One thing you have to admit about Deep Silver’s Maneater is that, compared to most open-world RPGs, it’s rather unique. The only other game I can think of that is even remotely similar to this one is the considerably older Jaws Unleashed game on the PS2 (which I never even played), so Maneater is certainly a rather standout title in this age of gaming dominated mostly by online shooters, longwinded RPGs, and action titles. The game’s premise alone had me very interested in trying it out. I mean, you’re a shark who can jump out of the water and onto dry land to eat scores of people, fight other sea creatures, grow bigger and stronger as you consume your enemies, and even develop mutations that grant you with “shark superpowers”. That spells “cool” in my book. In the end, while Maneater wouldn’t win any GOTY awards, it did end up being a cool game, if a bit repetitive.
After a brief tutorial mission where you control an adult bull shark and terrorize some beach-goers, infamous shark hunter Scaley Pete does the shark in and pulls its offspring out of its belly. After marking the newborn shark with a nasty scar, Scaley Pete tosses it into the first region of the open world, Fawtick Bayou, at which point you take control of the little shark and begin your journey to track down Scaley Pete and exact vengeance upon him for killing your mother. The majority of your journey will consist of you doing one thing: eating. And it is largely through this one action that you will be able to grow bigger and stronger in order to defeat Scaley Pete, not to mention the other dangerous sea creatures you’ll encounter. The open world of Port Clovis, a Miami-styled coastal city, has plenty of varied regions for the bull shark protagonist to swim through and explore, including the aforementioned bayou, a polluted port, a high-end beach resort, a key area with shopping centers and an aquarium, and so on. There will be grottos (hideouts) in each region for the shark to rest in, and it is here that you can manually save your game, equip the shark with different abilities, and use fast travel. Each region also has its own set of collectibles and landmarks to locate, and certain enemies can only be encountered in certain regions. Alligators, for example, are chiefly in the bayou and the neighboring key area, while other sharks, specifically hammerheads, can only be encountered in the ocean.
With regards to the enemy sea creatures you will face off against and consume, there are several. You’ve got the previously mentioned gators and several species of sharks, as well as barracudas, swordfish, marlins (that’s right, you fight both swordfish and marlins), and even whales. There are other non-hostile sea creatures to nibble on too, namely sea turtles, groupers, seals, and many other fish species, and each source of food offers a different type of nutrient for the bull shark to ingest (we’ll get back to nutrients later). After completing enough missions in a particular region, its apex predator will appear; these are larger and more aggressive versions of the sea creatures that inhabit said regions, and defeating them grants you with a newer perk or ability. Same goes for taking down enough bounty hunter leaders. Attacking humans attracts the attention of bounty hunters who will show up on boats and start shooting you with all manner of guns and eventually bombs, and as you kill more of them, a threat meter fills up. When it gets high enough, a bounty hunter leader will appear to join the hunt, and killing them grants you with additional perks and abilities.
The previously mentioned nutrients you gain from eating sea creatures and humans allow you to upgrade the perks and abilities the bull shark gains from defeating bounty hunters and apex predators, as well as finding all the landmark collectibles in each region, and these abilities include developing bone armor for increased defense, bio-electric body parts to shock and stun enemies, shadow parts to poison enemies, increased swimming speed, increasing the amount of time you can flop around on land, and more. If you make it a point to do everything in this game, you’ll end up with basically a “Swiss army shark” that has access to a surprisingly large number of abilities to equip itself with, and you can mix and match them, like using bone fins with shadow teeth along with a bio-electric tail, or you can just go full bone armor, bio-electric, or shadow, it’s up to you. And I’m sure there will be a certain collection of hardcore gamers who will not use any evolved body parts and will play through the whole game as a completely “natural” bull shark for the extra challenge.
So, from the sounds of things so far, Maneater has got to be just about the most fun game ever, right? Well, not entirely. It is satisfying gobbling up lots of hostile humans and destroying their boats en masse, not to mention taking down larger sea creatures, but despite the number of abilities at your disposal, I found the combat to be largely shallow and repetitive. When fighting other sea creatures that are close to your size or outright bigger than you, you’re basically doing only two things: dodging their attacks and biting them when they’re open. Pretty much every fight against sea creatures, including the apex predators, involved me just circling around my enemy and then attacking them after I dodge their attacks, and occasionally I’d attack them first a couple of times and then break off before they automatically counter me with their own attacks. And yes, you can grab smaller enemies (or the occasional bomb) and use your tail to fling them at other enemies, but except for a couple of specific encounters and boss battles, this move is not all that necessary. Though I will admit it was rather amusing to grab a shark or marlin and fling them out of the water and into a nearby building.
As for the bounty hunter leaders, dealing with them in the beginning isn’t all that challenging. They don’t do extra damage to the shark or anything special at all, in fact, they can be killed just as easily as any regular human if you manage to jump on or over their boats and attack them directly. As you go further through the list of bounty hunter leaders, they will be harder to get to since they’ll be in larger, reinforced boats and will employ deadlier weapons and gadgets to deal with you, but I really didn’t have much trouble with these guys until I reached the last two on the list. One thing that I would have liked to see in this game, although it probably would have been too taxing of a feature to include, is for different enemy types to fight against each other when they get close enough. As it is though, if you find yourself surrounded by other sharks, whales, and bounty hunters, they’ll all ignore each other and focus directly on killing you and only you. Certainly a missed opportunity for some truly fun and chaotic melees by not having enemies react directly to each other.
Maneater’s gameplay in general is rather repetitive. As I said earlier in this review, the main thing you’re doing in this game is eating, and that is the case whether you’re just free-roaming or playing an actual mission. It’s the same gameplay loop from beginning to end. Maneater is also on the easy side. I died a few times early on in the game before I got used to the controls and learned how to properly fight other sea creatures, but after reaching the second region, I didn’t die once throughout the rest of the game (though I admittedly came close a few times). Now, a big reason for that is because I made it a point to do as many missions and find as many collectibles in a region as I could before moving on to the next one (certain areas within each region can only be accessed after you’ve grown large enough to break through the grates that block access to them), so by the time I reached a new region and fought the enemies and bosses there, I was either above the levels of most enemies or at least close to their levels, meaning I was capable of beating the crap out of most of them without much difficulty. This game can be considerably more challenging depending on your playstyle, namely if you’re not afraid to go from one new region to the next without spending much time on leveling yourself up, completing all missions, or finding all collectibles; doing this will make it so that you’ll most certainly encounter enemies that are far bigger and stronger than you and that will be capable of nearly one-shotting you.
It should also be mentioned that while this game runs fine most of the time, the frame-rate can noticeably chug in certain areas (like the keys or the open ocean) when there are lots of things going on at once, like a bunch of boats full of people moving around the area along with other sea creatures swimming around you. Also, a few times I encountered enemies who would phase into walls as I was fighting them, making it impossible for me to finish them off for daring to challenge me. Graphically speaking, the game looks good enough, though don’t expect any photorealism here. But let’s face it, were you really expecting such a thing from a game that features a superpowered shark that can destroy small armies of bounty hunters? The humans look kind of cartoony but are certainly passable, though the sea creatures look pretty detailed and are well designed. The playable shark in particular is a real looker, whether it’s imbued with its bone, bio-electrical, or shadow parts or if it’s going for the “au naturel” look. The way the shark glides through the water, jumps into the air, and even flops around on the ground is all animated very well. The varied regions of Port Clovis all look rather nice, from the murky waters and wet grasses of the bayou to the coral reefs of the gulf area, all with the main city of Port Clovis displayed in the background, which looks particularly nice and colorful when lit up during the night.
I want to quickly mention how I appreciate the way the enemies are properly leveled in this game. Barracudas are typically at level 5, while gators are normally level 8, and then hammerheads are level 13, and great white sharks will naturally be even stronger at level 15, etc. Those are enemy levels that make sense, unlike in other RPGs where you’ll fight some enemies, like bandits or goblins, that will be rather low-leveled, only for you to later encounter other bandits/goblins that will greatly outlevel not only their weaker brethren but also other enemies that should be a lot stronger, like bears or trolls or whatever. I guess this is sort of a more personal issue that I have with other games that probably doesn’t bother most other gamers who don’t get hung up on these kinds of inconsistencies, but it most certainly annoys me, so props to Maneater for making enemy levels make sense, at least. Lastly, the game’s story is, as expected, not a huge factor since, well…you’re playing as a shark. What little story there is in Maneater is shown through the point of view of a reality tv show camera crew following Scaley Pete’s shark hunting exploits, and while we do get some decent characterization for Pete and his son, Kyle, it’s rather limited. The game still provides plenty of chuckle-worthy humor through its collectibles that reference movies and shows, like SpongeBob SquarePants, Pacific Rim, and It. Much of the shark’s interactions with collectibles and enemies, as well as deaths and mission descriptions, are narrated to great effect by voice actor Chris Parnell (Cyril Figgis from Archer and that talking box from the Progressive commercials).
Despite the game’s issues, I was still invested enough to do everything in every region and get full 100% game completion (and yet I still didn’t get the platinum trophy due to a glitch that is affecting many gamers, so hopefully the developers will fix this issue soon). I personally enjoyed Maneater for its rather unique premise that tries something new, and even though the repetitive gameplay loop holds it back, it’s still a fun game to sink your teeth into for a week. For its asking price of $40 (or however many pounds that may be across the pond where most of my fellow Gaming Respawn associates reside), Maneater might be worth checking out if you’re an especially big fan of sharks and all things underwater or even open-world RPGs, but most would probably prefer to wait for a sale or rent it for a few days since the game’s replayability may not be very high for them.
Developer: Tripwire Interactive, Blindside Interactive
Publisher: Tripwire Interactive, Deep Silver
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 22nd May 2020
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Maneater was supplied by the publisher.