Deadliest Catch: Sea of Chaos – hands-on

All right, confession here: we’re huge fans of Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel. It was the kind of show where when we first saw it while flipping along, it looked horrendously boring. Every time we flipped past it, we just saw guys standing around on the deck of a boat with big cages of crabs being hauled out of the water by cranes. Somewhere along the line, though, the show grabbed us. We don’t know when or how it happened, but the whole thing became fascinating: here were brave-as-hell, hard-as-nails men risking their lives every damn day so people around the world could stuff their faces with sweet, juicy crab.

Fans of the show are special kinds of devoted followers – when Captain Phil Harrison died earlier this year, people came out in massive numbers to pay their respects, and it was a genuinely moving event. And so it is that a second Deadliest Catch game comes along to satisfy the hunger of fans who want to feel like they're participating in literally the most dangerous job in the world. The last game was a bit of a simulation, requiring patience as boats trundled for long periods on the sea. Sea of Chaos, as the name may reveal, aims for a more arcade approach, but it’s still a surprisingly deep game with strategy and management aspects galore.

The campaign follows season four of the show, which is the most popular among fans. You start off by choosing among boats, taking into consideration factors like speed, durability, and hold size (a faster boat means quicker trips, but a larger hold means more efficient trips). You can customize your boat to suit your aesthetic tastes, and then it’s on to hiring a crew. You can take up to five men, but you don’t have to fill all the slots – you can try to save money with a smaller crew by not having to split the pay as much. The men you can hire are real guys from the show and they have unique stats to reflect their strengths and weaknesses.

To provide a faster-paced experience, Sea of Chaos allows you to fast-travel to crabbing hotspots (although you need to take fuel into account), and you can see the entire Bering Sea, complete with real-time weather patterns that can make seas rough. Once you pick a spot, the actual crabbing involves several minigames.

First you’ll have to choose how many pots to set, and then you steer the boat toward potential drop sites. This ain’t no Porsche you’re driving, so the boats handle with realistic momentum – it takes a delicate hand to get them to go where you want, and launching pots takes a second so it takes timing to drop where you want. If a storm has come in, the waves will reflect the rougher conditions.

After launching pots, you’ll have to consider how long you want them to soak: take too long and the crab will start dying. You can also interact with other captains and decide whether to work with them by supplying good info or manipulating them by being a bit shadier. When you do decide to pick up the pots, another minigame ensues – a simple affair of tossing hooks in order to grab the right pots (you don’t want to grab another captain’s pots and piss him off). Once you’ve grabbed your pots, you have to sort the crabs of course – another minigame where you toss the good crabs into the hold and throw out the bad crabs, baby crabs, and random fish and junk.

With every task you can select which crew member you want to do the job. The obvious choice is to use whoever is best at that task based on their strengths, but you’ll also need to consider the experience they’ll gain doing the job (increasing their narrow specialty) and how tired they are. There are also additional minigames to play, including situations where your boat breaks down and you have to repair it, but we didn’t get to play that event.

To add variety and customization to how you can play the campaigns, you can choose to do a Cursed campaign, where weather is always horrible, rogue waves are everywhere, and the going is just supernaturally tough; or you can do a Duel campaign, with you going head to head with legendary Captain Sig; or you can do a multiple season campaign; or a Bonanza campaign (the opposite of Cursed). None of this matters to those who aren’t Deadliest Catch fans, but then this game isn’t for them. From what we’ve seen, Sea of Chaos certainly aims to make fans happy with a huge number of variables to make strategy and management a deep and complex affair. The game comes out on November 29th on 360, Wii, and PS3 (with Move support).

Nov 3, 2010

Matthew Keast
My new approach to play all games on Hard mode straight off the bat has proven satisfying. Sure there is some frustration, but I've decided it's the lesser of two evils when weighed against the boredom of easiness that Normal difficulty has become in the era of casual gaming.