There have been a surprising amount of angling games over the years, ranging from the arcade to the realistic, and they’ve even spawned specific peripherals to try and bring home that feeling of sitting in a boat waiting for a bite. Fishing Sim World comes down on the realism side (obvious really given the name), and it’s aimed at those who know what they’re doing. Can it still appeal to the more casual market though?
If anyone is in doubt that this is a hardcore fishing game, just spend some time working through the tutorials. They’re filled with great details on how the controls work and where to find fish, but absolutely nothing about the terminology or equipment in use. There’s an underlying expectation that the player is already completely familiar with the specifics of competitive fishing. It’s not a problem as it makes it clear that there’s a target market for the game, yet it will alienate those looking to take things a bit deeper than the fish catching side missions in Far Cry 5. Weirdly though, the principle is very similar, just the technicalities that differ.
My own experience of real world fishing is a couple of hungover sessions out in the North Sea where the focus was more on keeping breakfast down than catching anything wriggly, so Fishing Sim World is immediately a better prospect as it offers up much calmer environments and less stomach churning movement. There are a couple of main game modes to pick from – Tournaments which act like career progression to boost XP and cash, and a free play mode where it’s just a case of exploring the lakes, ponds and canals and honing the skills needed to compete. With 4 types of tournament to choose from that focus on the types of fish being reeled in, it’s all about catching the most in the time limit to meet a weight, length or score target. Be prepared to have to work at it though, this is not a game where it’s a breeze to get to the medal positions, or to get anywhere near bagging the biggest fish without putting in the groundwork and gaining the experience.
When it comes to getting the rods out, there’s a choice of a simplified control method a bit like golfing games where it’s simply a direction and power meter; or there’s a full analogue stick control that gives finer movement but is much harder to get to grips with. With a choice of 3 poles on hand at any one time, and an additional one designed to seed the water with bait, there are plenty of options for how to hook the first catch. Depending on what the fish being pursued is there are all the different baits, floats and traps; and each takes a little bit of mastering. Knowing whether to cast and leave the hook until it gets a bite from a perch, reel in different patterns under the water to attract a bass, or skim across the surface and see what chases it. Whichever method is required, it comes with a heavy need for patience and knowing when to flick the rod up to strike and get the hook buried in. Then there’s a usually a chance to use all 3 rods at once if there’s the desire to try and speed things up. Just keep an ear out for the alarms and try and figure out which one needs picking up.
Striking is arguably the hardest part of the game because not hooking firmly enough means there’s a good chance the fish is going to escape. If it’s done perfectly then it’s a matter of tiring the quarry out and netting them, get it wrong though and there’s a bigger struggle to just keep it on the hook. Given the amount of time it can take to get a bite in the first place there’s an imperative to keep the fish in play and see it through, especially if it’s in a tournament where the AI are unforgiving. With enough cash earned there are upgrades for almost every aspect of the tacklebox and character, and there’s a feel that each purchase improves things in some way, even if that’s not always tangible. Performance improvement is really all about reading the water, the shorelines and knowing how the prey is going to react. There’s an advantage to be had in speeding along a lake in a boat with a fish finder that’s handy for narrowing the search down, though it’s an element that comes with no tutorial info so it might take a bit to work out how to make the most from that info.
Built in the Unreal engine the whole presentation is crisp and clean, though misses some flair that might help instil a bit of excitement. In game it’s as nice as expected with the fish visible swimming through the well realised water. It is a tranquil and relaxing experience with subtle but realistic audio to accompany each location. From the expanse of US lakes to the tight confines of the British canal systems, every one is distinct and unique, and there are numerous casting points at each one to choose from. Movement is a little clumsy when not using the rods, and boat handling does what it’s supposed to rather than attempt to be a racer, but Fishing Sim World puts the effort into the experience it’s aiming for rather than the ancillary elements. It unfortunately has a few issues that range from a bit odd to game breaking. The former is the XMB flicker each time it autosaves (and that’s a lot when in the tacklebox), and the latter is trying to load the Gigantica map – getting the level in place works, but it won’t register the selection of starting point and the only way out is a full reboot. Online is temperamental in connection too so it’s not clear how busy the servers are for the online competitions, though there are the same game modes for friends as there are in the singleplayer.
Fishing Sim World is a tough game to get into if you’re not into the sport, and one that really does favour substance over style. There’s a lot that needs to be taken in and digested for newcomers, and a lot of reading around to figure out what all the other bits do too. However, it does make sense when you’re not in the competitive elements – when the time pressure is off there’s a nice chilled feeling of taking in the peaceful world, observing the water’s surface, looking for the tell tale signs of fish, nailing the right cast and strike, and reeling it all in. The fact it doesn’t work on loading one of the levels though is a huge black mark in what is an unashamedly hardcore experience that punishes novices and can deter with the difficulty level. Ask yourself if you know what an Rat-L-Trap is… if you don’t then this game isn’t for you.
A PS4 copy of Fishing Sim World was provided for this review by Dovetail Games PR team, and it’s out now on Xbox One, PC and PS4 for around £30.