Fishing: North Atlantic grabbed my attention because of some 'guilty pleasures' of mine–watching the long-running TV series Deadliest Catch and to a lesser extent the likes of Trawlermen and Wicked Tuna.
Set in Nova Scotia there are six real-life ports to visit, sell your catch and refuel at; Yarmouth, Lunenburg, Lockeport, Ingalls Head, Digby and Dennis Point. You begin your career as a fisherman in a small yet effective boat inherited from your uncle (wish I'd ever inherited anything from any of my uncles!)
As your new boat is set up to catch swordfish, you're best off starting with them. Swordfish are best caught from August to October (who knew?) and you can learn plenty about all the fish in the game (and more) in the handy in-game fishyWiki – players who don't like reading should be warned; there's a lot to read, but most of it is informative and relevant to improving your gameplay experience.
An ocean fishing game is always likely to live or die on its actual water effect – how convincing the sea is. F:NA just about squeaks by on this. Close up the water looks great but the waves are too regular and the wave patterns repeat all the way to the horizon. The wake and spray effects are rather weak and sporadic too. You won't see any sea foam/scum or waves cresting with white peaks either, no matter how choppy it gets. I'm not sure why the water looks so inferior to the PC version, or even why it looks worse than the 2 year-old Fishing: Barents Sea by the same developer.
The water may be a bit "meh" but the movement of the boats is really good. They seem to rock, sway and drift in a realistic way and actual handling during travel is very believable, as the wind and currents take you off course. In fact I'd say it's so good that walking on deck in a big swell could possibly cause seasickness if you're susceptible to that sort of thing! To combat the waves, as soon as you can you should buy boat that can have side thrusters added - they really help when manoeuvring, whether it be in a choppy sea or entering dock.
Talking of docking, a ridiculously strict speed limit of 6 knots (that's just 6.9mph!) in ANY harbour approach will drive you mad. While this restriction might be realistic, some of the speed-limited areas are absolutely HUGE, so crawling into a port soon gets tedious and you'll be using the fast travel facility to return to port all the time, which I think is a shame. Leaving port isn't quite as easy as you have to clear the immediate docking area before you can fast travel, and setting a fast travel route out of some harbours is easier said than done. Let's hope they raise the speed limit or confine it to areas immediately next to a dock in an update because it really spoils the game. You'll get a visual warning or two with accompanying beeping, and then get fined $300 if you continue to speed. It's actually not easy to go that slow in many boats and I've been fined for speeding when turning to leave port, fined just because the autopilot was going too fast (despite being set to 5mph), fined because the tidal action of the waves accelerated my boat from way below to way above the limit… Heck, I've even been fined for speeding while reversing! Apart from anything else, why on earth aren't the speed limited areas marked on the map? I'm not sure where all my three hundred dollarses went, but the Harbour Masters all drive Cadillacs.
When in port you can paint your boat, change its name, refuel, repair, upgrade, and buy new fishing equipment and bait. All these actions should be simple enough but the menus are, for want of a better term, "clunky as heck." They frequently just don't accept button inputs at all, and ordering your crew around suffers from the same sort of issues.
When they do actually do as they're told, they really earn their wages, and become vital on anything but the smallest of boats. You'd better learn to rest your crew or they'll just 'down tools' and retire to their bunks. They level up the more you use them, and gain experience the same way you do.
The most important thing you'll try and do early on is the deepline tutorial. It's about as much use as a chocolate teapot as it glitches, doesn't tell you everything you need to know and is ridiculously fussy about where you stand to prepare your gear – fussy to the point that I nearly gave up on the game. I was disappointed to find that the tutorials for the bigger, more complex boats aren't any better either. If you're the impatient sort and don't like learning the finer points of a game by experimentation, trial and error, then F:NA definitely isn't for you.
Stick with it and F:NA plays fairly well once you've learnt the ropes, but it'll take a good deal of patience and persistence. The worst thing gameplay-wise is the glitchy, wobbly camera while landing swordfish or tuna, and I'm sad to report that we had a couple of lockups resulting in lost catches. On another occasion the game locked up on us as we were in port buying bait and we also fell through the hull of the boat when in first person! The menus can also be temperamental; sometimes my first ever crewwoman (a lady by the name of Pearl) simply wouldn't do as requested, and another crewman, Mikael, just froze on one occasion, refusing orders and staring wistfully out to sea from the back of the boat like The French Lieutenant's Woman… All these minor glitches were fixed by saving, quitting and reloading, but probably the worst glitch of the lot (so far) was an autopilot-driven collision with the huge catamaran ferry that sails in and out of the game's main port of Yarmouth. This ended with my tiny boat trapped between the huge ferry's twin hulls until weird physics took over and my boat was thrown thousands of feet in the air, landing several hundred yards from water! I could reload but the ferry has been stuck there, partially sunk for my entire F:NA career.
So you don't have to sit and wait for the fish to bite (or the crab or lobsters to wander into your pots) you can skip time with Anchor Skip from 1 hour to a whole week at a time. During this time you won't drift anywhere (anchor, see?) and the crew can rest (as long as you remember to tell them to.)
The game's graphics are adequate and no more, the onshore buildings are low detail and so are the landscapes, while they look okay from a distance they look poor in comparison to everything else in the game and most consist of just grass sloping down the the ocean – the real Nova Scotia coastline certainly doesn't look anything like this. Some of the landscapes aren't even finished and have blurred or stretched textures. The boats lack detail too, and tend to look far too clean, but in general this looks like it was designed to run on an Xbox One and in no way takes advantage of the power of the Series X/S, and a quick look at the PC version confirmed this.
Although there are plenty of other fishing boats out at sea, if you expect to see other crews beavering away on their boats, don't. Your crew works hard but is poorly animated, there's definitely no mo-cap going on here, but they're not as bad as the fish, which all look like ugly variants on Billy Big Mouth Bass as they wriggle around in your crate.
You really don't want to sail near the edge of the map either, you get warned that you're "leaving the safe area and your boat will take damage". If you don't slam the brakes on, do a quick U-ey and get the hell back to safety your boat will start to sink, leaving you with two options; pay for a rescue (probably $200,000-plus!) or quit and reload a save… Or you could go play something more fun instead, so that's actually three options.
Hauling long and deep lines, lobster pots and measuring lobsters are all made more difficult by the rocking motion of the boat, which, as I mentioned earlier, feels so realistic it could actually give some people motion sickness. These tasks are also more evidence of a quick PC port with little or no thought to a console controller, as you often have to keep the reticle aimed at, say the winch button, the lobster pot or the rubber band container, and hold 'A' for a full second or so. This might sound easy but it's not as the boat pitches and rolls and you find you need two right thumbs! The only solution we found was to use the right stick (look) with our left thumb while holding ''A' as normal - it feels very weird, doesn't work very well and could have easily been avoided by using another button or D-pad direction. This means getting at least one crew member (some boats only allow one crew member for some reason) to do the manual work, while you take the responsibility of driving the boat and finding the fish… And herein lies another problem. While at times there seem to be plenty of every type of fish as well as lobsters and crab, on other occasions the North Atlantic seems to be completely bereft of fish, and this can get frustrating, especially if you're looking for one particular type of fish (the fish population seems to have been increased in a recent update.) To aid your hunt for a catch you can pay for a tip at a bar but they're always at least a day old. As your reputation improves you'll get better, more timely tips that may even be free.
More evidence of a lack of testing comes with the location of some of the tutorials, we had them pop in shallow water that damaged the boat and even in a narrow inlet that was seemingly inaccessible because of a low bridge, but it turned out the boat's wheelhouse would pass through the bridge without collision so…
Lines, pots and nets can get lost by leaving them soaking too long and nets can get damaged if you set them badly, and even through general use… They can be repaired but it's an expensive business, and a ripoff at that, for example several repairs cost $516 when a brand new net is only $600! I thought that was bad until I became the proud owner of the huge Lunar Bow boat… fishing vessel… ship? And got stuck with a $67,000 repair bill just because the it gently bumped the dock after coming out of fast travel!
Currents can be very powerful and at times you'll swear that the buoys have some sort of sci-fi repulsion force field around them. When trying to pull nets, lines or pots in high seas, I found a couple of my boats actually handle better reversing up to buoys when I'd missed them, which seems very odd.
Longline fishing is just what is sounds like, a really long line with regularly spaced and baited hooks is dropped, with buoys on the end to mark their location.
Deeplines work in a similar way to longlines but are placed much deeper in the ocean (there's a shocker!) You'll need to make sure you set them in water 100m or more deep or you could set string of them only to find that they were "ineffective" despite fish swarming all around them. Don't ask me how I know that, but I do.
The larger boats seem incredibly expensive at the outset, but go for a good tuna boat early on (I bought the Double Trouble) with all the important upgrades and you can make $2.6 million per trip until the prices inevitably start to fall as the season progresses. The trouble is these trips will take you a couple of hours, and that's quite a commitment in this day and age. But the rewards come if you stick with it and it's a subjective as to whether you think it's worth this sort of undertaking just to have a big fleet, the biggest boat, to be the best captain.
Having reported all the glitches we came across I'd now like you to bear in mind that F:NA's developers Misc Games number just 7, which means I think the game is a remarkable achievement. A recent patch has addressed many problems; tweaked certain boat's physics, crew behaviour, increased the fish population, added a rain effect, some very talkative and playful whales (and no, you cannot harpoon them) and even made the nights darker! They've also released the game's first DLC, Scallops, so they certainly haven't been lounging about all summer. I have to report that the crew menu continues to glitch though, but they're working on it, talking to the community and clearly want their game to be as good as it can be.
I also think there's a missed co-op opportunity here. The thought of puttering around while my mates landed swordfish or tuna or pulled lobster or crab pots for me while we put the world to rights in chat really appeals to me… Maybe experienced captains could pay online friends an exorbitant share to get them started/help them along the same way you can pay a friendly gang member a huge cut in a GTA heist? The potential of the series is clearly huge.
I think I've probably put more hours into this game than any I've ever reviewed before, and trying to make my mind up on a review score hasn't been easy. When I started it I was nonplussed, but then as I learned to make money I fell in love with it, divorced myself from it and then crawled back to it and got addicted all over again. But here's the rub; what score do you give a game that has a recurring glitch that can cost you hours of gameplay, and can you recommend it? Yes, because I believe Misc Games'll fix it, and I'll fix the review score if they do.
Anyway… if you read this far congratulations! – I truly admire your staying power. You definitely have what it takes to play and succeed at Fishing: North Atlantic.