Charlie loves her video games as much as she loves dumb, charming JRPG protagonists: probably way too much. You can often catch her spending too much time being emotional over LGBT stories in games. She also thinks Yakuza 6 is the best one.
Xbox One, PS4, PC, Switch
May 22, 2020
Let me be clear: Maneater is a game I wouldn’t normally be keen on. Saturation (for better or worse) of games that simulate you playing as x animal or x concept for comedic effect is well established. Be it the great (Untitled Goose Game) or not so great (Surgeon Simulator), it’s hard to ascertain which in this bizarre, almost spin-off, genre are worth visiting.
I got the chance to play Maneater at a preview event some months ago. I was excited by its promise. How couldn’t you be with the words “Shark RPG” as part of its marketing? I’m pleased to say, that if you enter with an open mind, Maneater will please you.
Simple in premise, Maneater serves as no more than a sandbox of fun, but there’s story here as well, for sure. You were harshly torn from your hunted mother’s womb. Thankfully, as a little shark pup, you manage to escape. Though with this brave new world you now get the honour of exploring, comes a grudge. You’re desperate to get revenge on large, loud and hick hunter Scaly Pete. “Soon,” you’ll tell yourself. “Soon”. First, we have some work to do.
Maneater is largely two main things. A sandbox, as already mentioned, but also a gamified checklist. Missions and gameplay are quite simple in design. Killing a certain number of people in a human hotspot to raise some hell, eliminating a target such as an enemy hammerhead shark that’s causing a nuisance, or population control that sees you taking out a school of different types of fish. Yes, there’s plenty of collectibles to be had too. With not a whole lot of mission variety, I can absolutely see how this will be repetitive to some people, but the completionist and trophy hunter in me was thriving in this loop.
Chomping and attacking humans, fish and other foes can at times be a bit hit or miss for the game. On the one hand, when you’re well over-levelled compared to a foe you’re coming up against, it’s satisfying to watch your shark quickly lodge food in between their teeth and only take them out in a few bites. Be a bigger or more challenging foe, and it can often become this game of cat and mouse where both of you are awkwardly dodging each other, bumping tails to noses and so on. Besides the tail whip you have to stun enemies, your only other means of attack is chomping with R2/RT. Mashing this can be a pain, as can the demanded swinging left and right of the analogue stick when you’ve lodged a foe and are thrashing them about. It resulted in plenty bumping on to the ocean’s floor, rocks and the sort, which is a frustrating juggle of trying to control your direction and assure that food is still lodged in your teeth.
The collectathon nature of the game is charming in its own right. Uncovering caches filled with mutagens, nutrients and the likes help you gather enough points to upgrade. License plates linger in nooks and crannies, and even in the air for you to leap out of the water perform sometimes challenging, Tony Hawk Pro Skater-esque leaps, as if the sea is your own half pipe. Landmarks can also be uncovered too. This sees you arriving in underwater (and above) locations that the narrator will quip on. These locations can look like a clown in sewers resembling It‘s Pennywise, or the banana stand from sitcom Arrested Development. Oh, and the voice behind the narrator is the ever talented and hilarious Chris Parnell, from roles such as Archer‘s Cyril and Rick and Morty‘s Jerry. Need I say more?
I can’t state this enough: Maneater is seriously stylish. In your time growing and evolving as a shark, you’ll see yourself going through seven amply varied environments. All these areas are interspersed and can be travelled between with ease. Unlocking of the areas is achieved through your evolutions, and feels almost Metroid-like in nature. The locations in question can be anything from a bayou swamp area to a beachside golf course or even a sea park not dissimilar to Sea World. In all these locations you can find locals you can rain terror on. Honestly, don’t Sea World attendees deserve it?
To break things up every now and then, you can periodically check in with your nemesis Scaly Pete. These encounters come in the form of fun cutscenes that look like they’re filmed freehand, being in the lense of the titular TV show Maneater that is going on throughout the game. Combine that with the Borderlands style title cards you get when a new character or foe is introduced and man does personality just ooze. It helps freshen up what would otherwise make for a more dull and repetitive experience.
Maneater also offers a rewarding and satisfying RPG system. Over time, you’re growing and evolving to become a mega-shark. Modifications for your hero also are pretty and are of great aid. You can quite literally get to a point where you’ve draped your entire body in bones, feeling like a strong and sturdy shark god. It’s fantastic, ridiculous and an absolute delight.
One final system that bears mentioning is the infamy system. It’s GTA in nature where, when raising some hell and chewing up civilians, you’ll naturally attract attention. Fill up a bar and hunters come after you. This is when your screen will get busy with spears, gunfire and boats moving about everywhere. With each infamy level you rank up, unique human hunters will appear, showcasing a unique way to flex character design in an otherwise hard to achieve way. Killing these special hunters grants you more mods. The cycle continues, and it’s fun to behold.
Maneater’s other concerns aren’t too big and can likely be fixed. In heated moments there’ll be a large number of enemies on screen. Here, screen tearing and framer ate loss can occur. It raises some worries about how this game will fare on its eventual Switch release. Collectibles, trophies and the like have also been bugged for myself and others. It’s a bummer when the game asks you to collect everything. Also, I’m so damn close to the platinum, so I desperately need that fix.
If there’s anything Maneater will be remembered for, it’s the fun and wacky nature that comes with it. Sure, it’s not too long or complex which could have you questioning a full price day one purchase, but it’s nothing if not exactly what it was trying to be: a fun romp with loads of personality and nothing more. With that in mind, Maneater sure is a bloody good time killer that’s worth experiencing.