The Deadliest Catch: Sea of Chaos delivers what may be the most boring take on its subject imaginable. Casting you as a captain of a crab ship on Alaska's Bering Sea, the game drops anchor on absurdly simplified versions of mundane harvesting duties without a scrap of the excitement and drama found in the award winning Discovery Channel series on which it is based. Worse yet, the visuals feel more than a decade old, the motion controls for the Wii and PlayStation 3 fall well short of their potential, and the endless repetition of four minigames quickly sinks any chance of excitement.
It's hardly the fault of the source material. Now nearing its seventh season, The Deadliest Catch is an intensely human reality show chronicling the hazardous lives of crabbers stationed on Alaska's remote Aleutian Islands. Viewers tune in by the millions to see fortunes and friendships made and lost, and they see the treacherous Bering Sea erupt into life-threatening chaos. This game, however, gives you none of that chaos. Instead, it abandons the salty flavor of the series in favor of a dull and persistent narrator. That decision alone sucks the soul out of the game, and it's regrettable that one of the crusty captains from the TV series wasn't hired for the job.
The graphics are dreadfully outdated and, if anything, a step backward from those in the previous Deadliest Catch game. The only time you ever see your crew members face-to-face is when you're hiring them or checking their fatigue in Cabin mode, and even then, they're just publicity stills with stat sheets. Only while casting or retrieving your pots do you see a crew member on the ship at all, and then it's only the back of the same slicker-sporting nobody who looks out at the ocean with all the vigor of a barnacle. Crew members thus resemble mere statistics with familiar names from the series slapped on them for good measure. As captain, you can hire up to five of them based on their varying skills at setting or retrieving pots or sorting, patching, and offloading, but every task is simple enough that their strengths and weaknesses never really become an issue. If you allow them a bit of rest after a series of jobs, your boat will usually perform at top capacity. More experienced crew members demand a greater share of the season's profits and are generally worth their cost in stamina alone, but you can also improve your weaker crew members by using them to perform tasks in their weak areas. It's a good system in theory, but the game never becomes difficult enough to definitively demand one crew member over another.
The eight campaigns in Sea of Chaos rely on mind-numbing repetition with only occasional stabs at variety. In one of the more exciting endeavors, you face off against the famed Captain Sig Hansen in a race to see who can bring in the biggest haul. Another campaign weakly follows the events of the show's fourth season by comparing your hauls to the real numbers achieved by the boats in the series. The longest mission spans an entire career across six seasons, during which you rise from obscurity and earn your fortune. These campaigns all start with selecting a crew and a customizable boat based on those found on the show. You then use the map to sail to one of several untapped fishing locations, although you usually won't know how many crabs are available without fishing there yourself. Some strategy thus springs from casting only a few pots at first to test the waters and avoiding spots on the maps where competitors are congregating. Also, in one of the few nods to the drama of the series, you can radio familiar captains from the show to ask about successful hauls at other locations and report your own findings for better results and allegiances.
Beyond these minor map-based strategies, success is based on mastering four simple minigames that lose their fragile charm not long after the lengthy tutorial. In the first, you set pots by steering your ship across gold or silver rings on the water, each marked with the number of pots that can be placed there. Time matters here (as it does for all the minigames), as do bonuses for successfully performing several actions in a row. As befits a largish seafaring vessel, steering is difficult with a gamepad, although the comparatively intuitive Wii and PlayStation Move motion controls improve the experience significantly. The same is true for the next minigame, which requires you to pull your pots from the water by casting lines off the side of the boat (preferably after waiting for 48 in-game hours) and catching buoys as they rush past. Because other ships have buoys in the water as well, you need to time your catches so you don't pick up the wrong pots. While there's nothing wrong with using the analog sticks to cast the line on the gamepads, the experience of physically flicking out the line with the Wii or Move and tugging it back is much more satisfying. Occasionally, you have to deal with heavy winds, but even at their worst, you can easily see the buoys float by you.
Curiously, though, the gamepads far outshine the motion controllers once you start sorting your catch. In this minigame, crabs are piled onto a sorting table (which may rock with the boat in bad weather) where you toss the rejects to the left and the crabs bound for Red Lobster to the right. A simple click of an action button and a flick of the analog sticks suffices for tossing the crabs on the gamepads, but poor controls on the Wii or the Move render these sequences almost unplayable. Picking up the proper crab is slightly more difficult with the optional motion controls, and properly flicking a crab from one side to the other seems based more on luck than skill. Once you return to port, you off-load your crabs by tossing them across a room and into a moving wire bucket while avoiding a pointlessly swinging hook. This would have been a chance for the motion controls to shine; instead, the task merely requires you to move your arms back and forth in sync with the target and release your crab when appropriate.
These four games form the core of every mission, but occasionally two other games will surface without warning. In one, you rescue drowning crewmembers in a reskinned version of the pot-retrieval game; in another, you patch broken equipment through a rewiring minigame reminiscent of BioShock's hacking sequences. These should provide a welcome respite from the endless cycle of pot setting and retrieval, but the rescue mission is too familiar and the patching game moves too slowly to leave much of an impact.
Sea of Chaos features a decent local multiplayer mode for up to eight players in which you try to amass the largest haul of crab using six different options, such as a rickety old ship, overly stormy seas, and uncharted crabbing maps. Unlike the main campaign modes, which can stretch on for six seasons, these customizable tournaments are limited to a comparatively short span of up to eight in-game days. There's no online or split-screen modes (which means you have to watch your opponent play each lengthy turn), but the gameplay structure in Sea of Chaos is better suited to the tournament mode's save-and-play mechanic than real-time matches against other players. All the same, even diehard fans may find their money better spent on boxed sets of the television series instead of this second missed opportunity. Though it sells for slightly less than full price, Sea of Chaos is simply far too expensive for the bland and tedious experience it offers.