Realism be damned: Ultimate Fishing Simulator's underwater camera is great

Most of us want as much realism as possible in our simulation games, but there's always a line we're willing to cross in exchange for fun. In Ultimate Fishing Simulator, which leaves Early Access on August 30, that line is represented by the water level of whatever lake or river I'm fishing in. I'm willing to pretend I'm sticking my face right into the water if that provides an explanation for the sim's underwater camera, which lets you closely watch your bait from a few inches away. 

No, it's not realistic to cast a line a dozen meters into the river and then be allowed to stare at your hook as if you're fishing in an aquarium, smooshing your face right up against the glass. But I don't care, it's just cool and fun. Plus, if you insist on more realism, you can play on a harder difficulty level where the camera is disabled.

I start fishing in a small lake, surrounded by the ghosts of other active players (you can see an outline of a player icon, and even peep their profiles and text chat). After baiting my hook with a fly and watching fish completely ignore it for a few minutes, the game gently points out that my hook is too small for the type of fish in this lake. I equip the biggest hook I can find, then cast my line again and wait, jiggling my little fly as if to say "Help, I'm a fly in distress, and definitely not a deadly trap." And finally, an interested party paddles over.

My first fish gets away because the moment it begins to take my hooked fly into its fish-mouth, I strike, which is to say I yank the rod back in hopes of snaring the fish's lip with the hook (fishing is pretty cruel, huh). But I'm way too early with my strike because it's hard not to get excited when a fish slowly swims over and nudges the bait. After a couple more escapes, I learn to give the fish enough time to get his mouth around the fly before striking.

Then it's just a matter of reeling it in while trying not to snap the line. Most of the fish in this lake are small enough (at least the ones I'm managing to catch) that they tire quickly and can be dragged in and sold for cash, or thrown back in the lake for a small XP gain. Gaining levels opens up new locations to fish in: lakes, rivers, and even a frozen lake for ice-fishing.

I've tried ice-fishing in a few other games, but never felt like I would prefer it to fishing from a boat or a riverside. What's fun about staring at a hole in the ice? Well, the underwater camera showed me exactly what's fun about it. After gaining a level and earning enough in-game cash to buy an ice-fishing license and an auger to drill my hole, I lower my line and make my dead fly dance, figuring I'll lure out another slow moving, guarded yet curious fish.

Wow! That fish ain't slow or guarded at all. It comes out of nowhere, making a break for it with my hook and fly. I forget to even strike, I just watch the thief zip away to freedom. The next one I manage to strike, but it immediately snaps the line. These ice-fish are a lot harder to catch because they immediately drag out meters of your line and will break it if you don't let them run for a while.

Eventually, they tire out and you can slowly reel them all the way back to your ice hole to stare proudly at them. I don't know what I was thinking: ice-fishing is definitely way better than melted water fishing.

So far I'm really enjoying Ultimate Fishing Simulator. The fish take long enough to bite so it doesn't feel like an arcade game, but not so long that it's, you know, as patience-testing as actual fishing. Maybe I should try it without the underwater camera, too, for a more realistic experience, but for now I'm happy to watch up-close as my flies dance and the fish bite.