Maneater channels the same “sharks vs humans” energy as the Shark Party skit from The Jeselnik Offensive, showcasing what happens when the sharks turn the tables on mankind. As a bull shark, you must eat your way to the top of the food chain, become a genetically altered killing machine and ultimately take revenge on the fisherman that murdered your mother. It’s daft and janky, but quite enjoyable all the same.
After an intense prologue filled with murder and mayhem, you’re dropped into the middle of the bayou, tasked with growing and evolving by devouring the local wildlife. At first, you’ll have to feed on the more passive wildlife, as predators have no problems bullying you, taking your lunch money and leaving you to die in a moment’s notice. The first two hours are slower, teasing you before letting the slaughter begin wholesale.
Once you’ve grown in size after consuming what feels like entire ecosystems, you’re free to go on the attack a lot more. After fleeing from alligators in the first area, returning as a bigger shark and ragging them everywhere is pretty satisfying. Still, there’s always a bigger fish, and even once you’ve hit your max level, you’ll still find predators that’ll give you a run for your money.
You’ll also have to be on the lookout for pesky humans who don’t exactly take too kindly to you murdering innocent beach-goers or not quite so innocent shark hunters. As you massacre the local human population, your Infamy Rank will increase, leading to more powerful hunters coming to claim you as a trophy.
Aside from swimming, you’ll mainly be mashing the right trigger to bite, which is how you consume animals and humans, obviously. Left trigger is for lunges, allowing you to move faster, while the left and right bumpers are for tail whips and evades respectively. Evading is especially useful, as bigger predators can tail whip you into the middle of next week.
Controlling your shark feels pretty good, though the combat can become a little bit hectic. In the early going, you’ll likely wish that the focus attention button, which is mapped to clicking the right stick, actually locked on to enemies instead of moving the camera temporarily, but after some early teething problems, you should be able to keep up with any prey.
Thankfully, considering this is a video game after all, Maneater seems to take more cues from B-movies like Megashark vs Giant Octopus, Sharknado and The Meg than films like Jaws. The whole game is presented like a crappy reality TV show following fishermen as they try and deal with sharks, like some kind of Shark Week documentary.
Instead of being a straight-laced shark simulator, players can unlock various evolutions that allow you to hit harder, add various status effects to your prey and so much more. You can upgrade these evolutions with the nutrients gained from chowing down on the local populace, meaning it pays to be the top of the food chain. While you can play around with your abilities to create a loadout built for you, it’s also worth upgrading these evolutions to see how monstrous your shark can become.
For the first few hours, you’ll have plenty of fun with Maneater, exploring a vibrant underwater world filled with wildlife and remnants of civilisation from the not-too-distant past, along with a few pop culture easter eggs to boot. Your first skirmishes against the humans, the evolutions that make you more powerful and the narration from Chris Parnell all make Maneater an entertaining game to play. It’s rough around the edges, sure, with creatures failing to spawn, sub-par human graphics and rudimentary combat abilities, but it’s a good laugh regardless.
Unfortunately, it’s not a game that’s built to last. Maneater is incredibly formulaic, with each chapter following the same basic steps of “move to new area, find grotto, complete all the missions (murder everything), raise your Infamy Rank, watch cutscene, repeat”. Occasionally, the game will make a big deal out of fighting Scaly Pete, the fisherman who killed your mother, but those moments are the only real changes to the formula.
Maneater isn’t a long game, as you can achieve a 100% completion in around 15 hours. The repetitive nature isn’t necessarily a bad thing because the game doesn’t outstay its welcome too much, but it would have been nice to see more variety in terms of what you can do and how the combat develops as you progress through the game.
Aside from collectibles, all the objectives in the game revolve around going somewhere and killing something. While I’m not suggesting that Maneater should have introduced GTA style missions where you’re tailing boats from a safe distance, delivering drugs or sneaking into military bases, some basic objective types like races could have broken up the gameplay nicely.
As for the combat, very little changes until the final moments of the campaign. Fights against other predators involve dodging one of two attacks; a biting lunge or a tailwhip, the same two moves you have. From barracuda to orca, it’s the same moveset every time, meaning that there’s nothing really unique about the wildlife you fight. Even the so-called Apex Predators, which appear after completing certain missions, fall into the same patterns as regular wildlife. Their interesting visual designs are undercut by unimaginative attacks.
That lack of identity extends to the human fights, too. Players can either take out all the humans on a boat, or just damage the boat itself, forcing all the humans into the water, and this is true for boss fights too. Aside from two or three fights at the end of the game, where the humans actually introduce proper defense measures for their boats, there’s no real strategy needed to take them down. Whether it’s Scaly Pete or a named Infamy Rank hunter, you can just bite until the health bar depletes.
Maneater is a game that, for the most part, lives up to its potential, offering something a bit different than other games. While it could be regarded as something of a one-trick pony, it’s still a very good trick that you’ll enjoy while it lasts.
A copy of Maneater was provided by PR for the porpoises-uh, I mean, purposes of this review.
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Maneater isn’t a game that’ll set the world of fire, but it’s a genuinely enjoyable underwater romp that’s worth checking out.
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