Before I start my review, I need to make a confession. I have never been fishing, nor have I ever felt the need to. Whilst I don’t begrudge fans of fishing I never really ‘got’ it. For me, it always seemed like a lot of waiting around, and I don’t find fish that interesting, unless the fish is a shark. So, reviewing a game that simulates the sport of fishing already has me on the back foot. Loading up the game I was hoping for a gentle learning curve that would give me a lesson on fishing sticks, hooky things and fish food and maybe I would grow to like it.
One difficult subject to deal with when translating the experience of fishing into a game is, that once you have chosen your rod, line, reel and bait (yes, I learned something) then cast off, there is a wait. A pause whilst an unsuspecting digifish approaches the tasty looking lure and you get the chance to wind that reel and bring the fishy in. As with actual real-life fishing, herein lies my issue. Up until that point there is plenty to do. The choices of equipment and catalogue of unlockable features are extensive and, whilst the menus and HUD are not the easiest to navigate nor indeed nicest to look at, there is plenty on offer.
There are plenty of instructions on first starting the game that guide you gently to catching your first friend of Nemo. But once you have cast you wait, and wait and then, wait some more. Yes, you can change your view and camera angle and even take a close look under the surface of the water, hook side. My issue is playing a game that forces you to wait feels odd and is the antithesis of an interactive experience. Hence why we don’t have a queue simulator. The waiting wouldn’t be so bad if there was a little more pizazz to the environment and a lot more polish to the graphics. The water and creature graphical rendering is competent but would be more suited to an older generation console. There is no life like surface rippling and photo-realistic animal models on display here.
There are however some parts of the game I did enjoy such as the extent of depth in terms of options and I can see where the fishing purists will find plenty to satiate their requirements. Each fish you catch presents an option to sell for cash or to release back into the wild giving you XP. You can spend the cash earned to buy more advance rods and bait etc and the XP to advance your skills and progress to catch bigger and more difficult to land a poisson. There is another issue, the grind to rank up is slow and once you achieve a rank up there is little reward. Landing a fish and then gently ensuring the line doesn’t break or tangle, finally retrieving your fish back to terra firma ends up becoming stale quickly. The progression to move from one fishery to the next is slow and often requires backtracking to earn more funds and really makes many of the smaller catches worthless and a waste of time.
The sedate sport of lakeside fishing is a strange one to replicate in game form, at least it certainly appears that way. The representation of the land environments in Ultimate Fishing Simulator are nicely realised, nothing ground-breaking but plenty easy enough on the eyes. Once the camera breaks the surface of the water though that is another story, as the textures are flat and the only thing signifying that the camera is now underwater is a greyish hue to the colour pallet. This really prevents a level of immersion that is essential.
As the basic dynamics of fishing are relatively simple, nailing those key aspects is important. The weight of the controls is good as you move your rod and control the line length is satisfying and feels very realistic. Also, once the fish is hooked, reeling it gently back is a unique experience and dare I say it, fun. But this is a flash in the (fish) pan and these rare blips of fun are uncommon and I found myself growing restless, even checking my phone as I waited for a bite to send my controller into a fit of vibrations and alert me of a pull at my line.
I understand that my not being a fan of the sport casts a shadow of bias over a review of a game that benefits a modicum of knowledge of the sport. But I did approach it with an open mind and hoped that it would offer a more engaging experience such as the likes of Sega’s Sea Bass Fishing did in the late 1990s. Sega’s offering was a far more of an arcade-style experience and relied less on realism, but this is certainly something UFS could have benefited from. A little more graphical polish and a game mechanic introduced to cut that post cast-off lull, and it may have had me hooked. It’s just a shame that the end result is a game that a layman will struggle with and a pro will grow tired of quickly.