‘Maneater’ review: an original concept that bites off more than it can chew

‘Jaws’ but an open world action RPG is a mischievous idea that’s ultimately short-lived

Games often provide a power fantasy for humans to dominate the natural world, whether it’s farming every available resource or hunting any living creature in sight. Maneater however puts its ecological foot down and decides it’s time for nature to take its revenge.

Putting you in control of a female bull shark, your diet of the local small fry quickly switches to humans as you’re set loose on the fictional town of Port Clovis located on the Gulf Coast. But just as you’re enjoying feasting on swimmers and smashing up hunting boats, you’re swiftly captured and killed by shark hunter Scaley Pete – imagine Robert Shaw if he had come from French Louisiana. Control then switches to the baby shark that had been inside the mother, which Pete also sadistically leaves a scar on, all which set the wheels in motion for a story of vengeance.

But first you have to learn to survive. The abilities you had a taste of in the tutorial aren’t immediately available to a pup who still needs to grow and evolve. Essentially unfolding like an action RPG, you need to level up until you’re tough enough to face much tougher predators, which you can do by feeding on smaller prey. You also absorb different nutrients depending on what you eat, so when you level up, these trigger mutations that can then be upgraded with the relevant nutrients.

Although they’re termed “evolutions”, it’s better to think of them as equippable pieces of armour you can swap in and out, even if as far as RPGs go, they’re not incredibly deep. There’s some that will simply boost your health, power or defence but the more interesting ones share attributes with other species, such as a dolphin-like sonar for scanning surroundings or becoming more amphibious, allowing you to survive on land for longer.

Being a shark single-mindedly surviving, eating and evolving however doesn’t make for much of a story, even if the prologue should motivate you to sink your teeth into Scaley Pete. As such, why you’re journeying around the different regions of Port Clovis and the progression milestones required of you can often feel very arbitrary. It’s disappointing that a concept as outrageous as playing as a mutating super shark is no different than most open world games, quickly devolving into checklists and “collectathons” – or “snackathons”.

Fortunately, much of the narrative’s heavy-lifting is done by the humans, seeing as Maneater is framed as a local cable reality show, complete with themed hashtags on the bottom right corner of the screen. As you progress, you’ll get to check up on Pete as his Ahab-like shark obsession grows, and tensions rise between him and his young adult son because they clearly don’t see eye-to-eye. Even more for our benefit is the inclusion of a cheesy narrator voiced by TV actor Chris Parnell (30 Rock, Rick and Morty) who is as informative about the aquatic fauna as he is armed with barbed commentary on life in Port Clovis.

maneater stone shark
Credit: Tripwire Interactive

When Maneater does what it says on the tin, it’s at its goriest and silliest best. Not content with snatching swimmers in your jaws or charging at a boat deck filled with screaming passengers? Even those on dry land aren’t safe as you can simply launch yourself onto a sandy beach, a busy pier, or a camp site that’s a less-than-subtle dig at the Fyre Festival.

Naturally, raising carnage also sends hunters out on alert, similar to the Wanted Level system in Grand Theft Auto. Even if they lose your trail, your infamy continues building, eventually attracting special bounty hunters. Their methods escalate from laser-sighted rifles to dropping dynamite in the water but it’s nothing your shark can’t handle. Armed with a slew of abilities, you can get creative with your own extermination efforts. One of my favourite abilities is being able to take a prey into the shark’s jaws and then fling it as a projectile in slow motion.

And if you’re wondering about the guilt factor in hunting all those people, Maneater quickly nips that in the bud. The residents of Port Clovis are largely depicted as unpleasant characters, so chomping down on them feels especially satisfying. Furthermore, given the man-made pollution you’ll notice, from piles of garbage on the ocean surface to the nuclear power plants looming in the background, you are probably doing the ecosystem a favour.

Maneater gator
Credit: Tripwire Interactive

Another major part of Maneater are the apex predator battles. As you eat your way up the food chain, disrupting the food supplies of apex predators, you’ll come across various boss battles. From alligators in the bayou to orcas out on the Gulf, you’ll have to duke it out with beasts to show them who’s boss. While appealing in concept, the execution is lacklustre and repetitive. Even though the bosses may prove to be a challenge – they’re usually many levels above you – the combat sequence is one that is uninspired, and could certainly use a shot in the arm.

It mostly boils down to evading an attack then ramming your foe or mashing buttons to chomp on them. If you’re lucky you might be able to thrash them about in your jaws but even this feels unwieldy in execution. Frankly, the whole combat system feels a bit unwieldy, from the camera to targeting, and even the evolutions.

Despite being an insanely novel concept, Maneater quickly runs out of steam. Perhaps it’s to its benefit then that the campaign can be beaten in about 10 hours – considerably short for an RPG – because there just isn’t enough variation or depth that would make me want to play for any longer.

Maneater is available now on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. It will be available on Nintendo Switch later this year.

Our Verdict

Maneater is a fiendishly original concept that just about lives up to expectations when it’s focused on chomping humans. However, its formulaic open-world design and repetitive mechanics don’t sustain for a deeply satisfying experience. You’ll still enjoy having your fill but it won’t be long before you depart for new waters.

Pros

  • Great varied and gory visuals
  • Attacking and eating humans is a devilish good time
  • Entertaining narration
  • A few absurdly fun abilities

Cons

  • Missions quickly get repetitive
  • Arbitrary progression system
  • Underwhelming underwater combat
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