I used to go fishing when I was a kid. I once caught a pike and I'm still haunted by the memory of having to batter its head against a rock to kill it. But since then my adult life has been entirely free of angling, and now I mostly just stick to fish fingers. Which is why I decided, rather than brutalise another pike, I would play a bit of The Fisherman: Fishing Planet (opens in new tab), a new sim from Bigben Interactive instead.
I'm not really interested in the intricacies of fishing. I prefer the streamlined version of the sport you find as a minigame in other games. We picked some of our favourites (opens in new tab). The Fisherman, however, is a proper simulator, with all manner of lures, rods, and techniques to master. You can try float fishing, spinning, bottom fishing, and even a spot of trolling.(opens in new tab)
The main reason I play simulator games is to relax. Nothing is more zen to me than spending an hour cruising along a motorway in Euro Truck Simulator 2 (opens in new tab) or creeping through a forest in The Hunter: Call of the Wild (opens in new tab). So I was delighted to discover that The Fisherman has that same quality, making up for its rather flat, basic visuals with a nice atmosphere and sense of place. Listening to the water lapping, the rain falling, and the insects chirping is very chill.
And you'll be doing a lot of watching, because the fish here aren't very bitey. Sometimes you'll luck out and snag a few in a row, but often your lure will remain still. But I don't mind that, because these quiet moments let you fully soak up the atmosphere of the game's many lakes, rivers, and fisheries. But when a fish does decide to have a nibble, things get rapidly more stressful.
Weak, puny fish are no trouble. They won't put up a fight. But the bigger ones really don't want to be caught, tapping into the millions of years of survival instinct coded into their fishy DNA. You have to tighten and slacken the line and move the rod to keep the beast from breaking away. But the struggle is worth it, 'cause hooking a big boy is a satisfying feeling.
There's a lot of deep simulation in The Fisherman, with each technique having its own control system and quirks to master. But honestly, I'm enjoying just idly fishing for tiny bass on the starting lake with the most basic equipment. I don't think I'll be catching all 143 species of fish lurking in its various bodies of water. But as a pleasant way to kill an hour, it's a pretty peaceful experience.
I also like how you can see other players in the world fishing alongside you. It makes the place feel nicely alive, although it's a bit distracting in the first level when everyone is wearing the same shirt as you because the character creator only has one available. I saw a higher level player later with a shiny gold jacket and got that feeling you get in World of Warcraft when you're just starting out and someone dashes past you with a mount and glittering armour.
The Fisherman seems like a decent sim, although admittedly I've only dipped my toes in its vast, shimmering lake. I might not even bother learning any more advanced techniques. I'm cool just hanging out in the starting lake, snagging fish so small it'd be cruel not to immediately throw them back into the water. I doubt I'll be coming back to it much, but I'll be adding it to the 'chill' category in my Steam library when I need something laid back to play.