Did you ever watch Jaws and feel sorry for Bruce, the magnificent beast that wreaked havoc on Amity beach? How about catching one of those cheesy reality fishing shows on the Discovery channel and secretly hoping that the loudmouth boat owner gets what’s coming to them? If so, then Maneater might just be the game you’ve been hoping for.
Maneater was pitched as “An RPG where you play as a shark”, and for the most part, that’s exactly what you get. Framed in the setting of one of the aforementioned Discovery shows, the game follows the antics of Scaly Pete, a notorious shark hunter whose father was consumed by a mythical “Mega”, and had his arm bitten off by the same predator that you play as. The aim of the game is pretty straightforward; eat and evolve to the point where you will be strong enough to take on Scaly Pete and take him down for good.
The presentation is really impressive. A cartoony visual style on the human characters provides an air of comedy, while under the water remains fairly life-like, with the exception of some enemies which I’ll come to in a bit. The reality TV aspect is pitch-perfect, and is peppered with the kind of commentary that I wasn’t expecting but absolutely appreciate. TV station logos appear fairly regularly, with Pete’s nonsensical ramblings occasionally spawning a hashtag in the bottom left, which get increasingly more ridiculous as the game progresses (a personal favourite of mine is #GubmentExperiment). New characters are introduced through the story, and Pete’s marine biologist son, Kyle, is as hapless in his father’s field as he is lovable. The story itself probably isn’t going to win many awards, but the way in which the narrative is put together is a unique one, with plenty of moments that really lean into the B-movie style nature of the game.
In terms of gameplay, Maneater has unenviable task of making a water level fun. And, mostly, it succeeds. The game has 8 different areas (7 if you discount the training area), and each one is its own fully fleshed out biome. Fawtick Bayou, the starting area, is a murky swamp which evokes New Orleans style farming areas, while Dead Horse Lake is an area polluted by toxic chemicals from a manufacturing plant, and Golden Shores is a heavily populated area catering to the 1%, with golf clubs and high end condos littering the landscape. Of course, the more heavily populated these areas are, the more prey you have to chow down on. In the water, there are unique species in each area, but I’d hardly say the waterways are teeming with life. I’d love to say that there is more variety in the on-land side of things, but in truth, you barely get a glimpse of the poor humans before you snap your jaws around them with a puff of blood and start chomping them to pieces. This, by the way, is definitely not a bad thing. Of course, if you decide to go for an all you can eat person buffet, you’ll inevitably attract the attention of shark hunters. Think GTA but with scales. The more you attack, the more your “notoriety” goes up, until you’re pursued by a series of more legendary bounty hunters. These more vicious hunters will have you dodging gunfire and leaping out of the water to try and shake them off, until you can finally get to their boat and rip them from the deck to their briny demise.
Of course, nature has its own pecking order, and Maneater sees you chasing down the Apex Predators in each region to level up. These are slightly caricatured versions of the more sinister beasts in the sea, but think more along the lines of the scary angler fish from Finding Nemo than your typical anthropomorphised fish. These will often have you frantically attacking, rolling and re-focusing the camera on them while you try and chip away at their health until you finally best them in combat, and it can get a little repetitive after a while.
Alongside devouring fish and humans, the game sees you scouring the areas for collectibles – Landmarks, license plates, mineral caches and grates. These are a fun little optional extra, but it does get a little time consuming after the third or fourth area. They do provide some fun upgrades though, including additional body part evolutions and abilities for your shark, which will not only alter the way you look, but will also have an impact on the gameplay. For example, the “bone” body will allow you to attack boats with more ferocity than before and cause a lot more damage to them than just biting them repeatedly.
On first glance, Maneater looks to be one of those “so bad it’s good” movies in video game form. However, the more I played it, the more I found myself taken with its blend of action and exploration. There’s something oddly satisfying about upgrading your abilities to be able to flop about on land for longer, enabling you to hunt down groups of people on a golf course and cause havoc with it. The problem comes with the amount of things to do within its framework though. I don’t think the game outstays its welcome, but the mechanics start to grow a bit long in the tooth as you hit the later areas, and sometimes the controls can be a little bit clunky, particularly when in the middle of a prolonged fight against an absolute monster of an enemy, or having to find the right angle to jump up out of the water to snatch a hunter from their boat. It certainly didn’t stop me enjoying the game, and if I weren’t marathoning it, I can imagine I’d have let this slide a lot more.