Maneater review: repetitive yet enjoyable mayhem

After an hour or so of play, I wasn’t sure whether I really liked Maneater very much. The trouble is that being a shark isn’t really that interesting, when you think about it. I mean, what do sharks do, exactly? They eat stuff… and that’s pretty much it. Hence a large chunk of Maneater involves lining up prey in your sights, then mashing the right trigger to munch it into oblivion. Repeat ad infinitum.

So it’s repetitive, then, which I guess is to be expected given the subject matter. But around a third of the way through Maneater‘s 12-hour-or-so run time, I found myself really warming to it. Bursting out of the water and flopping around on a beach while wolfing down holidaymakers is cathartic, wicked fun, and it helps that the game has a healthy dose of black humour. Overall, it’s impressive how much content Tripwire Interactive has managed to spin out of fairly limited source material. It’s even more impressive that I couldn’t find a single direct reference to Jaws in the whole thing – except, you know, *gestures at entire game*.

The game begins with you terrorising beachgoers until a shark hunter by the name of Scaly Pete shows up to put a stop to your shenanigans. The game is presented as a cheesy reality show called Maneater in which a camera crew is following the exploits of Pete and his crew as they dispatch sharks off the shore of fictional Port Clovis, and the unctuous voice of the narrator is one of the game’s greatest assets. He pipes up every now and then when you’re rampaging around the bay, offering faux-serious nature-documentary-style observations that had me chuckling a few times. Anyway, in a classic bait and switch, Scaly Pete kills your shark, and in the cut scene that follows, he pulls a live shark pup from the mother shark’s belly, slicing its fin with his knife to mark it. The pup promptly bites off his hand and plops into the sea, setting up a classic revenge tale as Pete tracks down the shark that took his digits and you, as the shark pup, set out to avenge your mother. It’s a bit like that Jaws movie with Michael Caine, except not as shit.

The adventure that follows is billed as a ‘ShaRkPG’ by its creators, whereby you spend your time levelling up your tiny predator into a terrifying man-eating monster at the same time as equipping and improving various perks. You can unlock various ‘evolutions’ for different parts of your shark body, like bio-electric teeth that can stun prey, or bone armour that can reduce incoming damage. Each of these evolutions can be levelled up by using your stashes of protein, fat, minerals and mutagen – and different prey provide different amounts of each.

But at first, it’s not really much fun. For the first hour and a bit, your shark is vulnerable to pretty much everything, so you’ll spend most of your time avoiding bigger predators like alligators and barracuda. It’s only when you unlock areas beyond the starting bayou, and when you start to get some heft around your middle, that things really begin to get enjoyable. Lining up a seal or jet ski in your sights and then charging at it from beneath at high speed, launching yourself 20 feet into the air, is a jolly good laugh. The game still remains repetitive – it all comes down to eating everything in sight, after all – but it gets better the bigger you get and the more mayhem you’re able to unleash.

I’d also say it’s far closer to a Grand Theft Auto clone than an RPG. As you terrorise Port Clovis, your threat level rises until hunters start tracking you down. At first they come at you in tiny skiffs, but like in GTA, they start turning up with greater and greater firepower as you escalate your mischievousness. It’s just a shame that their maximum firepower tops out at relatively small coastguard boats – it would have been fun if the Navy got involved for some real carnage, especially towards the end of the game when your massive mega shark is essentially indestructible. Still, launching yourself onto a boat and then munching down the crew is ridiculous and brilliant.

As you’d expect – because video games – there are collectibles a-plenty, with a dozen or so loot crates and license plates to find in each of the game’s eight regions. These don’t do very much except give you more of the experience points you need to get bigger, but the landmarks are different, and genuinely worth tracking down. There are about eight of them in each area, and they’re often pretty funny, depicting references to everything from Peter Pan to Arrested Development and SpongeBob SquarePants. I’ve often said that collectibles in games should be made unique enough to be worth collecting, and this is a good example of that.

Then again, all this levelling and collecting can’t really disguise the fact that Maneater is as shallow as a puddle. Every single one of your objectives amounts to going somewhere and killing X number of a thing. And when you get there, your combat options are extremely limited – you have a tail whip and a dodge move, but most fights simply come down to mashing the bite button repeatedly, with the only real skill being in constantly angling the camera to keep your prey in view.

Yet having said that, I’m not really sure what else you could do when it comes to making a game about a big shark. Tripwire has done an admirable job of fleshing out this thin concept, and despite the repetitiveness, I had a lot of fun with Maneater. It helps that the game looks gorgeous, with some varied and beautiful environments depicting the busy shoreline of Port Clovis, with things like marine parks and high-class resorts for you to terrorise. The art also does a good job of making you feel like you’re on a righteous crusade to eliminate humans, who have polluted the waters around Port Clovis with all sorts of waste, and therefore deserve to be gobbled down in two mouthfuls while they’re lounging around on the beach. Or even while they’re crossing a walkway 30 feet above the water – a walkway you’ve just launched yourself onto and are now flopping along with crowds of tourists fleeing before you. Ho ho.

Bear with it, then, and Maneater can be a very good laugh, despite all the repetition. But keep in mind that after about a dozen hours or so, you’ll have seen pretty much everything there is to see.

Maneater was developed by Tripwire Interactive, and is available on PS4, Xbox One and PC, with a Switch version due later in the year. We played the PC version.

Disclosure statement: review code for Maneater was provided by Koch Media. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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