In a world where the term Virtual Reality is almost synonymous with the likes of Beat Saber and Boneworks it’s quite refreshing to sit back and relax whilst playing arguably one of the most in-depth games I’ve witnessed in VR. Ultimate Fishing Simulator; developed by Bit Golem and published by Ultimate Games S.A. as part of a Kickstarter campaign back in 2017, shows you that you don’t need crazy physics or frantic rhythm to have an immersive and fun virtual experience.
It’s worth noting at this stage that I have zero real-world knowledge of fishing outside of needing a rod, a bit of bait and to cast off into some water. It turns out fishing is a lot more complex than I had ever fathomed. I’ve started wrapping my head around line tension, different reels, even the size of the hook and the bait that can be used.
You start the game only able to access the picturesque Betty Lake, a rather scenic body of water in the Rocky Mountains. From here you’re able to absorb the scenery; the mountain ranges on the horizon, the reeds and grass swaying around you.
You then glance down and realise you’ve got some basic gear – a rod, a line and some bait. “I’ve got this,” I say to myself as I spend the next 10 minutes trying to work out how to even cast the rod. Turns out, fishing is hard and simulator is probably an apt description of the game.
Once you get into the swing of the mechanics and check out the various options it dawns on you how much depth there is in the game. You start catching fish and you’re presented with the option to sell them or release them. This determines how much money and/or experience you get for the catch.
Diving back into the menus I was then keen to see new locations and get some better gear so I buy the licence for Betty Lake at winter – that’s right, ice fishing! – as well as some upgrades to my rod. I venture out on to the ice and get a handy pop-up telling me I don’t have the skills to fish out on the frozen lake. As it happens there’s a full-blown skill tree just waiting for me, and by this point, I’ve gone up a few levels so get to splash out – I buy the necessary skills to get out on the ice and it’s a whole different ball game now. A new type of rod, a new way of casting out reeling in the little money bags and on top of that you even get to drill a hole in the ice.
Ultimately that’s what Ultimate Fishing Simulator is about; fishing until you’ve earned enough money for your next splurge. There are 7 maps in the base game (not including weather variants) and countless combinations of fly fishing, lure fishing, ice fishing and miscellaneous gear to help you on your journey.
The skill tree is rudimentary but has some useful upgrades such as getting discounts in the shop to increase the distance you can cast your rod; there’s also the ability to control boats so you’re able to venture out into much deeper and more complicated environments.
It’s at this stage, once you’re a few upgrades in you’ll click with the mechanics and realise it does take some of the simulation element out of proceedings and if you’re not careful you’ll find yourself veering more towards an arcade-like experience. You’ll quickly suss out some “perfect” combinations of bait, hook, line and location to quickly grind out cash and experience and if you’re not careful you’ll find yourself growing tiresome of the same scenery and same fish as you save up for that next elusive upgrade.
Having a game running in VR naturally comes with limitations in terms of the visual fidelity, but considering what is being worked with here the game is quite beautiful at times.
The water is very well animated and the actually interacts with the line from your rod, or the lone fish occasionally brushing up to the surface or erupting through the waves. These moments really sell you on the location and help you focus on the task at hand.
On top of that, you can get in close to your bait with some realistic distortion from the water as you see fish swimming, light reflecting from the surface and reeds swaying at the surface.
It’s certainly not the most groundbreaking visuals you’ll ever see but in terms of the actual graphical fidelity and how you interact with this world, it can be very absorbing.
There is 1 huge missed opportunity from the developers though which comes in the form of the 3D model viewer. Once you have purchased an upgrade or caught a fish you’re able to see a fully rendered 3D model that you can rotate and have a look at, but for some baffling reason, these models are presented to you on a flat plane and at a distance. When you are in the realm of VR it seems bonkers that I can’t grab these models and really inspect them close up and move them around. these are your prized catches or well-earned upgrades and they’re just there teasing you just outside of arm’s reach.
There are some interesting designs around the audio that allow you to customise how you play Ultimate Fishing Simulator. You have options of various radio stations which are bound to hit a genre that appeals to you. Personally I hit mute on that and just sat in the world with nature around me.
The sounds from the water, the trees swaying, the wind and even wildlife fill the space and help with that immersion. There’s something quite relaxing about sitting in the middle of your living room but feeling like you’re out on a dock during the mid-day sun. When you’re zoomed into the bait (incidentally probably the least simulation aspect of the game) you have that echoing underwater feeling with the sound as you hear muffled sounds and movement.
There’s a very odd disconnect in the audio though, Where the cabin locale which presents your main menu has a tune so irritating you race to the next fishing location to avoid it. For some reason, this tune also defaults to 11 on the volume scale and tries to make your head explode with its bass.
Without doubt, there is enough content here to keep you coming back for hours and hours on end – there are over 20 species of fish in the game all with varying sizes and quality depending on your gear. The upgrades and skill tree system helps you feel like you’re progressing each time you pick Ultimate Fishing Simulator up. I think it would take a long time before you’re really satisfied that you’ve hit your personal best. If you let the game mechanics hook you it really will reel you in and keep you coming back for more.
Whilst some elements verge on the side of arcade over simulation it’s easy to see the appeal of this game for those experienced with fishing or those with very limited exposure. The game really can absorb you and as you start to explore the skill trees and upgrades. You do genuinely want to progress and see if you can beat that record for the size of your trout. Ultimate Fishing Simulator earns the Thumb Culture Silver Award for the volume of content and relaxing atmosphere.
Disclaimer: A code was received to write this review.