God Lives Underwater
One part Jaws, one part Grand Theft Auto, Maneater is a sandbox RPG that puts players in control of a baby shark (doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo) with an appetite for revenge. After a shark hunter guts your mom and gifts you with a nasty gash across your body, you manage to escape, but not before chewing off his hand at the wrist and devouring it like a heaping helping of hush puppies. What follows is an over-the-top feeding frenzy that takes you from the heart of the bayou to the deep blue sea to feast on man, muskelunge, and mutagen alike to become the ocean’s apex predator and exact your toothy revenge.
Eat Them Before They Eat You
Developer Tripwire Interactive describes Maneater as a role-playing game, and in the loosest sense, I suppose it is. More than anything, the game reminds me of Almanic Corporation’s obscure Super NES adventure E.V.O.: Search for Eden. Like E.V.O., the main gameplay beat in Maneater consists of harvesting enough genetic material to level up your shark so you can evolve into more powerful forms to help advance through each area. You can gather genetic material in several ways, such as eating humans and fish, completing quests, and collecting hidden caches of mutagen littered around each of the game’s eight regions.
At the start of the game, you’ll be nothing but a scrappy pup that can barely manage to munch on a humble cod or grouper. However, as you level up, you’ll become larger and more powerful. This increase in strength will allow you to do things like crash through steel grates that lead to new areas and even bring down massive sperm whales and entire armadas of bounty hunters who’ll pursue you when you’ve caused enough trouble for the locals.
As you gain notoriety, more dangerous shark hunters will come after you using a variety of tools like dynamite, scuba divers, and even electrical traps in an attempt to reduce you to shark steak. Killing each of the game’s ten hunters will reward you with upgrades to your body. These enhancements include bio-electric teeth, a tail that can unleash electric pulses, and even bone armor and teeth that you can use to ram and chew through the hulls of the most well-armored ships.
Just Another Day At The Beach
Despite the variety of upgrades that are available in Maneater, the game’s combat is pretty limited. As you’d expect, the main form of attack is your shark’s lethal bite. Additionally, you can use your mighty tail whip to send your enemies flying and stun them for a short time, as well as perform an evade which effectively turns your shark into a living buzzsaw once you unlock the bone fins upgrade.
While it’s undoubtedly fun to leap out of the water and tailwhip some poor beach bum into an enemy boat before gobbling their limbless torso up to refill your health, more often than not, you’ll be able to gnash and bash your way through almost any encounter. And with only a handful of moves at your disposal, it doesn’t take long for Maneater’s combat to start to feel pretty repetitive. Of course, this problem probably has more to do with the game’s theme than anything else. Beyond electrified teeth and a tail that acts like a taser, it’s hard to imagine what else Tripwire could have done to spice the game’s combat up without making things too weird.
Thankfully, some pretty over-the-top quests always managed to pop up to pull me back in before boredom could set in. My favorite of the bunch required me to leap out of a marina and hop across an entire golf course to devour a dozen members of a shady shark finning operation. Watching scores of golfers attempt to flee in terror as my nine-meter bull shark bounced and thrashed across the green on a killing spree before slinking back into the azure waters was one of the most insane things I’ve ever witnessed in my more than 35 years playing video games.
I just wish there were more moments like this found throughout the game’s 8-chapter story because Maneater is, without question, a game that is best when it’s at its most absurd.
You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat
While I mostly enjoyed my time spent running amok through the waters of Port Clovis in Maneater, the game isn’t without its share of technical issues. For starters, there’s the lack of a lock-on feature, which can make the game’s combat feel very clumsy. I often found myself wrestling with the camera more than the various alligators and hammerhead sharks I encountered as I fumbled to find my bearings while battling the game’s most dangerous predators.
Maneater also suffers from some performance problems. When playing the game on my PlayStation 4 Pro, it didn’t matter whether I was leisurely knifing through the calm waters of the gulf or attempting to bring down a massive sperm whale, the game’s framerate would frequently plunge like the Titanic into the icy waters of the North Atlantic. As you’d expect, this only gets worse when you have to battle a half dozen boats packed to the brim with shark hunters.
While these quirks are annoying, they never bothered me enough to make me want to give up my quest for revenge. That’s because I was having so much fun scouring the sea for hidden landmarks and evolving my budding bull shark into the kind of nightmare creature you’d expect to find in a kaiju flick.
Terror From The Deep
With its unique premise and a great sense of humor, Maneater’s 12-hour campaign is a fun feeding frenzy while it lasts. However, the game’s occasionally repetitive quests, coupled with its spotty performance, make it feel more like a quick and dirty trip to Long John Silver’s than a bountiful seafood feast for starving RPG fans. Still, if these issues aren’t enough to keep you from wanting to take the plunge, then you might just enjoy sinking your teeth into Maneater.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (reviewed) XBox One, PC, Nintendo Switch; Publisher: Tripwire Interactive; Developer: Tripwire Interactive, Blindside Interactive; Players: 1; Released: May 22, 2020; MSRP: $39.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy.