After recently reviewing the likes of Street Fighter X2 Alpha Plus and The Devil Inside, imagine my surprise when I tore open the latest parcel from the ever-giving Eurogamer to discover .. a fishing game.
Yes, Trophy Bass 4 was my latest assignment, and I installed it in a dim frame of mind. I muttered under my breath expectations of boredom, and regarded the jaunty installation screen with a kind of weak loathing. After recovering from this outburst, I decided to give the game a fair go though. Let it never be said that I'm too quick to judge.
And after a quick look at the manual I learned that this is no arcade fishing game, unlike some of Sega's recent efforts. It is a serious simulation, featuring hundreds of real-name manufacturers, and even some "famous" bass fisher-people. Yes, I checked up on them. Let it never be said that I don't do my research, either.
But if, like me, you don't know your jig from your trace-bait, and your flip from your sidearm cast it can all seem a bit confusing and anal. When I first played it, it took me a long time to work out all the combinations of rod, bait and cast method, and when to use them. But after a few sessions on Lake Kissimmee - all the lakes are based on real American locations, with over 30 in total - I was reeling in Catfish like a pro.
Maybe "pro" is a bit of an exaggeration - I was fishing like an amateur, and I had only just learned the reel-in system, which in retrospect is rather ingenious.
You use the mouse to reel in, hold the fish steady, and release tension, giving some interactivity to proceedings. Line pull tension and strength of reel are controlled with the keyboard, so you will be frantically changing settings and waving the mouse around like an idiot to pull in that 40 inch catfish you have been after. It was a fair bit more hectic than I had expected, and a hell of a lot more enjoyable.
Fiddling around with the assorted appliances on board your boat is also fun, as well as vital to your future success. The gadgets include a depth sounder, for use when the water is muddy or very deep, a GPS for navigation, a comprehensive tackle box where you put together your rod, bait and casting method, and various other items of varying use.
You can even switch your boat's outboard motor on and go schussing across to another side of the lake, much to the distress of the ducks, and the other competitors.
Your competitors can even be real humans as a network mode is included, so up to six can enjoy LAN, modem and internet games. The standard set of rules is to set a type of fish, a time limit, and whoever catches the most fish (in weight, not amount!) is the victor.
This is more or less standard for the single player Tournament mode too, although a Fishing Trip option is available for more relaxing play, or to brush up the skills. The Career mode option is quite enjoyable as well, with money and fame being built up over time with tournament victories.
If you're not quite up to Career standard after a few disastrous outings, you ought to consult the first-class help facility. This features reams of text outlining every technique from the indispensable to the intricate. It even features videos of fishing professionals describing each method and how to execute it. It's all very polished, and after a few days' play I felt something of an expert myself.
Since a lot of effort was obviously put into realism, physics and gameplay, graphics were evidently on something of a back burner down at Sierra HQ. Lego-block style characters and clumsy boats are hardly going to win any beauty contests, but like the sport itself, the game is best left to rugged types who don't mind their pursuits rough around the edges.
The transparent water effects are something of a letdown, however, with even "Clear" conditions appearing unclear. Still, it all adds to the challenge, but not to such an extent that you will be cursing with frustration. In fact, the whole product seems determined to make the whole fishing experience easy. A lazy angler's dream.
Of course, even your most laid-back, Jack Daniels-sipping guy would have some complaints. The Career mode is seriously below its potential, as the upgrades available to buy with your winnings are minimal. It might have been better to have to build up your tackle box and other items through your winnings and even sponsorship money, but instead almost everything you need is laid out for you at the start of the game.
I know it's a fishing game and there's only so much one can do with a fishing game, but it's more or less the same each time you play it. The addition of a well-designed career mode would have helped, but many other things could have been added to increase the "come back" factor - a lake editor would have been an excellent addition, or even some more play modes instead of always going for "highest weight wins".
However, Trophy Bass 4 is perhaps not the arena for these pursuits, as it sticks to the serious, sober side of fishing. It's good at what it does, and if you are on the look-out for something different, or if you are a fishing fan, then the chances are it's your bag.
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