I have to admit to a love affair with the TV show Deadliest Catch. (At my house, we call it “Dangerous Fish.”) The show follows the exploits of actual Alaskan crab fishermen as they work one of the world’s most dangerous professions: hauling crab from the bottom of the dark and stormy seas off the Alaskan coast. As far as reality televisions shows go, it’s first-rate, and I find it to be a soothing reminder that however hard my job may be, it’s not crab fishing.

This summer I had the pleasure of meeting Captain Sig Hansen, one of the stars of the TV show, and getting some hands-on time with a preview build of the game. Now that the game has been released and I’ve spent some time with it, I can report that it’s probably not for everyone, but does offer some good solid fun, albeit with a bit of frustration and disappointment.

Sea of Chaos is actually the second Deadliest Catch game. The first, Alaskan Storm, was a bit more in-depth, filled with videos of talking Captain Sig and put you firmly in the captain’s chair, tasked with sorting out the high-level strategic aspects of successfully fishing for crab. It was a fun game, but very dense and, as Captain Sig said, probably only fun for people who actually fish for crab.

With Sea of Chaos, Discovery Channel and developer Crave Games set out to make crab fishing a bit more engaging and accessible. They definitely succeeded, but whether or not the result is any fun will depend on what kind of games you enjoy playing, and if a little bit of minigame, mixed with a little bit of strategy, mixed with a lot of staring at loading screens is your idea of fun.

Most of the action in Sea of Chaos takes place in the campaigns, which set you up as a crab boat captain trying to make a certain amount of money, or competing with other captains. One campaign actually walks you through a re-creation of an entire season of the TV show, which is fun.

You can pick and customize your boat, hire and fire your own crew from a roster of people appearing on the show and then set sail for (hopefully) crab-infested waters. Crew members have different skill levels in the different aspects of crab fishing and can level up over time.

Once you hit the crab ground, it’s time for minigame madness. There’s a pot-setting minigame, a pot retrieving minigame, a crab-sorting mini-game, a boat repair minigame, a “man overboard” minigame and a crab offloading minigame. Each minigame uses a different crew member skill set, and each crew member is skilled in different areas, so you can mix and match crew members to minigames to get the most out of your crew. successes earns bonus cash and there is a fair amount of skill involved to get it right.

The pot-setting minigame involves steering the boat toward targets highlighted on the ocean’s surface, indicating where the crab lie. Utilizing only a few basic controls, it is nevertheless challenging and rewarding when you get it right. Pot retrieving involved throwing a line off the side of the boat to catch a buoy in the water. It plays like an old treadmill-style arcade game, but is also challenging and fun, as are the rest of the minigames, all of which involve some sort of timed action or variety of crab-flinging.

Individually, the minigames aren’t much, but taken as a whole and combined with the more strategic aspects of the game, create what could have been a deep and engaging game if not for the frequent and frequently long loading screens. Even looking at the map to plot your next course involves loading, and closing involves more loading. There were times when playing the game that I completely forgot what I was doing, having been hypnotized by the load screen.

Much of this may be a porting issue. By the look and feel of the game, and from my experience polaying it at E3 2010, I can say that it is most definitely a better experience on the Wii (I played it on 360), and some of the minigames, especially the crab-sorting game (which involves picking up and flinging crab) are clumsy using the Xbox controller, but much more entertaining on the Wii. Given this review is based on the Xbox 360 version we received from Crave, we felt it necessary to award our review score accordingly. If we had reviewed the Wii version, however, I’m confident the game would have earned an extra star.

On the whole, Sea of Chaos does make crab fishing accessible and engaging, but whether the activity benefits from the treatment is an open question. There is a deep, engaging game in here, but it’s hard to get to. Almost exactly half of the time I spent playing Sea of Chaos was spent staring at a loading screen, which essentially eroded my willingness to go on. As a metaphor for the long stretches of drudgery mixed with short bursts fo high-adrenaline that is crab fishing in the Bering Sea, I suppose Sea of Chaos hits exactly the right mark.

Bottom Line: Deadliest Catch: Sea of Chaos is a fun game for casual players or fans of the series looking to spend more time with the crews, but hardcore gamers will be turned off by the relative simplicity and loading times.

Recommendation: This would make a good stocking stuffer for someone you know with a complete DVD set of the TV show, or for kids, but I’d recommend getting it for the Wii. The motion controls make the game more fun and the loading may be less of an issue.

[rating=2]

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

What our review scores mean.

Game: Deadliest Catch: Sea of Chaos
Genre: Simulation
Developer: Double Tap
Publisher: Crave
Release Date: November 30, 2010
Platform: Wii, PS3, Xbox 360
Available from: Amazon.com

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