The idea of role-playing has allowed players to broaden their experiences across a breadth of universes, where gamers can live out their fantasy in medieval times, the present, or even the far-flung future. However, when a game like Tripwire Interactive’s Maneater offers you an opportunity to terrorise the waters and get bloodthirsty revenge, you bet we are chomping at the bit to dive into a ShaRkPG – where players get to play Jaws.
Framed as a reality series with the same name, Maneater is wholly aware of its premise of absurdity, as players take on the role of one of the sea’s greatest threat, and dives in full-throttle. The plot is just one shark’s aim to destroy the life of the shark hunter that scarred her with a sharp knife and murdered her mother. Straightforward as you like, the goofiness of Maneater is something the game wears loud and proud.
The entire experience follows your shark as she chomps her way up the food chain. Starting as a wee, well, baby shark in the swamps, she will eventually grow into her megalodon status by eating all who stands in her way. Maneater gives you plenty of room to roam about with eight zones of varying biodiversity.
If you were not paying too much attention to the UI, you might actually think you are looking at real aquatic life. The way some of the animals are animated and move is beautiful to look at, and it can be quite calming. Predators such as the alligators and other sharks are equally impressive. However, these are not calm waters, and you have a hunger to satiate.
While the smaller wildlife can be consumed easily, it is when you are up against the predators that lead to many of Maneater’s more intense moments. Hardier and smarter, being unprepared will often lead to your demise at their razor-sharp teeth.
Learning how to dodge and counter the threats will keep you in the fight longer, and watching the predators’ health whittling down and seeing their bodies disintegrate into chunks can often be a satisfying experience.
Maneater allows your shark to dodge in different directions, or utilise a lunge to close the distance. With how your targets move about in the waters, the game has thankfully made your attacks home in on your prey. You can even whip them with your tail to stun, or fire them off like a projectile. For smaller prey, you might even get a chance to thrash them about in your jaws.
It is a routine that you will get used to over the course of the game. Testing your limits, learning attack patterns, and knowing when to retreat and eat for health will stand you in good stead. While combat is rarely nuanced and complicated, the way the camera swings about can be an issue. Losing your target and getting eaten in return sure does not feel powerful.
With the themes of Maneater, do not expect to see thriving ecosystems that interact with each other. The different types of animals found in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico in the game definitely draws on fantasy rather than reality. For all the alligators, orcas, whales, and more, perhaps the lack of dolphins, true nightmares to sharks, remain a big omission.
From narrow waterways, sewer tunnels, to the open seas, the entire map is interconnected through caves and pipes. Of course, you have to be at certain levels in order to visit some areas, but the game does a good enough job of gating content that does not feel too egregious. The cycle remains the same, though, eat, grow, and fight, before moving on.
Even though hunting down wildlife is your key objective, there are plenty of distractions surrounding you as well. Maneater throws a list of collectables for would-be mega-sharks to chew through.
License plates, mutagen caches, and landmarks can be found all over the world. The tongue-in-cheek manner at which the developers throw in pop culture references and commentary on reality makes for a good laugh or two at every turn.
This brand of fun is supplemented by the hilarious observations of the game’s ever present narrator. Chris Parnell is absolutely brilliant at spouting nonsensical shark facts and comments no matter what you are up to, and it adds another layer of enjoyment to Maneater hard to find elsewhere.
Once you get bored of the sea creatures, it is time to venture onto land. As Maneater has shown consistently, the limitations of reality do not matter in this world. Shades of Sharknado – your shark can venture onto land for a limited time, jumping and flipping about in comedic fashion as you explore a whole new world. Be it attacking humans, exploring landmarks, or jumping 10 metres into the air to devour a license plate, the skies’ the limit for your budding predator.
Visually, Maneater is not as impressive as it sets out to be. The water effects are lacking, especially as you spend time on the surface and splashing back down. Underwater, outside of your immediate vicinity, everything else looks hazy and blurry.
The lighting is not particularly great either. Considering the quality on show, it is made worse by the occasional framerate drop and slowdowns that Maneater experiences during more chaotic moments.
Everything you do feeds into the sole aim of growing your abilities as a shark, as well as increasing your size to a somewhat disappointingly sized megalodon. The RPG elements of Maneater sees XP earned by consistently eating, completing a litany of quests that has more eating, and accumulating enough Fats, Proteins, Minerals, and Mutagen X for upgrades.
Your shark’s organs can be upgraded, granting new abilities and increased stats for you to truly become an apex predator. The advanced sonar that detects enemies and collectables is truly a godsend, and having more health never hurts. If you are looking for more of an edge, this is where evolutions come into play.
Preying on defenceless humans can be easy, but too much human consumption will increase your infamy. That is when shark hunters come out in droves, waiting for the chance to have you as their new catch of the day.
The battles against shark hunters is a different affair altogether. You can leap through the air and snare individual hunters from their vessels, or use brute strength and smash through their boats. While enjoyable at the start, the process will inevitably get tedious and diminish your enjoyment due to its repetitive nature.
Yet, the rewards of advancing to another infamy level (up to 10) can be enticing. Each time you go up a level, a named hunter is sent to reel you in.
Defeat them, and your predator gets access to a new evolution. Collecting collectables and hunting down other apex predators will also add new evolutions, and your shark will eventually complete your set of bone, shadow, or bio-electrical evolutions.
Offering more than just visual flourishes, these evolutions can make you a more efficient boat destroyer, animal killer, or control crowds more efficiently. Sure, you can mix them up and benefit differently, but a full set sure makes for an intimidating creature.
Maneater definitely fulfils the fantasy of being a powerful predator on steroids, chewing through humans and wildlife alike for a good time. Unfortunately, the repetitive nature of its gameplay and the less than impressive visual quality condemns Maneater to a position lower on the food chain. While the ShaRkPG aims high, this feeding frenzy ultimately falls short of what is expected for an apex predator.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Simple, straightforward mayhem makes for a fun time that does not last as long as Maneater wants it to be.
Gameplay - 8/10
Story - 7/10
Presentation - 6/10
Value - 7/10