Of all the things I intended to do this year, playing as a mutated shark wasn’t one of them; that was until I played Maneater. Developed by Tripwire Interactive, Maneater lets us delve deep into the ocean and explore the world from a bull shark’s point of view. In this sense, the developer had latched onto a niché we don’t often see in video games, catching my interest as one of this year’s possible sleeper hits. As with many AA games I play, I find that a careful approach is necessary. Games made with a limited budget and time-scale can be riddled with issues, especially in the open-world genre. Is this unique shaRkPG worth your time? Here’s our Maneater review for PS4.
Story – We’re Going To Need A Bigger Boat
I didn’t expect much from Maneater’s narrative; however, I was left pleasantly surprised by how multi-faceted it was. The story takes the form of a reality TV show, following the lives of veteran fisherman and shark hunter, Scaly Pete, and his son. Pete has spent much of his life hunting down the shark that killed his father, leaving him obsessed. His single-mindedness has left him estranged from his son, who is currently studying marine biology at university. Seeing an opportunity to bond, both men are working out at sea, looking for the elusive killer shark.
It is here where our protagonist comes into the picture. After causing chaos at a local beach, a monstrous bull shark and Scaley Pete face-off in a fight till the death. Eventually, Pete is victorious but left disappointed when he sees this isn’t the beast that killed his father. Slitting the shark’s torso, they find a young shark pup. Pete, being unnecessarily cruel, leaves a lasting reminder of the event by scaring the fish, who gives as good as she gets, by taking Pete’s arm. With the die cast, our underwater killer must take her revenge on a society destroying the creature’s natural habitat.
The subject of conservation flows throughout the game, expressed comedically, though forcefully, by the narrator. Each of the game’s regions has its tale to tell, using significant landmarks to denote how humanity is continually ignoring and taking advantage of the world’s lakes and oceans. Thankfully, this isn’t as browbeating as it sounds and doesn’t err on the side of chastising players for abusing the planet’s resources. If anything, it’s an important message now more than ever. The second theme of the story centres around Pete and his son; two men of very different generations. One is blinded by dreams of revenge, while another is trying to save the ocean’s ecosystem.
Despite playing as a shark, you’re merely a plot device that allows the rather tragic tale of these two men to play out. There’s more than a hint of Moby Dick about the narrative, which, by the end, left me pleasantly surprised by its depth. It delivered far more than I expected.
Gameplay – Queen Of The Sea
The gameplay of Maneater is quite simplistic, but has a charm that makes its admittedly monotonous gameplay acceptable. You’ll maneuver through a verity of environments, from swampy Fawtick Bayou to the Mexican Gulf. The biomes contain a diverse range of flora and fauna, some of which is looking to eat you. A rival apex predator patrols each biome, ranging from an Alligator, Orca and even a Sperm Whale, You’ll need to upgrade and improve your skills to face off against each of these regional bosses, as they can easily slay you if underpowered.
Maneater is an RPG, and as such, has a level-up system that will take you from a little pup to mega-shark. Every mission, challenge, collectible and life-form offers essential minerals that can help you develop your myriad skills. These skills take the shape of sets, from bone, electric and shadow. If you plan on being overly aggressive, the bone skill set is the way to go, literally kitting the shark in a thick bone exoskeleton. Perhaps you want to be a stealth predator, stalking your prey from the deep? In that case, the shadow skill set is the one for you. As the game progresses, your shark will evolve through several stages, eventually reaching the size of mega-shark.
Some collectibles will be blocked off until you’ve reached a larger size (adulthood, elder, etc), pushing the player to return to these locations and explore the area further. Once you’re ready to trade the minerals you’ve gathered for upgrades, you can return to the nearest cave and choose your skill path. I would’ve preferred to be able to upgrade without backtracking or fast-travelling to a specific location, but it’s not such a chore.
I’ve already alluded to the grinding in the game, and it’s rather excessive. Apart from a new story mission that furthers the narrative, all other activities are copied and pasted to each new area. The sea life you find differs, but the action itself stays the same. Every domain is littered with collectibles, side-missions that involves eating a certain amount of creatures or defeating larger predators. This all becomes laborious after a while, but stays fun to play because the game’s premise is so entertaining to play.
On booting up the game for the first time, I was impressed by how smooth the experience was. The action gets hectic when being hunted by shark hunters, but remained butter-smooth for most of my playthrough. I did notice later in the game a loading screen began appearing when a lot was happening on-screen. This loading screen wasn’t present earlier and left me scratching my head as to why it existed at all. Apart from those few problems, Maneater kept me thoroughly entertained throughout.
Graphics & Sound – Rhythm of the Ocean
There is a cartoonish quality to Maneater that masks the more violent inclinations of the game’s premise. Chomping down on hapless humans produces visceral amounts of blood, coating the sea in an oil-like bloody chum. The peaceful beauty of each biome counterweights these moments of Jaws-inspired frenzy. The water quality and surrounding debris differ wildly, providing the player with a specific cautiousness. All biome are dangerous, but some carry more threat than others. The murky waters of Fawtick Bayou mask the dangers that might lie mere meters ahead of you.
I found fidelity to be consistent throughout. Creature models are impressive, with some being quite imposing. Later in the game, you’ll face Orcas and Sperm Whales. They’re fierce fighters and remain tough regardless of how advanced your shark becomes. I wanted specific creatures to keep their formidable size, instead of shrinking them to a more manageable, less threatening size. Thankfully, Tripwire delivers on this front. Whether sailing through the crystal blue waters of Caviar Bay or lurking in the deep waters of the Gulf, Maneater proved to be a game that wears its cartoonish beauty on its sleeve, and its better for it.
If you’ve ever snorkeled, you’ll know the sea or any waterway is anything but quiet. The constant movement of the water whispers as you go by. In deeper water, the high-pitched clicks of dolphins denote a possible meal. Then you have the haunting sounds of whales echoing in the distance, an ever-present reminder that you are not alone. When the time to strike comes, the graphic sounds of munching on human flesh is unsettling at first. The shark’s still squirming entrée screams at the top of their partially eating lungs.
As the carnage subsides, the screams of prior meals dissipate, replaced by a menacing Blue Planet-like score that embraces the otherworldliness of the sea, and the gigantic creatures that lurk within. Maneater is a cartoonishly pretty game with a score that suits it perfectly.