The king is dead, long live the king!
I have long been a fan of fishing, both in real life and across the virtual worlds. In an article I penned a little while ago, listing the best fishing games to play on Xbox, Dovetail Games occupied the top two places, with their Euro Fishing and Fishing Sim World games. Now, they are back to challenge for the crown they already own, with the release of The Catch: Carp & Coarse for Xbox One, PS4 and PC. So I guess the question is, can Dovetail Games really be better than Dovetail Games? Pull on your waders – we’re going deep in order to find out.
The first thing that strikes you about The Catch upon loading it up is the menu backdrop – an underwater scene straight from one of the venues in the game. It looks so pretty, so serene, watching all the fish gliding by, and Dovetail have even included the option to hide the menu, just to allow better appreciation of it. Here you can truly see the amount of care and detail that has gone into the animation of the fish, and the water effects are stunning, with diffused light filtering down from above, lighting the native creatures as they go about their business. And boy does it make you want to start fishing.
Once you decide to go and catch the fish – instead of just watching them – there are a number of options available to you. Fishing Trip is the most basic of these options: just you, the venue of your choice and the fish to have a go at. This is the default option, and is by far the best way to get to know the waters. Events is the single player tournament mode, which allows you to choose a patch of water, choose a target species or set of species, and fish against some of the best known names in angling. Although I’ll be honest, if Kevin bloody Nash pips me to the post one more time I may have a little cry.
Multiplayer does what it says on the tin too, letting up to four people either have a contest to see who wins, based on number of fish, weight of fish or many other criteria. Alternatively, you could just have a social session, sharing ideas about how to catch the various Boss Fish of the lakes. And finally, the Dovetail Fishing League (DFL) promises to allow you to fish against the rest of the world for bragging rights should you come out on top. Apparently, the very best anglers in the game will receive some special prizes – at least according to the developers’ promise – and I can’t wait for the game to be fully released so the online world becomes a little more populated, and these leagues really start to kick off.
With the mode types out of the way, let’s start from the beginning, and have a look at the venues. There are five of them in the base game, which doesn’t sound like many, but each one is home to not only your usual regular fish but 25 Boss Fish as well. Now, Boss Fish have been a staple of Dovetail’s titles since Euro Fishing, but this time they truly are something special. I have been hammering this game since I received my copy, yet for all the hours I’ve pumped in I have so far still only caught one Boss Fish – the civil common from Oxlease Lake. For comparison sake, in Euro Fishing it wasn’t unusual to catch two or three each session, so the difficulty has been increased in this aspect, which makes the capture all the more special.
Not only are these fish harder to tempt, as they have very specific ideas about what they like and where they like it, but when you do hook them the fight they put in is fantastic. And in addition to that are the new Monster Boss Fish, which promise to turn everything up to 11! As an example, Pearl Lake in Malaysia is home to a 488lb arapaima, which sounds like the sort of fish you can water ski behind. In Euro Fishing again, I landed one of the big catfish Boss Fish, and that took the best part of half an hour to land. And that was “only” around 120lb.
Aside from those locales, the other locations you can fish are a Rotterdam canal, set in the heart of the city, Loch Mickle in the highlands of Scotland, and the mighty River Ebro in Spain, home to ridiculously huge catfish. These venues are all very different and require different tactics, so getting used to each one and starting to unlock their secrets will take some time.
The actual fishing action is where things get really interesting in The Catch: Carp & Coarse, as it is an evolution of the one seen in Dovetail’s previous games; if you’ve played those, you’ll know what to do.
From the outset it is all about choosing the area you want to fish, be that from the bank or from a boat, at least if you’re on Loch Mickle and the Ebro. Once you have settled into a peg, you’ll then need to get involved with casting in order to fish. Now, the bait and tackle that you have access to as a shiny new angler is somewhat restricted, but by catching fish you will earn not only EXP, that lets you increase your level, but Tackle Points (TP) as well. These TP can be used in the in-game shop to buy new gear, whether that be stronger lines, bigger rods that let you cast further, or different bait types to appeal to the particular species you are after. In a nice touch, certain baits can only be bought if you have the correct gear to use it, for example the large deadbaits to tempt the predators can only be mounted on the biggest hooks. This adds yet another layer of realism into the game, making it feel more and more like real fishing.
So, you’ve prepared your rods, you’ve cast in, you’ve used either the spod rod or the new throwing stick to loose feed the area around your baits, and now the waiting begins. If you are using either a float or spinning gear and you get a bite, you do have to physically strike, by sharply lifting the rod tip. Depending on the speed of your reactions and the direction of the strike – which is pleasingly intuitive – the fish will be hooked, as the quality of the hook hold will be established. It’s here that a new playing mechanic comes in, which I call “The Hook hold-o-Meter”. Although I’m sure there’s a more technical name. On the left of the screen is the familiar tension gauge, showing how hard the fish is pulling – if it pulls too hard, or you allow the line to go slack, the meter will decrease, until eventually the hook will fall out of the fish’s mouth, causing it to be lost. You will have to play with the drag on the fly, adjusting it constantly through the fight to keep the strain in the right place, just like in real life.
And again, just like real life, quite often when you get a fish under it will go bananas, so backing the clutch off as the fish nears the bank is usually required. Unlike certain other fishing games (take a bow, Ultimate Fishing Simulator), the fight here is absolutely brilliantly judged, and your heart will be in your mouth as you try to pull the bigger fish from their watery domain. I’ve pulled carp up to over 50lbs out of the Ebro and boy do they give you a tussle.
As you catch, you unlock more gear, which then further unlocks more possibilities, different fish, and so on. There are a surprising number of species to catch, ranging from the humble roach and perch – I landed an 8oz perch on spinning gear consisting of a 20lb line and 5 inch lure, so it’s safe to say that Dovetail have got that aspect of the fish personality right – right up to wels catfish, giant wolf fish and pacu, not to mention the monstrous arapaima. As I have said before, each fish species has a preferred set of baits and depths to feed at, and by paying attention to these it is possible to target your species. For instance, on Loch Mickle I wanted to catch eels and so went out in the boat to a deep drop off, utilising the fish finding sonar on the boat and fished worms and chicken livers on the bottom. My reward? A new personal best fish. The hunt for the bigger specimens, as well as the Boss Fish, is hugely absorbing and more than once I looked up to find the hours had flown by.
In terms of the multiplayer and as I tested this game before launch, it is understandably quiet. Thankfully though that is sure to raise as this title is released, and even prior to that I’ve been able to test out how things work which, like most of the rest of the game, is very well indeed. Setting up a session and inviting people to fish alongside you is easy and straightforward, and once the rules are chosen and the venue selected, the competition can begin, as you go in search for the biggest catch in order to prove your worth as a virtual angler.
So we’ve seen that The Catch: Carp & Coarse is great to play, superb to look at and a fantastic time sink, but is there anything wrong with it? Well, wrong is a strong word, but there are a couple of things that just break the illusion of being by the lakeside. The first is what happens when fish swim into obstacles. For instance, on Oxlease Lake there is an island, and island pegs draw me like a moth to a flame. A few times, I’ve been fishing on the island pegs, had a fish take the bait and by the time I’ve picked up the rod and struck, it has been around the back of the island. Now in real life, this would be a disaster, resulting in a lost fish, but in the game I have been able to almost reel the fish through the island and then net them, despite The Catch stating that they were still 90 yards out. I wish I could do this in real life, believe me.
The second slight issue involves the use of spinners. What I like to do is have two rods with static bottom baits, and the third either using a float or spinning. When I get a bite on the bottom bait, I have to put down the spinning rod and fight the fish on the other rod. However, the spinner is still apparently attractive to fish, and not only will bites land on a stationary lure, there have been moments when The Catch has told me I have performed a good strike, while holding another rod completely. This is obviously very strange behaviour indeed, but not game breaking by any manner of means. Other than these anomalies though, the rest of the time I have spent with Dovetail’s latest has been a joy.
So then, a conclusion is required, and suffice to say that I stayed in to ensure that I’ve spent time with The Catch: Carp & Coarse on Xbox One, playing the game instead of going actual fishing. And that’s not just happened the once, but twice. It’s safe to say that I wouldn’t have done this for any other game and so Dovetail Games can be rightly proud of what they have created here. In fact, they now have the top three spots in my personal list of best fishing games, and The Catch: Carp & Coarse is the new fishing champion. The visuals are great, the fighting mechanic is intuitive and the variety of venues ensures that you’ll need to spend time learning a number of different fishing methods. Simply put, this is as good as fishing gets on the Xbox.