat from there on out, except that the money you earn can buy new gear to make your life easier, such as new goggles or flippers. It’s almost like an RPG at the same time as a fishing experience.
In terms of controls and things are pretty simple, at least when it comes to diving and the general swimming about. The X button causes your chosen diver to dive below the waves, and starts a countdown based on how long they can hold their breath. A press of the B button returns them to the surface, and if you don’t do it in time, because you are trying to line up a shot or fight a fish, then your character blacks out. There doesn’t seem to be any issue with blacking out, as you just restart again, which I’m not sure is really what would happen if you were diving alone. But willing suspension of disbelief engaged, it does focus the mind on making sure you keep an eye on your remaining air.
The rest of the game, once underwater, is a lot like any other FPS, with a crosshair that you have to put over a fish before pulling the trigger and hopefully hitting the target. Once the target is hit (which is easier said than done, much as I imagine it is in real life) the fight begins. Here I start to have an issue with Freediving Hunter, as the mechanic for fighting is very much hit and miss. Based around the analogue properties of the left trigger, you have to squeeze it a certain amount to match what the fish is doing. These are entitled things like “Smash” and “Dash”, even “Twirl”, and each action of the fish has to be matched by the correct pressure on the analogue trigger to make the angler recover line. There are two bars on the screen to pay attention to; one represents the stamina of the fish, and making your finger match the fight will see that reduce.
The second bar I guess represents the purchase of the spear in the fish, as if you don’t match the actions correctly this reduces; if it reaches zero, the fish is gone. Another side effect of not matching the fight correctly is that the resident shark population becomes interested in your catch, and will steal the fish from the line if you mess up enough. This is called “Tax Collection” in the parlance of the game, but any attempts to shoot the shark in its stupid pointy teeth has no effect, sadly. Surely if you are diving for fish, which are bleeding and thrashing about the place, the last thing you want is a shark in the area? Still, if you get the fish, the swim to the surface is hassle free, as despite the shark being aroused by the presence of blood, once you have the fish in hand it seems to give up. Again, I’m not too sure how realistic that is, but it works in the game so that is fine by me. Further, if you hit the fish in the head it’s an instant kill, and so is it if you “stone” the fish. I’ve no idea what “stoning” a fish is, but I’ve managed it a few times and it avoids the fight, so I’m all for it.
So, Freediving Hunter: Spearfishing the World looks great and plays well, except for the fighting bit. There is a real laid-back vibe to this game, just a feeling of chilling out in nature and killing things. Now I’m a fisherman in real life, although I tend to stay on the bank unless circumstances call for it, and every now and then beer conspires to put me in the water. One of the things I’m most proud of in real life is that every fish I catch goes back alive, a little wiser and a little sadder, but nonetheless alive and able to fight another day. In games like Euro Fishing this ethos is carried over, but not so here. It disturbs me, to a degree, that we are playing a game where the only objective is to kill fish and that just sits badly with me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to open up a vegan lentil store, but still I can’t help but feel that this is wrong on some level. If the objective was to feed your family, as it was in the developer’s real-world life, then it’s fair enough. But this is purely trophy hunting.
Onto the things that don’t work too well, and sadly there are a few things on the list. The first are a few strange graphical glitches, and there is tremendous pop-in when swimming underwater, with rocks and objects on the bottom suddenly appearing as you swim down. The last time I saw pop-in this pronounced was in the original Tomb Raider game on the PS1, so to see it in 2019 on an Xbox One X is a little disappointing.
And just as disappointing is the fact that the fish appear to be able to swim straight through the reefs and other underwater superstructures, which makes lining up a shot entertaining, although you also appear to be able to reel a fish through rocks and other obstructions without any issues. The worst graphical oddity that happens is that every now and then the box that you are supposed to be looking at to see how to fight the fish completely wigs out and vibrates like a tuning fork. This makes it impossible to see how to battle the fish, and the result is either a lost fish or more taxes collected. I can’t tell you how distracting this is, as you’re forced to look at it, and it is a hugely unpleasant thing to do so. This happens most when you are trying to surface at the same time as fighting a fish, and given that you have to do this to avoid blacking out you will see this happen frequently.
Last but not least is the voiceover, which is needlessly sarcastic and doesn’t add anything to the game. Upon missing shots, I’ve been told things like “You’ve never played a video game before, have you?” and “Do you want a sniper scope?”. It’s just irritating, honestly, and is frankly unnecessary.
All in all though and Freediving Hunter: Spearfishing the World on Xbox One has a lot going for it, but stumbles with a few issues. There is no game like it, and something unique is always to be celebrated. I can see that with a bit more polish and attention paid to the performance of the graphics engine it would be a lot better. This is not a bad game by any means, and the atmosphere it creates is unmatched by anything else I’ve played, but niggles prevent it from being a good game. If I’m honest, the ethical dimension bothered me more than I expected too, but apart from that the basis is here for a fun game.