Coming from Tripwire Interactive and being released to retail outlets by Deep Silver, Maneater is out now for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One with a release for the Nintendo Switch scheduled for later in 2020. Here’s our review.
If there was a prize called the “I wonder how this will turn out…”-award then we probably would have given it to Tripwire’s Maneater. You’re essentially a killer shark like the ones we see in movies like Jaws, The Meg, 47 Meters Down and a whole range of other titles. Out of all the predatory animals out there, none is more iconic a hunter than the shark – but this approach had rarely been taken in a videogame and Jaws Unleashed didn’t do Maneater a great service either.
Unfolding like an action RPG, your goal in Maneater is to take control of a giant shark with the aim of growing and evolving into the most ferocious man-eating animal to roam the waters. You start out relatively small and this means you’re not just limited to the open seas and coastal waters – you can also venture inland and terrorize people in various swamps and rivers, your ultimate goal being to take down the shark hunter that killed your mother.
Evolving also means that more of the open world map in the game opens up to you, and you do so by meeting objectives – many of which of course relate to killing animals and (later on) humans. Short tutorials introduce you to the core mechanics and controls, and although you evolve with new abilities the basics remain the same throughout the 12 hour campaign that the game offers.
You’re not safe from other animals in the water either (and your enemies get bigger over time, like you do), but the biggest antagonist are the humans who work as shark hunters. The environment becomes ever more hostile as you kill more humans as well, prompting more of them to come look for you. The most experienced hunters come out once you take out a few of the early opportunists, prompting some of the game’s boss fights and thus giving players a relatively traditional gameplay loop despite the novel approach.
In a slightly less realistic touch, upgrading your shark can bring some unnatural perks, as you for example turn your skin into almost impenetrable armor that allows you to use your body to ram boats and enemies at the cost of a little bit of agility. You can also equip electric shocks, giving Maneater the feel of cooking up shark species in a lab, Jurassic World style. Upgrading requires access to the right resources, which means you’ll need to seek out certain species that contain them. Evolve enough and get past other apex predators that include alligators and killer whales, and you’ll soon become the top dog…. uhhh, hunter in the water.
Even more liberties are taken when it comes to your pursuit of human victims. Although my favorite kills were when I’d jump over a boat or pier and snatch one in mid-air, you can even go ashore and briefly bounce around there as you try to grab unsuspecting humans. At these times, Maneater is more like the silly nature of Sharknado than Jaws – but luckily this is a game that embraces its many possible movie references rather than try to follow the plot of a single one of them. In a sea of shark-related narratives, it gives Maneater an identity of its own – aided by voice-over work that showcases that not everything should be taken seriously. This holds true for the game’s visuals as well, with over the top gore on kills and fun little touches in the animation and details – often with humorous references to (shark) movie tropes.
My biggest question marks surrounding Maneater related to its core concept of being a huge shark trying to eat people. The many movies based on the premise show us that it’s interesting, but how long would it stay that way in a videogame context? Luckily, the recognizable action RPG loop of growing stronger, facing off against an enemy and then exploring a new area with new challenges to overcome makes sure that the central idea doesn’t wear itself too thin too quickly. My playthrough clocked in at over ten hours and I wasn’t bored for a moment during that time. I don’t think it’s a game I’ll quickly go back to because it’s not groundbreaking beyond the central premise and fun approach to it, but there’s a lot of fun to be had as a predator of the seas and that’s something that Jaws Unleashed never gave me.