Unlike other video games, Maneater boldly attempts to answer the age-old question, “What would happen if a shark with bio-electric capabilities decided to square off against a gaggle of savage alligators near a beach swarming with overweight Americans?” As you may have guessed, that question isn’t easily answered, but Tripwire’s shark-oriented RPG tackles this inquiry with the veracity of a hammerhead shark, as well as many other important issues, in what could easily be one of the most enjoyable releases of the year. The idea of playing an open-world adventure where you gleefully munch on unsuspecting humans and tranquil aquatic life may seem ridiculous (if not offensive) from the outset, but once you dig in your fins, you’ll quickly discover the joys of being one of the deadliest predators on the planet.
As someone who counts Saints Row and Far Cry among the most satisfying open-world chaos generators on the planet, I gleefully approached Maneater with open arms. And while you can certainly cause an impressive amount of blood-soaked damage to the local fauna, the game features a genuinely engaging and surprisingly witty story driven by a need for revenge. You see, the bull shark you portray in Maneater begins its life through decidedly violent means: the poor girl literally gets ripped from her mother’s belly, slashed by a knife, and thrown into the unforgiving waters by a shark hunter known as Scaly Pete. Satisfyingly, the baby shark takes most of Pete’s right arm with her on the way out, thus driving her thirst for retribution. But the path you must follow is fraught with peril, which is where the RPG mechanics come into play.
You begin the game as a newborn shark pup, one who must face this dangerous world filled with creatures that want to turn her into lunch. Instead of heading straight for the nearest alligator to see who has the meanest bite in the land, you’ll spend a fair amount of time leveling up by feasting on smaller prey. Soon, you’ll grow from a kid to a teen, and, naturally, from a teen to an adult. Each time you level up, you’ll see an increase in your stats, allowing you to deal more damage to the wildlife that’s as thirsty for blood as you. Before long, you’ll have enough strength to overcome even the deadliest of adversaries.
In addition to the basic leveling system, you’ll also gain special abilities, which you’ll acquire by taking down shark hunters, rounding up collectibles, and finding landmarks around the game’s sprawling map. These abilities come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from something simple such as increased sonar to more outlandish upgrades like bio-electric teeth. These ridiculous components add to the game’s admittedly dark sense of humor; snacking on plump swimmers while dishing out electrical charges seems both cruel and amusing. In fact, it’s the game’s light-hearted nature that keeps it from becoming a problematic experience that perpetuates stereotypes about sharks and plays into our fears. The balance feels necessary.
A lot of the game’s charm comes from its presentation. Narrated by Saturday Night Live alum and Rick & Morty voice actor Chris Parnell, the story unfolds like an episodic reality television program, one that focuses on both the shark and the man it desperately wants to destroy. Parnell’s snarky, charming commentary brings levity to the narrative; without it, the game would probably come across as too dark and menacing. The opening moments involving your shark’s introduction to the world via Pete’s knife disturbs and unsettles, but just as things begin to get a little too dark, Parnell arrives with a disarming observation that lightens the mood. Of course, this all boils down to your sense of humor; if you’re a professional shark hunter, you may not take too kindly to Maneater’s portrayal of you and your ilk.
Unfortunately, as much fun as Maneater offers on a consistent basis, the game doesn’t hit all the marks. For the most part, you’ll only jump between a handful of different tasks: eat a certain number of fish/humans, defeat an apex predator, and collect the different things — that’s about it. If you’re looking for a variety of different missions and tasks to keep you busy, then you may need to shift your attention to other endeavors. That said, none of these same-y tasks ever feel boring or repetitive; tracking down hidden license plates and landmarks gives you a chance to explore, and sending your bio-electric shark into a boss fight feels pretty incredible, even when your foe gets the upper hand. It’s important to keep in mind that you won’t have many variations in the gameplay loop during you 20 to 25 hours with the game.
Perhaps the biggest issues I had with Maneater came in the form of performance problems. On the PlayStation 4 Pro, the game often struggled to keep up, especially when a huge group of shark hunters descended on a densely populated area at once. And when the fight escalated to epic proportions, with my shark frequently leaping from the water and snatching people off boats, the frame rate took a serious nosedive. I should also point out that the game frequently made my PlayStation 4 Pro’s fan scream for its life, especially when I accessed the map or quest log. Obviously, I can’t speak to how this game will perform on the Xbox One or PC, but it occasionally has problems on this particular platform. And while I won’t say that the developers should have waited until for the PlayStation 5 to release their game, I am curious to see if the next generation of consoles improves performance, if at all.
However, these minor hiccups didn’t hinder my love for Maneater in the slightest. In fact, as of this writing, I’m rapidly approaching platinum trophy status, which is something I rarely strive for when I have so many games I’m itching to play. Some may find the game loop repetitive, but honestly, what else could you possibly want from a shark-oriented RPG? And at approximately 20 hours, Maneater never overstays its welcome, though I have a feeling a second playthrough will occur before the end of the year. My advice: Do not sleep on this one. Even if you use it as a palette cleanser between meatier games, it’s definitely worth your time and money, especially at its price point. Sadly, I fear that some bigger, more high-profile titles will overshadow its release, though I truly hope it finds the audience it greatly deserves.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A code was provided by Tripwire Interactive.