Players have faced off against all sorts of sharks in the world of video games, but rarely do we get to play as them. It’s a shame too, because be honest: who wouldn’t want to play as a vicious shark and eat people?! Sure, we had Jaws Unleashed back in 2006, but the less said about that the better…
Naturally then, when Tripwire Interactive announced Maneater – the self-declared shARkPG that sees you partaking in an adventure in the role of a shark – I couldn’t wait to try it out, especially since the early gameplay footage looked like it’d be a hell of a lot of fun to play. I’m glad to report that Maneater really is an enjoyable and zany game too, though it is guilty of starting off a little slow and growing to be a little repetitive in places.
Whilst the shark is the protagonist of the game, Maneater’s narrative instead focuses on a reality TV star shark hunter who goes by the name of Scaly Pete. After killing the protagonist shark’s mother during one of his escapades, you look to get revenge and take Pete down – all whilst Chris Parnell’s soothing yet excitable tones narrate the whole ordeal in a mockumentary fashion.
It might sound like a peculiar setup for the game’s narrative, but it works really well. It’s easy to invest yourself in the TV show-like setup of the tale and the small cinematic sequences that progress the story are all fun in design. There’s actually a fair bit to Maneater’s narrative outside of the whole ‘man versus shark’ dynamic too, with plenty of little twists-and-turns keeping you engrossed in the silly tale until the end.
Maneater’s gameplay takes place in an open (and watery) world, with the player able to explore the depths of the seas as they complete the assortment of missions that are set upon them. There are plenty of secrets to uncover, side missions to complete, shark bounty hunters to take down, unique sights to see, and, of course, meaty dishes to feast on throughout the waters too, so you can certainly expect to be kept busy during your shark-fuelled adventure.
A lot of time will be spent in combat with the other nasties lurking throughout the water, with creatures such as alligators trying to take a chunk out of one of your fins. Fortunately, you’re a shark, and we all know they’re the most vicious of the marine-based creatures, right? Well, whilst you’re certainly an effective killer in Maneater, the controls can be a little bit finicky. There’s a real need for precision in your actions, especially since you’re battling in water – however, the lock-on function can be a bit hit-and-miss, meaning you’ll be left swimming in circles at times as you try to land attacks. It can be a little bit frustrating, especially when you’re initially learning the ropes of the game, though it does get easier as you progress.
There isn’t a whole lot of depth to your standard attacks at first either, with players limited to simply biting at enemies or swiping them with their tail. Defensively, you do have a neat little dodge manoeuvre that can get you out of the way of incoming attacks, with the timing of this important if you want to survive some of your enemies’ more brutal strikes. There’s just a bit too much of a steep difficulty curve in the early hours of Maneater though,and it could hold the combat back a bit – I actually found myself fleeing quite a few encounters just to save myself from yet another death. Luckily, whilst combat can get off to a slow and clunky start, it does improve as you start to enhance your shark’s capabilities and mutate into a stronger form.
Yep, you read that correctly: your shark will mutate as you progress through Maneater, giving it a terrifying new look that wouldn’t feel out of place in some silly B-Movie on SyFy. These mutations really compliment the game though and certainly embrace the underlying zany vibe – then again, what else would you expect when you’re able to unlock abilities such as electrified teeth, a bone armour to help you smash through objects, or even a shadowy tail whip that launches poison at your foes? The abilities you unlock bring with them some truly horrifying visual changes for your shark, whilst the fact that you grow more and more as you munch through other marine-life means you’ll look like a real monster by the time you reach the back end of the game… it’s pretty awesome.
As you get more of these upgrades and improve other stats, Maneater’s combat just becomes a hell of a lot more fun. Whilst you’re a little weak in the early hours, you’ll soon be smashing through nearby boats, mauling other sharks with your bladed fins, and causing absolute hell for the human shark-food as you bounce your way on solid ground and chomp your way through them. Believe me, it’s as bloody satisfying as it sounds and it makes for some gruesomely engrossing moments in-game.
Maneater certainly captures the art of being a shark effectively and it makes for a very fun gameplay experience. However, the quests you have to complete as you progress could feel a little stale over time, with very little variety on offer. Sure, there’ll be the occasional quest that throws in some epic set-pieces, but the majority just task you with visiting a certain location and simply killing some enemies or eating some fish. The fact that the world is so creative in design and full of cleverly implemented sights does make them feel a little more interesting, but I couldn’t help but to find that the mission design could get a bit too repetitive the more I played. Thankfully, the reasonable runtime of around ten hours means that Maneater doesn’t outstay its welcome, but it still could’ve done with a little bit more variety here and there.
Maneater takes a while to get going, but it eventually feels super satisfying to munch your way through your foes thanks to the chaotic and brutal abilities at your disposal. Who wouldn’t want to be a shark with an electrifying bite, right? With a creatively fun world to swim through and some pretty epic shark-fuelled set pieces, it has never been more fun to be a shark in a video game. Eat that, Jaws Unleashed…
It’s just a shame that the controls can feel a little clunky in places, whilst the missions you partake in lack a bit of variety too. Thankfully, neither are issues that completely ruin the experience by any means, but they do see Maneater feel more like just a good game as opposed to a brilliant one.
Still, if you’re looking to fill a shark-shaped hole in your video game library, you’ll really want to give Maneater a try.
Developer: Tripwire Interactive
Publisher: Tripwire Interactive, Deep Silver
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC