As someone who’s been playing games for over twenty-five years, I’m growing tired of the open-world formula. But every now and then, a game comes along that piques my interest. Maneater is one of those games. It’s an absolutely unapologetic amalgamation of every modern open-world game with a killer twist – you play as a freaking shark. It’s unique, but is that novelty enough to sustain your attention for an entire game? Almost.
Taking a page out of the classics like Bambi (trust me, it’ll make sense), Maneater opens with you playing as a formidable shark before quickly being slaughtered by a renowned shark hunter known as Scaly Pete. During those moments, Pete removes and disfigures one of the bull shark pups before throwing it back into the ocean. Maneater has you playing as that pup, as they explore the various waters and slowly grow and evolve to get your revenge on the hunter. It’s a simple story and one that’s particularly engaging because of how it’s presented.
With the shark being unable to talk, a lot of the story is told in the same way as you’d expect from a trashy reality show you’d find on the Discovery Channel or A&E. Think Deadliest Catch meets Duck Dynasty – except the characters of Maneater are surprisingly well developed even if you’re not meant to root for them. The whole experience is narrated by Chris Parnell (of Archer and Rick & Morty fame) in a pseudo-Attenborough style to give the entire experience an authentic yet comedic vibe too.
You have to give it to Tripwire; they’ve managed to craft a game entirely revolved around swimming and underwater traversal that manages to control rather intuitively. As the shark, you’ll be able to eat various forms of wildlife, hold them in your mouth and even launch them at your opponents with the flick of your caudal fin. It’s a decidedly absurd adventure – one in which you can almost pogo jump out of water to grab someone you want to eat before dragging them to the bottom of the ocean.
The game itself can easily be compared to games like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed. As the shark, you’re given free roam of the world, and it’s seven distinct zones to complete different missions and tasks. Completing tasks lets you amass proteins, fats, and mutagens to evolve your abilities. But these tasks also attract the attention of local bounty hunters, where most of the action and challenges arise.
Each of the game’s areas is as distinct as the last, and this is perhaps what surprised me most about Maneater. The first area you’ll explore is a backwater bayou, rife with alligators. Another is a more industrial area that’s long been forgotten but filled with pollution. One even is a place situated near a base of a mafia family, complete with bodies on the seabed tied to concrete slabs and left to drown. As you progress through the areas as you evolve, things just continually become more and more open to the point where you’re in the open sea. There’s some great variety in the locations, and its apparent great effort went into thinking about them.
Which is a bit of a shame, then, because the mission variety is sorely lacking in Maneater. Most of the time, you’ll be required to hunt a specific, more powerful creature or consume a group of them before being rewarded experience. It’s a massive disappointment because there’s so much potential here – but what’s on offer instead can get old rather quickly. As a result, I found it difficult to sink into the world of Maneater for lengthy sessions like I would other games that employ this kind of structure. It’s definitely better in shorter bursts.
A little bit like Grand Theft Auto, as the shark begins to build up more and more notoriety, you’ll notice more and more bounty hunters will come after you. Defeating each of these unique hunters will grant you a particular upgrade that you can outfit yourself with at the grotto in each area. It’s an optional hunt, but it’s ridiculously enjoyable to aggressively jump out of the water, rip a hunter off its boat before repeating the process until the whole group is gone. It’s a simplistic system, though one that, while repetitive, never stops being satisfying.
The most exciting part of Maneater is the apex creatures, which serve as a sort of boss battle in each of the areas before you move on to the next. These are usually larger and more aggressive versions of creatures that you’ll encounter on your journey. These battles are great, but it really highlights a massive flaw with the combat system – that it’s a little bit simplistic and that the lock on doesn’t work correctly. Too many times would a creature dash at me and completely disappear for a bit while I awkwardly readjusted the camera.
It sounds ridiculous too, but a parry or block of some sort would help make the combat feel a bit more involved. Yes, it’s a game about sharks, and yes, I kind of want it to be a little bit more like Sekiro or Dark Souls, but even without that request, there’s something very……surface level about the combat of Maneater. Such a simplistic system only contributes to the repetitious nature of the game, which isn’t particularly helpful.
When not rushing to do the various tasks the game, there is a bunch of collectibles to find as well. Comically, most of these take the form of license plates to eat or street signs attached to unique locations in the game world. The reward for doing so is often extra evolutions for your shark. An example early on is bone teeth, which are better suited to damaging boats, whereas others are better for more organic hunts.
At its budget price point, you probably have an idea of what to expect in terms of presentation. On consoles, Maneater doesn’t even attempt to elevate itself beyond the locked 30fps framerate though the visuals are otherwise sound. As previously mentioned, the great variety in the zones you’ll explore off the coast really save what is otherwise a rather ho-hum game visually. From a sound perspective, don’t expect much epic music; instead, some dulcet ambient tones help set the scene but never get the blood rushing.
But for all its imperfections and shortcomings, there’s still something undeniably enjoyable about Maneater. You’ve probably played a game structured like it before, but the novelty of being a shark is too unique to find uninteresting. It’s just so rewarding to literally live out the life of your shark and literally eat your way up the food chain, and that’s really all you can ask for in a game like this.
THE XBOX ONE VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED ON AN XBOX ONE X FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
It's hard to deny that Maneater has colossal potential – though the lack of mission variety and some simplistic combat does lend it to feeling repetitious as time goes on. Putting these flaws aside, however, Maneater deserves kudos for an undeniably unique premise and laying a solid foundation for a franchise that developer Tripwire should almost certainly pursue.