Despite the real-life fun/boredom of going fishing with friends, cooperative fishing games aren't a common thing just yet. In the meantime, however, Dovetail Games' Bassmaster Fishing 2022 gets really close to co-op. This year's installment includes a "Freedom Fishing" mode that allows up to 25 online players to hang out and fish non-competitively on a server.
To start with, players will create a custom character. Customization options are extremely limited. You don't explicitly select a gender for your character, but there are a few very plain-looking female parts to choose from. As a lover of such things, I made my character as feminine as possible and hit the water. Gameplay begins with an interactive tutorial that lasts15-20 minutes. Grammatical/spelling errors aside (does the game's writer really think that "fishes" is the possessive form of fish?), the tutorial does a fair job of teaching players to use the basic control scheme. You can choose an advanced control scheme as well, but there doesn't seem to be a tutorial for it.
Are they serious with those server names?
After completing the tutorial, players can choose from several modes: Career, Venues, and Bassmaster Online. Within the online menu, you'll find two options: the competitive Bassmaster Royale and the non-competitive Bassmaster Public. This seems to be the promised "Freedom Fishing" mode - the game just doesn't call it that. The public menu lists several public dedicated servers; there's no option to create or host your own. Oddly, public servers don't have proper names, just a long string of characters. This makes meeting up with friends harder than necessary, and it should really be changed in an update.
After joining a public server with a friend or two (or just random folks), everyone gets their own boat. Other players are marked with icons on the map, though player names only appear over the players themselves, not on the map. The group can then cruise around the body of water in search of good fishing spots. Boats just pass through each other; they don't have collision detection. When you're ready to try for a fish, just switch from boat to fishing mode and cast your rod.
Hitting the virtual waters with friends and seeing how many fish you can catch is a fairly relaxing time. The game announces whenever someone catches a fish on the server, but nobody is actually competing. Just make sure everyone is in party chat or Discord voice, and it's a fair approximation of the social fishing experience. Public non-competitive games are definitely welcome, but a true co-op mode in which players can share a boat and divide tasks would be even better in next year's edition.
Bassmaster Fishing 2022 leans towards the simulation side of things, with lots of authentic rods, lures, and all that stuff that fishing folks love. The gameplay itself is slower and more complex than other fishing games I've played - probably too much so. As a package, the game's authentic equipment, adequate visuals, and general lack of polish quite resemble that of the Farming Simulator series. Real-life enthusiasts will probably get a lot out of the authenticity, but I wish the gameplay was more streamlined and approachable.
Note: For this story, we played the game on Xbox Series X, Windows 10, and PlayStation 5. Public multiplayer is fine in all versions except the Xbox game. On Xbox, the public server list usually comes up empty. Hopefully, the developers will be able to fix the issue soon.