Every once in a while, a game comes around that really encourages you to cut loose and wreak havoc. Sometimes that comes in the form of something like Just Cause 4 or Grand Theft Auto V. At other times, it takes a much more absurd route, sometimes losing substance and meaning along the way. Luckily for Tripwire Interactive and Blindside Interactive, their open-world action RPG, Maneater, surfs the fine line between those experiences with a perfect balance. If you can imagine taking a sandbox game and dropping an incredibly hungry shark into the middle of it, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Thankfully, the game has just enough depth to make for an entertaining thrill-seeker.
Maneater is set in the fictional Gulf Coast of Port Clovis, where the shark hunter Pierre LeBlanc, a.k.a. Scaly Pete, shoots his television show, also called Maneater. This show acts as a sort of framing device for the narrative, complete with hashtags, promo banners and a series intro. Playing as an adult bull shark in the beginning, it isn’t long until Scaly Pete gets his grubby claws on you. It’s at this moment that we find out that our shark is pregnant, and within an instant, Pete delivers our real protagonist into the world, while also delivering a tragic fate for his captured prey. Now, as the female newborn bull shark pup, the player will have to climb their way to the top of the food chain to get their revenge against the hunter.
You’ll start small and vulnerable, but eating various aquatic life will help you adapt through multiple stages of growth. This will start with fish and small turtles, but eventually you’ll be able to eat other predators too. Most of the creatures are docile and won’t attack you, simply serving as a source of health and nutrients. The predators, on the other hand, won’t go down without a fight, and they’ll even provoke you themselves. This is where the game’s combat comes into play.
Battling the hostile forces of the briny deep will utilize real-time combat, and will often require attention to visual cues from enemies. A targeting system will be in place, putting focus on the largest threat first. The right trigger will attack with mighty jaws, allowing you to take bites into your foes. During key moments, enemies will glow brightly and be vulnerable to attack, often allowing for multiple strikes. If you’re big enough, you can even thrash your prey, using the right analog stick to rend them into meat. Eventually, you’ll gain access to the use of your tail, allowing you to strike with it to potentially stun opponents. If you get a good bite out of an opponent, you can even launch them with your tail like a torpedo.
Of course, the sea life under the water’s surface is just the tip of the iceberg. Part of the fun of being a man-eating shark is the ability to eat, well, man. This will range from beachgoers, to fishermen, and even bounty hunters. Of course, like the underwater life, there are both non-combative and hostile humans. The biggest difference though, is that unlike barracudas or alligators, humans can call for backup. Killing humans raises your threat level, and goes towards your infamy. Eat enough people, and soon the hunters will be on the lookout for a killer shark. Don’t underestimate them though, they come packing heat. And like the shark, they also adapt along the journey.
Hunter fights are interesting because they have a bit more involvement for combat maneuvers. A lot of this will include lunging out of the water and onto boats to take out individual foes in a bloody massacre. This will also mean destroying said boats, forcing the hunters to suffer your vengeful wrath. Of course, you’ll also want to know when to run away to regain some health, utilizing the dodging abilities to make your escapes. As you defeat these hunters, your infamy meter will grow, and once you reach a new milestone, a big bounty hunter will come after you. They’ll put up more of a fight, but it’ll all be worth it once you get that fatal bite into them. Taking them out will unlock powerful mutations, upgrades that will grant new abilities and strengths.
Of course, defeating a bounty hunter isn’t the only way to unlock mutations. Completing missions, finding landmarks and defeating powerful apex predators can also earn them. Of course, mutations aren’t the only things you’ll find when exploring the world of Port Clovis. In each area, there are several collectibles to find. Nutrient caches are all over each region, granting you plenty of valuable resources to help upgrade your mutations. License plates will sometimes require a bit of skill to obtain, sometimes in hard to reach places or well hidden. Finally there are landmarks, my favorite collectible type. These are displays, often based on pop culture references, that players will find all over Port Clovis.
I cannot emphasize enough how awesome these landmarks are. They’ll pay homage to books, television shows, movies, and even other video games. I won’t spoil them for you, as part of the fun is finding the references for yourself. Perhaps most of the fun, however, is the fact the landmark descriptions, and the game in general, is narrated by SNL and 30 Rock’s Chris Parnell. This is especially great for Rick and Morty fans, as Chris practically channels his Jerry Smith character for much of the narration. There may even be a reference to the show in there, somewhere… Parnell’s witty and often self-deprecating humor, paired with his distinctive deadpan tone, perfectly contrasts the destructive nature of Maneater. It just works, and makes the game all the more entertaining.
The RPG elements of Maneater are light, but just enough to give the player freedom of how they like to play. As you level up, you’ll get stronger, faster, and more dangerous to everything around you. Using mutations, you’ll be able to upgrade your organs with passive abilities like more health, nutrient boosters, or even increased time on land. Of course, the biggest seller here is the ability to customize the appearance of your shark with mutations. Using these special mutations, you can change your teeth, head, fins, tail, and entire body to give your shark some perks. This may break some of the realism of the game, but being that it is a game, why not have a little fun?
There are three mutation types, not counting the Tiger Shark adaptation pre-order bonus. The Bio-Electric mutation will give off stunning charges of electricity, even granting the ability to temporarily turn into lightning. The Bone mutation will grant a sturdy bone skin, increasing durability and also improving the capabilities of demolishing boats. Finally, the Shadow mutation makes our shark more vampire-like in appearance, allowing her to damage foes with poison. You can even launch destructive dark energy balls with your tail. Equipping more of each mutation improves how effective they are too, but you can also mix and match. While you can play perfectly fine without these mutations, it really does add a little variety to the combat. This is especially the case when utilizing their unique special abilities.
Maneater also has some pretty solid variety in its various locations. Despite being a game where water is a big part of the environment, each area offers something a little different. You’ll go from swampy bayous to the more open waters of a theme park on the pier. Raves will be crashed, the labyrinthian sewers will be explored, and the local marine mammal park will likely receive several lawsuits. There’s even a golf course where you can jump into the isolated water hazards, because why not? Each area will have their own grotto for fast travel, and the level design is pretty well telegraphed. While you’ll often see a lot of blue, the use of the color orange offers visual hints without breaking immersion.
Maneater mixes a bit of realism with a splash of style for it’s visuals. The day and night cycle offers some extra variety to each area, and the maps are pretty large. The UI is simple, though it can be a little busy sometimes, and menus can be a little slow. There are moments of frame rates dropping during intense combat sequences, and some occasional loading screens between areas too. It may not be a perfectly polished experience, but the game does well to embrace the guilty pleasures of destruction.
While the combat can get a little repetitive, the exploration aspect keeps things engaging. The narrative keeps a solid pace too, offering players to check in on Scaly Pete from time to time. Regarding the length of the game, it took me just under 15 hours to reach 100% completion. It’s not a long game, but it doesn’t completely overstay its welcome either, and that’s fine. With Maneater being a bit cheaper than other new games at launch, I’d say the amount of content is perfect.
If the idea of becoming a terrorizing shark to unleash mayhem sounds appealing to you, then Maneater is your game. I honestly had a blast with it, and I heavily enjoyed Chris Parnell’s amusing narration. It made the discovery and exploration aspects much more enjoyable, and it motivated me to 100% completion. Combat can get intense, and even a little repetitive, but it makes for a unique action RPG experience. If you’re a member of PETA, well… it might be best to stay away. Otherwise, Maneater is likely to be the sleeper hit of the year for many. It lets players give in to their destructive tendencies, piling on dry humor in the most absurdly entertaining ways. Maneater is a rare breed indeed, and it’s well worth spending time with.