Catch & Release — Fishing in virtual reality

If there is one certainty in gaming it’s this, if there’s fishing, I’ll play it. It wasn’t anything I planned, but it has increasingly become the bulk of my gaming time over the years. Blame it on living where the winters get cold enough to keep you off the water, but not cold enough to ever go ice fishing. Safe in the comforts of my climate controlled living room, however, I can always fish no matter the weather. While normal monitors are nice, strapping a HMD on and really getting into things is where it’s at. That brings me to Catch & Release, the VR fishing tempting me back onto the virtual waters yet again.

As Catch & Release begins you are plopped down on the shores of an mountain lake players take control of a row boat and a rod and attempt to land some prized catches. So let’s start with a mode of transport, the row boat. Since this is VR and they like to have you do things just like real life, guess how you get around? That’s right you row. It’s actually a very darn realistic rowing experience as well, right down to the massive burning and painful sensation that comes from the tendinitis in my shoulders. Realistic? You bet, but then again so would reaching back to steer a small electric motor as well. You could even add a twisting action to control the speed, just like in real life. Again, the rowing is very authentic feeling in VR, it’s just not the most accessible way to move around and if you can’t row, well you’re literally not going to go anywhere.

Catch & Release

Out on the lake though is a different matter. We’re here to fish after all and the boat is stocked with a few essentials. There’s the fishing pole, bait, a radio, cooler, lunchbox and even a few stones about for skipping purposes. Yes, one can skip stones if they want, my record was 5 before the rock hopped right up on shore, probably should have thrown in a different direction. There are also two books aboard, one is a fishing log/mission book, the other a catalog of equipment. Completing missions in turn helps unlock and help earn more money to buy new equipment. RPG elements in fishing games are nothing new, although I don’t particularly care for the idea of earning money per catch and/or release, it’s common enough in the genre that most probably won’t be bothered by it. Although it does at times feel a bit on the grindy side.

Let’s head to the fishing finally. Players start out with an old rod equipped with a spinning reel. Casting is much like one would expect. Flick the rod in the appropriate direction and at the right time hold down the trigger on the controller to let the line out. I would like to just point out that instead of the traditional spinning reel that is equipped, a spincaster reel would literally mimic this action entirely, except you wouldn’t need to keep holding the button down throughout the cast. That sort of quirk is one that comes in play quite a lot in Catch & Release. When you do catch fish reeling them in is all a matter of line tension. Just stopping the well applied reeling motion won’t be enough however, you need to let out line. So as you feel the line tightening and see the pole really start to bend, release that line. The tension doesn’t automatically ease either. It’s a bit different for sure, but it works, the hardest part to really drill in your brain, is that after you let go of the trigger the reel sets again.

Now the fish you’ll find in these lovely waters are not of any breed anyone would be familiar with. That not a problem of course, but even if they aren’t any “real” species they do actually put up some authentic feeling fights. I was impressed with the way some of the fish moved while hooked. That shouldn’t be surprising at this point though as nearly all the aspects involved are done quite well. The fights are fun and engaging and once you adjust to the line release mechanic it all equals a great time.

Some other bits and pieces to go over. The radio, again, well done, you have to tune in just like a regular radio by turning the knobs and such. Now there is one word of caution with the radio here. While I’m fairly confident that no one other than the musicians who made the music you can hear on that radio could identify any of the songs, be forewarned, it isn’t just music produced for the game. I found this out the hard way after turning on the in game radio during a stream and after it was concluded was met with no less than 7 copy right claims on YouTube over the music. The radio doesn’t play stations like say in the ETS 2/ATS series where you know for sure you couldn’t use it, but I assure you, play it on a video and your video/stream will meet the same fate.

The visuals are excellent in game and there is life all around the lake. From mosquito’s on the water to bears and deer on the lakes edge everything feels alive. The controls are excellent nearly all around as well. I loved the game but my concerns with it were more on the accessibility front. I mentioned my own issue with rowing, but there is a bit more to unpack. The game says it can be played either sitting or standing. I’m not sure why you’d stand, especially if you need to sit to row. The problem with sitting however is simply being able to reach everything that is needed. You can recenter your position somewhat in the boat and adjust the height in the menu, but it can still leave things just out of reach. I am thankful I have the ability to get out of my chair if needed, but what if you can’t?  I won’t go off on a tangent about it any more than to say, which such a powerful medium to bring experiences to those who may otherwise be unable it’s the kind of thing I can’t help but notice anytime I play a game in VR.

Overall, I do quite like Catch & Release. It is a well done way to fish in VR. Would I recommend it? Absolutely. My main concerns with the game are those of accessibility. It’s a great game, I’m just not so sure that it is accessible as it could be. Over the years in this virtual fishing realm I’ve met lots of great people who are fans of the genre and I was often surprised the extent of folks who were drawn to virtual fishing due to physically being unable to really go out and fish for various reasons. Maybe I am a bit biased by that, but I do think it matters that as many people as possible are able to enjoy such a wonderful game like Catch & Release.

Catch & Release is available now on PC

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