Deadliest Catch, the fourth season of which is currently airing on the Discovery Channel, is an exciting documentary-style reality show in which crews fishing for crab in the Bering Sea do battle with nature and risk their lives on an almost-daily basis to get their jobs done. By contrast, Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm is a slow-paced strategy game of sorts, in which you captain one of the aforementioned crews and do battle with choppy frame rates, console-freezing bugs, and dangerous levels of boredom while scouring the sea for something resembling fun.
Your first port of call in Deadliest Catch will be the Missions mode, because you have to beat the first four of its 20-plus challenges to unlock Career mode. Those four challenges are interactive tutorials in which the star of the show, Captain Sig of the Northwestern, talks you through the basic controls necessary for navigating and maintaining your chosen boat while fishing for crabs and managing your crew.
After choosing one of five boats to captain, your first job in Career mode is to hire a crew. There are plenty of potentials to choose from, and while all of them are capable of getting the job done, the guys demanding a larger slice of the season's profits are invariably worth the money. You need a deck boss, three deckhands, and a bait boy to start fishing, and somewhere in that mix you need guys who can double as engineers, cooks, and medics. Before leaving the harbor you can also stock up on fuel, crab pots, and bait, as well as carry out any necessary repairs and upgrades. All of these chores are dealt with via a menu system that's functionally sound but not even remotely interesting. The controls are easy to pick up, but that's mainly because, in Career mode, you simply don't have to do very much.
As a captain in Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm you never leave the wheelhouse of your chosen boat, and you spend the majority of your time performing mundane, repetitive tasks. You check the crab survey information on your map to locate good fishing spots, you mark your intended fishing locations using a plotter, and then you control your boat's speed and course as you travel between them, making sure to slow down when your crew is attempting to retrieve pots that you left to soak earlier. Controlling your speed and course is occasionally made challenging by bad weather, but if you turn your autopilot on and take advantage of the option to speed up time, you can bypass the worst of it before you encounter anything resembling gameplay.
It's the other members of your crew that get to do all of the "fun" stuff, though they won't lift a finger--not even to save an overboard colleague from drowning--unless you tell them to. With the push of a single button you can set your crew to one of four modes: drop pots, retrieve pots, chip ice, or rest. That last one is especially important, because tired crew members are more likely to have accidents and potentially put themselves out of action for the remainder of your season. More specific orders can be given by using a rudimentary conversation system to interact with your crew one-on-one, but these are rarely necessary unless you're experiencing mechanical problems that your engineer hasn't noticed or need to coordinate the rescue of a man overboard.
Each season lasts as long as it takes for the fleet of boats you're fishing alongside to meet its quota, and your goal is simply to make as much money as you can. Catching a lot of crabs is obviously a good start, but there's certainly more to a winning strategy than that. For example, because keeping crabs in your hold for too long will ultimately kill them and make them worthless, you have to time your visits to port in such a way that you maximize your profits without losing too much time that could be spent fishing. Some of the ports get really busy, especially toward the end of a season, so you also need to carefully choose where you dock to avoid having your cargo die while it's waiting in line. The strategy portion of Deadliest Catch can be engaging enough to suck you in for hours at times; it's just unfortunate that it's hidden beneath a thick layer of poor production values and repetitive gameplay.
If you feel the need to put your crab-fishing prowess to the test online, you can do so in a multiplayer mode that supports up to eight players and replicates the structure of the career mode almost exactly. The main difference when you play online is that while you can still fast-forward your boat to move around the map more quickly, doing so doesn't actually advance time. This is a problem for all kinds of reasons, one being that every hour in the game takes around two minutes of real time. Pots are normally left to soak for at least 24 hours (48 is ideal according to one of Sig's tutorial videos), so even games that are scheduled to last for just two days take a long time to get through--a lot of it spent doing nothing. Incidentally, searching for a quick match unsuccessfully will cause your screen to go black indefinitely, so you'll need to restart your console before you can try again.
Some much-needed variety comes in the form of unlockable missions that test your skills far more than the Career mode does. Not all of them are fun (parallel parking a crab boat in a crowded harbor springs to mind), but chasing whale poachers through rocky waters in a Coast Guard cutter makes for a welcome change of pace, and the five slalom courses that you race through in a skiff are arguably the most fun that the game has to offer. Other unlockables include a hook-throwing minigame that's fun for about two minutes, and a seemingly endless supply of low-resolution videos in which you can meet characters from the show and check out different areas of the featured boats. Most of the videos are short and disappointing, and lack any of the action that makes the Deadliest Catch TV show so compelling.
The poor quality of the videos is very much in keeping with the rest of the game's presentation. The frame rate is never anything but horrible, and the visuals are inconsistent to the point that the impressive water looks like it's from a completely different game than the clumsily textured land masses it surrounds. Default audio levels are all over the place as well, and while you can customize them, doing so shouldn't be a requisite for being able to hear one thing without risking being deafened by another.
Rounding out this disappointing package are bugs that can bring your play session to a premature end without warning. The most frequent of these simply cause your console to lock up, but occasionally the problems get a little more creative--by forcing your crew members into looping animations that prevent them from doing their jobs, for example.
Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm absolutely reeks of unrealized potential. There's fun to be had here, but you have to work harder than all of the Northwestern's crew combined to find it, and the haul won't even come close to meeting your quota.