As a “bonus” to this year’s Shark Month, let’s talk about Maneater, from Tripwire Interactive, of Killing Floor and Red Orchestra fame, as they basically try to make the spiritual sequel of Jaws Unleashed… i would guess, i haven’t played that one yet (strange, i know), but i really can’t think about anything else that would fit the bill for a single player, story focused console/pc release.
I wouldn’t exactly count the Hungry Shark games or Depth, you know, and it’s kinda surprising there haven’t been more attempt at an action game focused on exploration where you play as a shark, so Maneater does fill a very unexplored niche, the open world shark action rpg.
The premise of the campaign/story mode is framed as one of those quasi-documentary tv about killer animals and weird people, and for this season“Maneater” follows a cruel shark hunter, Scaley Pete who hunts your mother shark, before pulling your baby shark self from her belly and leaving a scar on you. You escape, after managing to chew his entire hands off, and here begins your quest for survival, growth and ultimately revenge against the shark hunter himself.
The narrative is a nice little surprise, as in it makes you feel kinda bad for hunter character that you grow to learn more about, and estabilishes the shark you control as the real villain, fully worth of the spiteful monicker the name it’s titled after.
Mind you, it’s still stupid as shit, it’s never intended to be taken anywhere serious, and it’s hard to with how over the top and absurd the violence is, even more with the endless references in the mission titles, the achievements, and Jerry Smith (yeah, Chris Parnell) offering narration, commentary and various quips as the voice over for the show Maneater itself, which is – and i quote – just a show where people kill shark and shark kill people. Pretty simple and quite correct.
So, what do you do in Maneater? You’re a shark, so your goal is to eat and grow (eat and grow foreveeer) until you’re big and powerful enough to take on Scaly Pete and get your revenge, via an open world style progression system that will let you access more areas as you complete story missions and level up your shark in both size and abilities.
And Tripwire cooked up a fairly fun and big enough world for the shark to explore and munch its way up the food chain, obtain exp and various evolution currencies, because of course you can evolve your shark into a megalodon with electric teeth.
But thankfully the game doesn’t hand you these important evolutions/modifiers, as you’ll have to progress into the story until you face and kill superpredators version of crocodile, barracudas, other sharks, etc, and cause enough havoc to require named shark-hunters into action, and eating them – while fending off their rifle armed goons – to obtain other abilities, often passive, like getting extra minerals. One for example helps you reduce the oxygen consumption while on land, because of course sharks can’t breathe out of the water… but there are ways to get your chomp even on people chilling in their houses, which is also useful to get some of the harder collectibles.
Also, while you can fuck about and you have ways to explore some areas before the story unlocks the missions for it, the game is well paced and since the main missions also mean more ways to level up and eventually evolve your shark from infancy to adulthood (and beyond), some grates can’t be broken until you’re grown into an adult shark, so doing the main quests is fun and useful, since higher level enemies can still pound easily, and if you want to explore the areas you have a quick travel option between underwater caves, which are the only places you can evolve the shark, power up various abilities (like the sonar), etc.
And the campaign isn’t too long, which isn’t necessarily bad, since a game like this being too long would quickly overstay its welcome, and Maneater strikes a good balance between giving you a campaign/story mode and promising mayhem and tools to fuck about with when you’re done with the story. Let’s be honest, this isn’t exactly the most varied game ever, i mean, you can’t really have the shark climbing “bayou towers” or offering taxi rides to other marine life like it’s A Shark Tale, and i’m ok with smaller open worlds, now more than ever.
It’s always satisfying, but at the end of the day the missions are basically variations on what you must eat and kill, and all the extra exploration often rewards you with exp so you can kill, maim and eat your preys better, but the gameplay loop is satisfying and essential to the experience. You play a game like this to feel like a nearly unstoppable killing machine, and you will, no doubt, and it’s fun to freak havoc on hunters and keep the rampage going, even more with the right kind of evolutions equipped.
The downside is that after you evolved enough it will rare to find any kind of challenge to the gameplay (aside from the later boss battles), which IS an issue, .
And while each new location has new foes and preys to discover, eat and fight, and adds some new elements or area variety (you’d be surprised to see how many on-land areas you can reach to munch on the humans), there is really no proper mission variety, like having also stealth hunts, a sensible concept but this game really doesn’t care about stealth in any way. Which is understandable, but some variety to the missions or more nuance to the combat would have helped.
Controlling the shark is quite fun and fairly smooth, of course it’s main attack is biting, but you can also dodge, do a tailspin to stun some enemies, and of course jump out of the water and attack with style and hefty damage. Combat is mostly a matter of dodging and biting when you can or when the enemy leaves a opening to grab him and thrash him around, but then again, it’s a shark, not a fencing fox, and you’ll do better to run and search for prey to replenish health and for cover from the fairly aggressive hunters, who are quite precise shooters to boot.
Some evolutions also give you a special ability that’s charged by eating prey, like the “bone jaws” set that lets you destroy boats and yatchs more easily, quite useful when causing havoc fighting hunters. Sadly – as mentioned before – it gets a bit easier than i would like when you start getting upgraded in a decent manner, but it’s still very fun to fight humans (other sharks and crocs a bit less), and again, you wanna feel powerful with such a playable character, and you do.
My only real gripe is that the automatic lock-on and autotargeting mostly works well….until you start fighting the hunters in their boats, then it becomes iffy as hell, as the game auto-targeting decides you wanna chomp on the boat because it locked the hunter on it at that second, even if you can’t actually glomp your jaws on him. You can manually lock on a single target, quite useful when facing boss type superpredators… but even this is iffy because you need to hold on the right stick, at least on a PS4 pad, and you can’t simply fiddle with the options to change between holding or toggle. I think it’s this way by design, but it’s a bit annoying, even more since the camera can get hard to control in some of the more heated fights.
I “hinted” at it before, but Maneater it’s a short experience, never meant to be that long, and at least it’s priced accordingly, a rare medium tier price for a medium scale production, a very underserved “niche” now.
The campaign can be finished in 11/12 hours (10 if you fuck about less), the post game won’t take you that much to clean up the collectables, the mutagene crates and the side missions, and i mean take in a positive way. Not every game of this type needs to be overly long to justify itself.
Even before the final chapter i almost got all the special evolutions by killing off the special super-shark hunters, and maxed out the level cap for the shark (which ultimately evolves into a megalodon sized animal), a cap that feels low for the rate of which you level up by exploring new areas and doing missions. It should have been 40 instead.
Mind you, there are superpredators that you fight that are still 15 or more levels above your maxed out megalodon, thankfully giving you some challenge to the otherwise unmatched monster you are, but it’s an odd way to throw some “balance” to a messy and unbalanced experience like this.
So it feel like a small game, a fun, repetitive but fun experience.
Because it is exactly that, for better and for worse.
It’s the videogame equivalent of a fun b-movie, and even with it’s flaws, even if it’s a messy game without much variety at all, i quite like it. You just don’t get this kind of satisfaction often, since there’s just so little videogames that put you in control of a man-eating shark, even more built around that idea.
I don’t mind that it actually knows to end when it should, instead of keep of giving you recycled content for the sake of making the experience longer and longer, NOT better. Even if it’s repetitive even for what it lasts. And there’s some framerate issues, at least on a PS4 copy running on my “vanilla” PS4, the game also comes with a free upgrade to the PS5 version, which i guess runs a bit better. I will have to just guess, since i don’t have a PS5 and won’t until next year, maybe.
My main complaint is that this game’s actual scope is a bit limited, for example, you’d think the game has insane evolutions, but aside the bone and bio-electrical sets/pieces, there’s no “venom jaws” evolution, nor you can create frankensteined sharks with the main body of a great white and the head of a hammerhead. You can’t do that here, sadly.
I know, this is keeping with the mostly realistical take on sharks seen in the game as a whole, but if they ever make another one, please make it where it’s a VR simulation and go completely nuts with the premise. There is so much potential here, especially if we ditch realism all together.
A fun, niche game for a very underserved niche.
Flawed, a bit repetitive and messy, but still fun.