Rhythm-action fish-gutting to a Blade Runner soundtrack

fishing-barents-sea

I’ve been playing the newly released Fishing: Barents Sea in the hope that it was water-bound cousin to American/Euro Truck Simulator, those bastions of road-tripping relaxation. What I found was something very different. Something remarkable in its own way.

Chilly Norwegian seas, the lonely put-put of a solo fishing boat engine, the methodical laying and collecting of lines – and a sublimely-synthy, ever-so-Vangelis soundtrack as I coolly slice open fish bellies.

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As with the Truck Sim games and also the likes of Car Mechanic Simulator, Fishing: Barents Sea lives under an open question. Was it was designed first and foremost as a fairly cheap and very specific sim designed to cater to a niche market, or were its creators fully aware that its looping, unhurried approximation of the humdrum elicits a state of zen calm, that relaxes and reassures where other games stress and frustrate?

There’s no clear answer here. On the one hand, it’s got bait shops and all these different kinds of fish and boat and very, very, very slow journeys and waiting hours for your lines to catch anything, but on the other it’s got this totally unexpected soundtrack that gives it a cyberpunk vibe. The title screen alone made me think I was about to play a lost Deus Ex level:

And there’s a full soundtrack of this stuff throughout. As my mind drifts off during another interminable journey across the sea, I can’t help but start to imagine this is me eking out a crust at the edges of the world, a last, subsistence light of the Old Ways, a life lived in the gutter of the gleaming techno-cities that I’m sure must lie inland.

But when you get that music while you’re playing the rhythym action minigame required to gut your fish – and thus have them fetch a higher price at market – it feels like reality is crumbling around me, as though I’m experiencing the first dawning awareness that I’m a backed-up copy of a human mind locked inside a simulation of a simulation of a simulation of mortal reality.

Fishing: Barents Sea really fucks me up, is what I’m saying. Another perfect, perfect mystery is why my character’s living quarters on the starting boat contain nothing except this hammer on a table.

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Is it to deal with particularly stubborn fish? Or is it something I have to use on myself once the bombs fall, the oceans boil and the only alternative is a slow death by starvation?

Naturally, I can’t stop playing. The minigame elements (there’s another for hauling in your catch) are irritating, there’s not really anything to be done or seen during free-sailing and it is not beautiful enough to really sell the out-on-the-endless ocean fantasy, though the lights of the harbour towns reflected upon night-time water are most pleasant. Nonetheless, its glacial pace and gentle loop of lay, collect, sell, upgrade has me as hooked as a pollock on a krill line.

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Without that mournful future-world soundtrack, I suspect I’d have sailed on long ago. Instead, perhaps I shall live out my days this way. I’ve seen haddock shimmer in the dark near the Rypefjord docks. All these mackerel will be lost in time, like fish guts in the rain.

Fishing: Barents Sea is out now, via Steam.

7 Comments

  1. pendergraft says:

    Far be it from me to instruct a developer on the deficiencies of their vision, but why not inject a little pep by setting such a game during World War II? In addition to the zen-like fishing experience you’d also get to duck the occasional U-boat torpedo, serpentine a Luftwaffe strafing run, or lock Cillian Murphy in your cupboard.

  2. Nelyeth says:

    That was a fantastic read. You’ve made me experience a peaceful, relaxing existential crisis by proxy, and that’s not a sentence I’d have ever thought I’d write. Thank you.

  3. RoboTesla says:

    This sounds oddly like Jalopy. The quiet, repetitive actions, the inherited vehicle that you rely on, the synthy soundtrack. It sounds like something I’ll definitely want to experience.

  4. Railway Rifle says:

    I don’t think I would have thought to make the leap of “this fishing game…takes place in a cyberpunk future, far away from the cyberpunk” even with the soundtrack, and I love that you did.

  5. NuclearSword says:

    Man, reading this I was thinking, “You’re exaggerating – you’ve put much too much thought into this”. But jeez louise, one look at those videos prove you’re 100% right. Touché, Mr. Meer

    This is a bizarre choice of music for a game like this, and it does lend it an ominous, oppressive tone. That synthwave really does make it all seem like just something the Machines did to a fisherman after plugging him into the Matrix.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    Don’t mind me a bit of scalewave.

  7. celticdr says:

    Thanks for the recommendation Alec, purchased and already 7hrs in.

    I found the music more Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which is Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross more than Vangelis… But I guess you could say that Reznor and Ross were influenced by Vangelis’s seminal sound track.

    The hand gutting mini game is frustrating, but the long line one I’ve got down pat now.

    The graphics need some work with textures and with the water around the boat (there’s no wake or anything like that).

    However apart from these few gripes it’s a solid Zen game!