Ultimate Fishing Simulator from Bit Golem makes a bold claim right from the off – purely with the name of the game. You see, being a keen real life angler, I take it upon myself to spend time with all the fishing games that are released for Xbox, so much so that I have recently penned an opinion piece listing the five best fishing games available. So, the question I hope to address with this review is two fold: is this the ultimate fishing game and does it deserve to crash my list of the best of the best? Well…
One thing there is no shortage of in Ultimate Fishing Simulator is content. There are a variety of different lakes to unlock and fish, and there are an impressive number of species of fish to catch as well. The reason there is so much to go at is that the Xbox version of Ultimate Fishing Simulator contains three of the DLC packs that were released for the game back from when it was on Steam. However, the only lake that is available to us at the start is Betty Lake, a smallish patch of water that appears to be absolutely stuffed with trout of various different varieties. While we are on the subject of the fish species, the achievement structure is very much geared up to you catching all the types of fish in the game, with the first capture of every species awarding you a sweet cheevo. It is very difficult in this game to selectively fish for particular species though – something I’ll come onto later.
So, we appear on the lakeside, and have to walk to the bank and cast in. The surroundings look very nice, if not exactly photo-realistic, and the water effects are pretty good too. It’s not going to give Dovetail Games’ Euro Fishing any sleepless nights, but it’s still perfectly pleasant. We stroll to the waterside, and prepare to cast. Now, as any angler knows, when casting with a fixed spool reel you have to click the bail arm over to allow line to come off the reel. Yet when you cast in this game, it does it all by itself, without a human hand touching it. The same happens when you reel in your line; the handle revolves under its own steam. I have got to get me one of these reels – it would save me so much effort.
I guess it must be hard to replicate a hand movement or something. Anyway, once we have cast in, the waiting starts. Now comes the thing – the one thing – that I really like about this game; you can press the X button when the line is cast out, and the game view will switch to show you your bait in the water, so you can see exactly when a fish comes to take it. Trying to watch the float in its little insert is an exercise in frustration, and I found it extremely hard to hit the bites. Seeing the fish take the bait, I discovered that if you wait until the fish has breathed by flaring its gills three times, you hit every single bite. The bait view also works when you are spinning, and this can be quite exciting, seeing a fish come rushing in to clobber the bait as you reel it back in towards the bank.
But, fighting the fish in Ultimate Fishing Simulator is so easy that it robs the experience of any fun. Basically you are left to hold down the left trigger to reel in the line, and if the stress meter at the bottom of the screen turns red, you let go of the button; when the colour changes to green, you hold it down again. It is pretty much a case of rinse and repeat this process until the fish is on the bank. There’s no need to move the rod, no need to pump, apply sidestrain, nothing – just press LT. When you compare this to other fishing games, there’s a sense of inevitability about each fight, and without a lie I’ve never lost a fish in this game – not once. Compare that to the Dovetail Games titles where the boss fish will punish the unprepared angler, and what’s left is almost arcade-styled simple fishing. The simulator part of the title is certainly undeserved.
So, getting a bite is not a problem, and indeed the official website promises that fish are biting hard down by the water. It’s here that the game starts to fall behind some of the other offerings on the marketplace. In a perfect world, fishing would be like this game’s vision: you appear by a lakeside, cast in a single piece of sweetcorn or a maggot, wait ten seconds and reel in a fish. Fishing isn’t like that – there are natural lulls in the action that force you to think about your approach, tweaking what you’re doing a little. Here that necessity isn’t in place and so if you’ve not had a bite you just need to wait a bit and you will get one. There’s no push to perfect your rig or to try different baits. It really does boil down to just hanging on and the fish will come. But what happens when you run out of bait? What if you want a new rod or to try a different style of fishing, or maybe even purchase a licence to unlock a new lake? Fret not, Ultimate Fishing Simulator has got you covered.
To buy anything in the marketplace of this game, there are two criteria to fulfil. Firstly, you need to have the necessary readies to be able to pay for the item, and secondly you need to have hit the required level for the goods. You gain XP, which levels you up, by catching fish, each of which happens fairly regularly. When you catch a fish, you are presented with two options – on the one hand, you can release the fish back into the wild, and this will give you a small XP boost, yet on the other you can choose to sell the fish and make some money.
Of course, different fish sell for different prices, and working out what is a profitable place to fish is part of the challenge of the game. Spinning and artificial lures in general give the best return: a spool may cost $32, but if you use it to catch a trout or one of the many types of Bass that many are obsessed with, you can make your money back in no time. Bait is an altogether stupider proposition though. As a rule, to buy maggots in this country, it costs around £3 for a pint of maggots. In said pint there could be hundreds or thousands of maggots – I’ve not counted – and usually a pint will last three trips to the water. In this game, this Ultimate Fishing Simulator, a single maggot costs $5. This is one maggot; one maggot that will catch one fish. And if the fish you catch costs less than the bait cost to buy, then you’re not going to be unlocking that new lake any time soon. Further, a single worm costs $9, and I was catching Perch on them that sold for $4. So realistically, you’re stuck fishing the first lake or the third lake, as these are where the valuable fish live. Anything else isn’t worth the bait, literally. Fishing tackle is equally stupidly priced, with a rod costing as much as a permit to fish a lake. You would have to grind non-stop for a long time to buy a whole new outfit. If you wanted a fly rod, for instance, you need a fly reel, a fly line and then the flies themselves. With the most I’ve ever sold a fish for being $42, the road to new kit is long and very twisty.
All this would be forgivable if Ultimate Fishing Simulator was fun to play, but although there’s lots of fish related action, it isn’t thrilling or exciting and so ultimately it just becomes a massive grind. An achievement for catching 10000 fish? I confidently predict that no one is going to play this game that long. All of this pales into insignificance next to the actual design of the menus, the UX if you will. The menus are clearly designed either for touch (it has been a mobile title in its time) or for use with a mouse. What we are left with is a series of boxes that we have to try and select with the most clunky mouse-style pointing interface I’ve ever used. Say you want to adjust the depth you’re fishing at – you have to point at a bar in the bottom right of the screen, and then click on the depth you want your bait to fish at. Easy right? Nope, the pointer lurches about like a drunken sailor and is almost impossible to get it to go where you want it to go. And I only found this by experimenting: there are no tutorials on how to change kit or how to equip bait, nothing. I bought some feeder bait and managed to get it equipped, but could I use it? I have literally no idea what I’m supposed to do with it.
So, does Ultimate Fishing Simulator on Xbox One deserve its title? Well, I take issue with 66% of the title – this is not a simulator, nor is it by any manner of means the ultimate fishing game. The fishing part I can live with, although it still seems faintly ridiculous that the angler in the game can cast an actual fly into a lake, with no further preparation, and pull out a fish. I tried this on Saturday at my local lake – it doesn’t work. Clunky menus, a poor user experience, dull fish fighting and graphics that aren’t as good as they should be versus the certainty of catching fish, and we discover that the scales can only come down one way. I’ll not mention the weird graphical glitches that make fish look like their spines are made of rubber, or the way that the fish can swim through solid rock, or even how when the float is set deeper than the water, the bait camera falls through the lake bed and gets stuck. All I will mention is that there are much better fishing games than Ultimate Fishing Simulator, and my strong advice is that if you want to go fishing on Xbox One you look elsewhere first.