Developers: Tripwire Interactive, Blindside Interactive
Publishers: Tripwire Interactive, Deep Silver
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC, Xbox One (Reviewed)
Release Date: Available Now
Price: $39.99 USD – Available Here $59.95 AUD – Available Here
Playing as an animal that grows and evolves through defeating enemies has always made for an interesting time, even back on the SNES with E.V.O. so the fact that this type of game hasn’t been seen much in recent years has come as something of a surprise. That is until Tripwire Interactive chose to go for the most visible threat that the ocean has to offer, a shark. With killer sharks being all the rage and always something that is exciting to see, be it in a B level horror movie or in a documentary, Maneater seems poised to capitalize on all of that. So is this a totally jawesome action RPG or just chum in the water?
Simply placing players behind the controls of a man eating shark would be good enough for most but Maneater goes one step further by not only putting together a comedic storyline about vengeance but also framing it as a documentary about man watering sharks that is being broadcast on basic cable. The popular shark hunter Scaly Pete is the focal point of the reality show and his son, who is working with him over the summer off of college, are hunting creatures that prey upon the residents of the fictional Port Clovis and one such creature happens to be an adult bull shark. Despite the shark’s best efforts, it is captured and killed by Pete and has its baby pulled from its belly. Then, as any good first act of vengeance, the baby bull shark manages to take Pete’s hand as what will become its first bloody meal of many.
There is some overarching storyline involving Pete having to deal with a number of family issues, both past and present, but unfortunately these really don’t pan out as the game’s story does end up petering out past the halfway point and lacks a real punch at the end, though a final joke does play up this fact, but the real star here happens to be the host of the cable TV show and narrator of the game, voiced by Chris Parnell who will be familiar sounding to basically everyone but most quickly and recently known from Archer and Rick and Morty.
Parnell’s work as the narrator is a constant presence in the game as he will chime in regularly as the player advances through new locations or returns to older areas in the game, eats certain types of prey, picks up nutrient crate collectibles (which are the only repetitive lines), and tracks down the numerous landmarks that are scattered throughout the various coves of Port Clovis. While it may have worked well enough on its own merits, Maneater really shines thanks to just how well Parnell can portray the sarcastic and outrageous nature of the game and its witty writing, be it the numerous references to pop culture, of which they are shockingly all over the board so there is something for everyone, from the landmarks to the various fictional info and bits of trivia that are presented when attacking random humans, shark hunters, or even other predators, and of course when the player is in danger or happens to wind up dying.
Designed as a third person action RPG, players will quickly learn to control their shark in Maneater with ease as swimming around quickly becomes second nature and targeting prey is as easy as lining them up for a bite attack. The camera can be spun entirely around the player at any given time to keep an eye out for both prey to chow down on and predators to either avoid or hunt as well. One of the key elements about Maneater is primarily just how much of a blast it can be to play. While there may be some finicky combat motions at times, playing as a shark that devours its prey without a second glance, dodges out of the way of incoming attacks from both shark hunting humans armed with spear-guns and other predators, feels like a blast here. Launching out of the water to snag a fisher off of a boat or jumping across a beach-side golf course in an attempt to eat someone before the shark starts to suffocate gives a certain sense of chaos that few games can offer.
Any time that the shark consumes something not only does it restore a bit of health back but it also gains various nutrients that help it grow in size and level and can then be used to evolve certain aspects of itself. These nutrients also come from completing missions, gathering collectibles such as the aforementioned nutrient crates, landmarks, and also license plates that are generally placed in hard to reach locations.
Progression through Maneater starts with a nice pace as players begin as a small shark barely capable of eating a catfish and fearing running into an alligator or even a barracuda before growing in size and level to the point that these threats become nothing more than a quick meal while swimming towards a bigger threat. While an open world game mostly from the start, players will find that the ocean and bays in Maneater are broken down into certain sections that feature a range of creature types that reach up to a certain level, making sure that players know when they might be biting off a bit more than they can chew and while it is certainly possible to swim through most locations and unlock quick travel points at a quicker pace, some areas are gated behind player growth and even this growth is hindered by story progression up to a point.
Unfortunately it is about up to the halfway point where the player progression and growth begins to hit a sticking point and this is due to a few reasons. While initially fun, it quickly becomes apparent that there are only so many mission types available and while the narration provided after completion is enjoyable, they almost always involve simply eating a certain number of humans or type of wildlife before completion or occasionally destroying a boat. These missions are then repeated in every single area of the game and while the boss battles that are fought against the “Apex” creatures in each region can occasionally be a challenge, these moments come few and far between.
The other problem comes from the evolutions that players can take advantage of. As mentioned earlier; eating, completing missions, and finding collectibles provide nutrients that can be used to evolve and power up special mutations in the shark but not only are some of these mutations a bit overpowered at times, there are unfortunately a surprisingly small number available even when the entire game is completed. With only three main types of body evolutions, players will be a bit shocked at how little things can change. Organ evolutions that allow for things such as widers scan and faster recharge for the sonar, extra health and durability, or gaining more health from eating certain types of nutrients provide some extra customization but for the most part it is a bit lacking in the end.
Oddly enough players will need to watch out for a number of crashes that can happen while playing on the Xbox One as the game frequently crashes to the Home screen when either traveling back to a cave through fast travel or respawning from a death.
Visuals & Audio
Being set beneath the waves makes for a rather unique perspective that Maneater takes full advantage of as the wide array of locales that the player will swim through range from murky bayou waters to polluted radioactive lakes to colorful waters deep in the ocean and further with sewer pipes and caves to navigate. Even above the water there are a number of sights to behold as Port Clovis has been designed with a variety of unique locations for every area making sure that players are presented with some gorgeously designed environments. The various things the shark can eat, ranging from catfish, groupers, hammerheads, and even orcas are designed to replicate their real-life counterparts though the human designs are a bit too generic and repetitive looking.
Thankfully the shark itself is animated amazingly and features all of the evolutionary options for the shark’s body not only have a unique look to them but even grow to look more sinister as they are upgraded. As mentioned before, Maneater’s story and most of its exploration is really carried by the performance of Chris Parnell as the game’s main narrator though there are a number of great voice actors who have also contributed to the game both in and outside of the story.
Placing players behind the fins of a maneating monster makes Maneater a bloody good time. Not only does the shark control nimbly enough as it grows in size and power it also can start to feel like an unstoppable beast that requires a small army to take down as the player tears through human and marine life alike. Unfortunately the mission structure in Port Clovis, as uniquely designed and littered with fun jokes and a great sense of humor, make for a quickly repetitive experience that is also lacking a bit in evolution choices.