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by Front Page Sports

Sierra has already delighted cyberfishermen (yes, that's what they call themselves) with its fast-paced, fun, and fairly realistic Trophy Bass series. Now, with the release of Trophy Rivers, Front Page Sports strikes into new territory, hoping to attract the trout and salmon, catch-and-release crowd. As a resident of trout-rich Idaho and a fairly inept fisherman myself, I was interested to see if the game in any way reflected the sort of experiences I've had stalking the cagey cutthroat. And I have to admit that this game, while not extremely realistic, is as realistic as I'd want it to be. Frankly, it's a lot easier to catch fish in the game (though you still have to work some at it) than it is in real life; but who'd want to play a game where you cast into a blue screen for six hours and caught nothing? (Not that that's ever happened to me. Happens to Al all the time, though.) By filling rivers with hungry and not too picky fish and making the daunting task of learning to handle a fly rod as simple as click and drag, Trophy Rivers strikes exactly the right balance between realism and fun, and is just the thing for avid fishermen waiting out a dreary winter.

One of the things I found most enjoyable about Trophy Rivers was the amount of variety in the game; it's not like you just catch the same fish over and over. Trophy Rivers allows you to fish five different rivers, each with different kinds of fish and a different personality.You can't fish the Big Hole in Montana the same way you'd fish the Miramichi in New Brunswick or the White in Arkansas, and Sierra has done a nice job of giving each river a different "feel"--the graphics are really quite nice and atmospheric. You also get a great deal of variety in each river--you don't just fish a certain hole or hotspot, but float down the rivers in a boat or canoe, checking out riffles or holes as you pass by. Of course, if you want you can land your boat and fish from shore or wade out into the river. And this variety extends to your fishing equipment, too. Playing this game is like having the world's biggest tacklebox. You can choose from different types and sizes of rods and reels--spinning or fly--and if they're not biting on the fly you brought, hey, no problem, you can just rig up one of the other 200 lures available. You can also choose if you want to just take an easygoing fishing trip or stoke your competitive impulses by fishing in timed tournaments.

Gameplay is simplicity itself--after picking a river and finding a spot to fish, you can either use the game's auto-cast mode--which produces perfect casts every time--or use the manual cast mode--trickier, but nowhere near as tricky as the real thing. Reeling the fish in is merely a matter of clicking and dragging. On the game's easy setting, this is all you need to do--the trout feed like sharks, and will eat anything you throw out there. Watch your hands. At the higher settings, however, you'll find the beasts get finickier; you'll have to take into account presentation of the lure and time of year and day and if there's hatch going on and fly size and color and pattern. Playing a fish in gets pretty challenging, too, and it's not uncommon for the big ones to get away. This is where the game will appeal to hardcore fisherfolk--you actually have to put some thought into fishing at the hard level, and it's all the more rewarding when that big brookie finally takes your streamer and you manage to wrestle it in.

If, on the other hand, you're one of those people who doesn't know much about trout and salmon fishing, but would like to, I can't imagine a better place to start. The game includes tips from experts and a multimedia fishing guidebook that dispenses invaluable and really quite interesting information about fishing techniques, the rivers, and the fish. And if you're the social type, you'll be glad to know that Sierra has included stable and simple multiplayer support. Try fishing for free on their new Internet WON network; I did, and had a great time.

Overall, then, Trophy Rivers is an excellent game. While realism buffs may be disappointed, those who are willing to sacrifice a bit of realism for fun should find hours of enjoyment in Trophy Rivers. On easy level, my kids played this game over and over; on hard, it kept me up way later than I should have been. It's pretty, it's fun, it has great multiplayer, and you can actually learn something from it. How many games can you say that about? The perfect gift for that hard-to-buy-for fisherman on your Christmas list (if said fisherman has a computer).

--Rick Fehrenbacher