Maneater sells itself as a single-player ShaRkPG; that is, a role-playing game in which you play as a shark. In perhaps the most literal example of “flipping the narrative on its head” in the realm of gaming, Maneater sees you take on the role of a rapidly growing and evolving shark, threatening aquatic foes and human life alike. Needless to say, in a world which already has Goat Simulator, Ancestors and Untitled Goose Game, a studio emerging with a full-priced title which it hopes will be the next great evolution in animal-based games is both exciting and bold. The marketplace is competitive, and these rivals are available for but a fraction of the Maneater’s RRP. Fortunately, the developers and publishers of the game, Tripwire Interactive (Killing Floor, Road Redemption), and their partners at Deep Silver (Saints Row) are no strangers to adding some production sparkle and visceral spectacle to their titles. Maneater is no exception.
The action kicks off from the word go in Maneater, with a prologue that sees you immediately terrorising beach goers whilst learning the ropes of the game. Delivered through the scope of a low-budget documentary (sharkumentary?) narrated by Archer’s own Chris Parnell, there is a comedic spin to the violent antics which unfold throughout the story. This aspect largely carries the in-game experience, and it begins with the introduction of Scaly Pete, the game’s main antagonist. Pete recognises a description of the shark when it is reported over the radio that it is attacking Port Covis, namely due to a harpoon would it bears that was struck by Pete’s father. Just as you begin to get comfortable with mass murder and the methods for enacting it, Pete catches up to you and strings you up to die. As he realises that you are too small to be the shark he really wants, though, he tears a smaller shark out of your stomach (the shark that it turns out you will actually play as in the game). Taking Pete’s hand as a souvenir for the trouble, you leap into the murky depths of a polluted swampland and begin your own adventure from bite-y child to ultimate predator.
A solid start to the game is followed up by a funny, samey and addictive adventure, all of which starts with the basic premises of eating fish, exploring your surroundings and evolving into something new, big and decidedly lethal. Learning the ropes as a little nibbler is swift and easy, with the basic abilities of the shark standing at swimming, knifing, jumping and, of course, nomming. Effectively, you can do all the normal things that a normal shark can do – but that wouldn’t be fun on its own now, would it? You very quickly pick up the ability to use whale-like sonar, too, helping you to identify other creatures in the water; both big and small. You soon find out that you are not the only hungry predator in the waters, with alligators and barracudas hanging around from the off, but later followed up by other, sometimes bigger sharks and other swimming nasties…
Your sonar-like ability is only the first of several unlockable and upgradable abilities which you can acquire for your shark in the game. From steel-crushing gnashers to bioelectric emissions from your very body, the RPG elements of Maneater are both rewarding in themselves and a much-needed incentive for completing often repetitive and unimaginative missions. The bigger and more deadly you become through levelling and spending biological experience points earned through defeating different enemies, the more exciting the game becomes too. The prologue is a high point in that you start out feeling like a dangerous predator, but warming back up to this point can feel grindy and is something of a drag. The rewards are tangible if you commit to the experience, but first you must eat fish. Lots of fish.
It becomes apparent after just a short stint in Maneater that the game is largely filled to the brim with small fish and side missions. The world is divided into distinct areas with different dangers to overcome and aesthetics to enjoy, but what you do in each location is essentially the same. Missions range from eating some fish and eating some humans to battling apex predators who would seek to claim control over your new domain and infamous human hunters who simply want to slay you for the glory. Defeating these latter foes will merit you new and powerful upgrades for the shark, but such tasks are generally more dangerous than your average drive-by sharking. This is also the type of mission in which Maneater’s biggest flaw is revealed; the combat. Whilst your abilities become richer and certainly more useful as you develop them over time, the experience of combat is a combination of repeatedly biting enemies and frequently missing them as you accidentally dart past. This can make the combat dynamic in the water somewhat frustrating, but when fighting humans the activity of widespread murder is much more enjoyable.
Perhaps because they move around less or perhaps because this is the big selling point of a game in which you play as an angry, hungry shark, battling humans is much more palatable than battling foes in the deep in Maneater. The enemies feel more responsive, be it fearful or vengeful, to your aggressive advances, with a GTA-style hunted system leading the two-legged land farers to call in the armed reinforcements if your reign of terror becomes too great for the sunbathers to bear. Fighting these hunters is one of the more challenging and indeed fun elements of Maneater, not least because you can only stay above the water’s surface for so long before needing to dive back below the surface. It is just a shame that there isn’t more of this type of encounter to enjoy during the early game, as this would likely see more players sticking out the initial grind for greater endeavours down the line. In addition to seaborne and beachborne duels of fate, there are also a number of collectibles to acquire or destroy in each location too. Many of these are additionally supported by the kind of witty commentaries which make exploration wholly worthwhile in Maneater.
Be it witty one-liners or quasi-falsified factoids about the activities and antics of growing sharks in the wilderness, Chris Parnell’s running commentary is rarely repetitive, consistently entertaining and pleasingly dynamic from moment to moment, mission to mission and zone to zone. The reality of Maneater’s gameplay and quest structure is that it would be swiftly played out if it were not for the amusing overtones of Parnell and the documentary-style presentation. Indeed, the quality of the voicing and stylisation of Maneater are what sets it aside from the somewhat similar indie titles which have been released in recent years. A very valid comparison for the comedy relief of Maneater is the Saints Row series; another game largely made popular by its sense of humour and perhaps uncoincidentally published by Deep Silver too…
Visually, Maneater represents one of the most immersive and detailed underwater worlds in recent gaming history. A semi-realistic visual style inhabited by mildly cartoonish-looking characters has allowed the developers to present a compelling and enticing aesthetic which is not bottlenecked by current gen hardware limitations. Indeed, the PC version of the game which I played offered a fluid experience when using high-detail graphics settings and a passable level of immersion with the settings turned down, too. The lighting of the swamps and seas alike makes them feel truly deep, murky and alive, whilst the land and structures which lie above the water make each area unique and interesting to explore and enjoy. Aside from the outstanding commentary track, the audio design has a lesser but still relatively effective impact; especially if you enjoy the sensation of visceral crunching or the haunting screams of unsuspecting victims…
Maneater is, perhaps unsurprisingly, exactly what you would expect from an RPG in which you play as a shark. Viscerally violent, hilariously humorous and addictively alluring, the game throws you in at the deep end and challenges you eat your way back to the top of the food chain in the most ridiculous ways possible. It is important to note that the main story, though present, is lost at best, though. Certainly, fans of other mainstream RPGs should not dive in expecting a rich and enticing narrative, with side-mission style gameplay being much more at the forefront for much of the Maneater experience. Nevertheless, the game offers something new, interesting and for all its flaws exciting to those willing to give it time to mature. If you’re not in for the grind, though, this could just as easily be one to pass on until the sales…
Maneaster was review on PC
Maneater is available on PS4, Xbox One and PC, with a Nintendo Switch Launch Coming soon.
You can purchase the game from the following links below
PC – Epic Games Store – https://www.epicgames.com/store/en-US/product/maneater/home
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Maneater, the open-water, action-RPG where you play as a shark is launching soon on Friday, May 22 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC via the Epic Games Store – and later this year for Nintendo Switch.
Product Currency: GBP
Product Price: 34.99
Product In Stock: SoldOut