Maneater is the game I never knew I wanted.
By far, it was the most unique game of E3 2019. I knew I’d be picking it up when it released. Fast forward about a year, and I’ve fully completed everything Maneater has to offer. It was a short journey, but completely entertaining throughout.
Players take control of a newborn shark immediately after the death of its mother. Scaly Pete (while filming an episode of the aptly named reality show Maneater) captures the pregnant mother and kills it. After being literally ripped from its mother’s womb, it bites off his hand and manages to swim away into a bayou. This is a journey of revenge, plain and simple, and Scaly Pete has to stop killing sharks.
The open-world “ShaRk-PG” is teeming with life. There are countless different species of marine life to consume. You can’t swim ten feet without running into a fish. Most of the prey here are docile, but there are still mako sharks or orcas that can take you down.
Each of the eight distinct areas of Maneater feature something called population control missions. You’re tasked with eating a specific number of a certain kind of fish. Don’t worry. You won’t have to hunt too hard for them, and their locations are marked on the map.
However, as those become completed, an apex predator version of the hostile marine life featured in each area becomes available. These encounters are often far more interesting than just fighting one of them in the wild, even if they aren’t very difficult.
A walk in the park
To that end, I wish Maneater had been a little more challenging. I only died once during my playthrough. This occurred in the final area of the game to an apex predator that was twenty levels above my own. Considering a maybe ten hour runtime to do everything in the game, a bit more of a challenge would have been nice. I felt like I barrelled through everything.
When you aren’t spending your time hunting innocent fish, there are plenty of humans to eat. Eating humans works exactly like raising your bounty level in Grand Theft Auto. Once you hit a certain point, shark hunters start coming after you. After killing enough of them to fill your infamy meter to the next level, a more powerful bounty hunter will come after you.
To be fair, they aren’t much more powerful. Jumping out of the water onto their boat and dragging them screaming into the ocean is over in seconds. The final act of the game features shielded boats where the shield generator must be destroyed before you can attack the hunters. More enemy variations like that would have benefited Maneater greatly because there isn’t enough variety in the encounters.
This stands true throughout, though, as there just isn’t enough variety in Maneater as a whole. Sure, it’s great breaching the water and lunging high enough up into the air to grab one of the collectible license plates a handful of times. Why is it just license plates though? Why not a different type of collectible to track down, a unique one for each area? The nutrient caches, I understand (more on that in a second). But when I’m doing the same exact missions and tasks in each area, it eventually turns into a chore.
The key locations are the one standout in terms of the collectibles. Each of these is unique in each area, and the pop culture references are outstanding. Hockey sticks a la Happy Gilmore made an appearance. At one point, I thought: “man, this would be a great place for an It reference.” Sure enough, when I turned a corner, there was Pennywise. These are a fun and surprising change of pace. I always looked forward to seeing the next one.
Circling back to those nutrient caches I mentioned before. This is an RPG, and what would an RPG be without leveling up and upgrading abilities? As you consume fish and find nutrient caches, you earn points that you can use to level up different customizable parts on your shark. As you make your way through the game, your shark gets older and bigger, and new upgrades are unlocked.
One customization path decks your shark out with electric abilities and can stun enemies for increasing lengths. Another path covers you in bone and makes you stronger and more durable. I often found myself rotating between the two as one let me move faster and more efficiently, making it perfect for hunting collectibles. The latter helped take down some of the stronger enemies.
The nutrients that you earn (there are four different ones) can be used to upgrade each of these customizations and extend buff or debuff times. Or they can just make your shark all-around more powerful. It doesn’t really matter, though. If you go hunting for the caches, you can easily upgrade all of them to their max level and still have plenty left.
The controls and camera here are fine outside of combat. However, when fighting multiple hunter boats, it feels like Maneater is constantly working against you. Finicky button presses often resulted in me missing a target or just not getting a second lunge in when I wanted to. It’s annoying, yes, but ultimately fine, since all I was going to do was mash one button to consume my prey.
The definitive standout of an otherwise average game here is Maneater‘s narrator, voiced by Chris Parnell. Most will know him from SNL and both Anchorman movies. His narration and one-liner delivery is top-notch. Making constant remarks about your shark, the key locations, or the bounty hunters coming after you is entertaining throughout and the main reason I recommend this game.
By the way, Maneater looks absolutely gorgeous on PC. It doesn’t feature Assassin’s Creed Odyssey or Sea of Thieves levels of water effects, but the bright city lights in the background or the foggy and dirty waters of the bayou really stand out in each area. It’s not going to win any awards for its visuals, but it does look great while exploring.
If you’re looking for a quick romp in an open-world action-RPG, Maneater is the game for you. It may seem like I had a lot of complaints, but I really respect developer Tripwire for trying something new. There’s a really great foundation here that with a few tweaks could be something really special. Chris Parnell’s narration really helped keep me engaged throughout; otherwise, I might have checked out halfway through.
Game Freaks 365 received a free review copy.