My time with Maneater, my shark, sporting glowing blue fins and whiskers to help it channel the bio-electricity in the water around it, it jumped out of a channel and onto the paved elevation filled with drunken partygoers. As the people who enjoyed the shoreline of Port Clovis screamed, my shark flopped after them, deterred by lack of limbs nor lack of oxygen while chasing and partying after-party wailing enough to think they could enjoy a gathering like this close to Dead Horse Lake. This is our Maneater Review.
Maneater Review: About
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows
- Developer: Tripwire Interactive, Blindside Interactive
- Publisher: Tripwire Interactive, Deep Silver
- Genres: Action role-playing game
- Release Date: May 22, 2020
Maneater Review: Official Trailer Video
Maneater Review: Gameplay
While I got bloody revenge against the residents of Port Clovis for their abuse of the marine ecosystem, actor Chris Parnell’s commentary voice filled in some interesting details about the horse monument that contaminated my prehistoric killing machine. A year, he explained, a Port Clovis-born horse placed 20th in the Kentucky Derby created a new holiday as locals, known for their drunkenness and petty crimes, were eager to celebrate.
What follows is vicious havoc from several biomes, thanks to the shark’s apparent mutated ability to survive in both fresh and saltwater, while pursuing the unique goal of growing up and eating Pete. The entire experience is told by Parnell as if it were a cheap Discovery Channel wildlife documentary that follows the shark and its feud with the reprehensibly eco-unfriendly Piet. Parnell’s narrator combines facts about sharks – or what at least sounds like facts – with many jokes at the expense of the drunken and disorderly Port Clovisians, wealthy coastal owners, human tendency to exploit the ocean and its vast biodiversity, and especially boring fish.
The comedy is a big part of what Maneater does work because otherwise, a shark’s life would probably be annoying, as you’ll mainly be spending your time on food. You start as a little bull shark pup and gobble up everything you can. Eating animals provides you with nutrients that you can use to improve your shark and upgrade the mutations you earn as you complete missions, making you more significant and more ferocious.
You swim around and eat everything in your path, but predators eager to eat from you also patrol the waterways. Enemies such as alligators and Mako sharks shoot at you and chew down, so you should use a quick dodge ability to try to stay out of the way and get a few bites when their guard is down or hitting them with your tail to numb them. You restore your health when you consume another being, so victory is usually about defeating strategic retreats and eating strategic treats to regain strength.
Combat can be a fraught affair when confronted with dangerous animals because you and your enemies shoot like rockets and often pass each other. Pressing one of the control sticks on the console will zip the camera back to the threat, but for some reason, Maneater lacks a real locking system, making it easy to spot the creature you’re trying to take out to lose or escape.
Especially in shallower areas, the battle gets messy as you lose sight of enemies, the camera gets stuck against nearby landmasses, or you accidentally strand yourself or go to the surface of the water, locking you in an overhead view until you hit a specific button to dive down again. Fighting predators is tedious until you start to unlock cool mutations, which give you more stats and perks, such as stunning fish as you pass or return health when you bite larger prey.
Once you’re a little bit bigger and a little bit more mutated, things get fun, if somewhat repetitive, routine as you climb the food chain. Each region contains quests that are basically all ‘Eat 10 X Fish’, ‘Eat 10 People at X Place’ and ‘Eat X Big Predator’ no matter where you are. But running after the people has its costs – eat enough people, and a meter at the top of the screen that keeps track of how big a threat you pose to Port Clovis will increase, causing the city to send shark hunters after you.
Mixed with those quests are hunt for collectibles. Scattered across each region are crates of mutagenic plants you can find and consume, and floating license plates that you often have to jump high out of the water to collect. Some signposts mark local landmarks both inside and outside the water, which the game uses as an opportunity for jokes and pop culture references, such as the sunken wreckage of a knockout of Arrested Development’s Bluth banana standard.
So while doing the same things in every location, there’s just enough variety of activities that you won’t get bored of, especially as you level up and get bigger and more powerful. Completing objectives yields you specific mutations for each shark body part that can be mixed and adapted to your playing style, adding a bit of a tactical RPG component to your constant consumption. The three main sets of mutations focus on speed, enemy debuffs, and higher defense, and choosing the right mutations for a situation gives you an edge.
The mutations, unfortunately, don’t change the gameplay too much for most of the game. Still, once you start maximizing upgrades, they help create the experience that is the beating, delightful heart of Maneater: yours a huge, ridiculous, almost unstoppable killing machine. You still face challenging enemies like boats and predators, but you can usually choose when you want those dangerous encounters, leaving a lot more time for undisturbed chaos.
That chaos would work much better if not for the camera issues, the loose, panicky nature of the fight, and some minor technical problems we faced while playing on PS4. Particularly in individual biomes, the frame rate often plunged, which was especially frustrating when trying to survive an attack by hunters or a set of hammerhead sharks. I also experienced a rare bug that made me lose my save file, and two collected collectibles did not work when I collected them, preventing 100% completion and excluding me from any of the mutations.
Aside from the issues, Maneater shark chaos opportunities can be a lot of fun. The best parts of the game are similar to running around in a Grand Theft Auto game with a rocket launcher, randomly destroying everything you see as the police zoom in from all directions in a vain attempt to stop you. But instead of a guy running around with an arsenal of weapons, you’re a monster shark that launches into the air 30 feet, rolls right through a boat, and picks up a screaming dork for good measure.
With the sharply written, hilariously delivered narrative and beats of the story to freshen up the experience as you progress, Maneater becomes a crazy, fish-popping romp, with the right balance of limbs to break, boats to wreck and challenging creatures to bring back bite-sized chunks. Maneater is not a perfect shark simulator, but it is a fun and funny one whose positive adjustments outweigh the drawbacks. That’s it for our Maneater Review.