The world of playable shark-focused video games is a rather shallow pool consisting of a handful of mobile games and one true open-world experience in 2006 called Jaws Unleashed. Now, Tripwire Interactive, the studio behind the successful Killing Floor franchise, has cast their creative rods into the shark-infested waters and created Maneater; an open-world Shark-RPG. Does Maneater fulfill the dream of becoming the ocean’s most fearsome apex predator, or is the game on the bottom of the food chain? Find out in our review.
Y'all know me. Know how I earn a livin'
The game starts with the opening of a reality television show appropriately called “Maneater.” You’re introduced to the crew of the Cajun Queen and its Captain, Pierre LeBlanc, also known as Scaly Pete. Scaly Pete works exclusively as a shark bounty hunter along with his son Kyle who’s working for him over the summer. You quickly get the impression that Scaly Pete hates sharks and would gladly rid the entire ocean of them if he could.
After the game’s brief tutorial where you play as an adult female bull shark, you’re captured and killed by Scaly Pete. Scaly Pete removes a young shark pup from the womb, mutilates it with his knife, and tosses it overboard, but not before the pup rips Scaly Pete’s hand off. This is where the game really begins, with you as a three-foot-long baby bull shark in the middle of a Bayou Swamp. You’ll continue to swim, explore, eat, and grow while avoiding dangers along the way and finishing various quests and objectives. As you grow, you continue to see glimpses of the story of Pete and his son revealing the history and what not between the family and Scaly Pete’s hatred of sharks. There are only a few cutscenes in the game but the reality television-style keeps it fresh and interesting. They even include hashtags, pop-ups, and other funny things you’d see in a normal reality television show which is a nice touch.
Your actions throughout the game are narrated by actor and comedian Chris Parnell. Most people would probably recognize his voice as that of Jerry from Rick and Morty. Chris does a fantastic job of delivering voice narration using a flat, educational tone. You’re bound to chuckle aloud quite a few times at his one-liners. The story is interesting and keeps you invested in the world. The narration is a unique touch you don’t see in gaming very often and it works well, especially since the shark can’t talk.
You’re gonna need a bigger boat
The core gameplay of Maneater is to eat, explore, and evolve, and that’s exactly what you do. You devour multiple forms of aquatic life as well as humans. Each time you consume a fish, reptile, or mammal, you’re awarded health, experience and resources. When you’ve consumed enough things you’ll level up, do more damage, swim faster, and even grow in size. While there are five stages of growth in the game, you’re not limited to them. This means you grow a little every time you level up even if it’s a small amount. The biggest you can grow in the game is nine meters which is about twenty-nine feet. For reference, that is bigger than Bruce the shark from the movie Jaws. Some players might be disappointed that you can’t grow into triple digits, like a megalodon. I was fine with the final size of the bull shark though. Besides, you need to be a reasonable proportion to navigate the world’s eight different zones which are vast in scale and have beautiful visual designs.
The environments in Maneater are some of the most diverse, creative, and breathtaking surroundings I’ve seen in a video game in a long time. From swimming in trash infested, scummy freshwater lakes to exploring the vast depths and caves of the open ocean, each zone looks amazing and gives you a good amount of gameplay variety as well. Some areas like Dead Horse Lake are trash-ridden, green algae-infested cesspools with giant alligators waiting to take a chunk out of you. Others are mazelike canals that have a big subsystem of pipes and tunnels to explore. Some even challenge you to navigate and explore outside the ocean to reach shallow ponds, lakes, or even swimming pools, which is every child’s worst nightmare. You’re able to easily navigate these big environments with a clearly labeled world map that can be marked up with waypoints and points of interest uncovered by your shark's sonar ability. You use this constantly to discover landmarks, nutrition caches, and a lot of other collectibles you’ll want to find. All of these fantastic environments are made even better thanks to fun combat and easy controls.
Being a shark in water you have a huge amount of verticality at your disposal. Whether that’s diving down into a gate, leaping over a wall, or flopping on land to slowly get somewhere. It’s all fun and fairly easy to grasp using a controller. Eating enemies is also incredibly satisfying. When you’re small you can only nip and bite larger foes. This makes it feel like an aerial combat game; striking then circling around for another attack. As you get bigger towards the end, instead of nipping and biting enemies, you can hold them fully in your jaws. By doing this you can either chomp down multiple times to consume them and gain heath or thrash them by shaking your head back and forth violently. Or, why not do both? Thrash and chomp! You’re not just limited to biting and eating enemies either. You can throw anything in your mouth at an enemy to damage or stun them. When you do this time slows to a crawl giving you ample opportunity to locate your target, throw the item in your mouth, and then hit it with your tail like a baseball bat! Not only does it make for some hilarious moments, it also serves as an effective fighting tactic with each type of prey offering a specifc amount of damage capability. Some types of prey offer strategic advantages over others, depending on the situation. For example, throwing sea turtles seems to stun enemies better than grouper fish.
Once you’re past the starting zone, you’re able to eat humans. This has a cost though. You’ll gain “Threat” if you consume too many people and bounty hunters will be called to deal with you. It’s a great system, one that constantly reminded me of wanted levels in Grand Theft Auto (GTA). I’d find myself pushing to see how long I could survive waves of stronger enemies while raising my infamy rank before diving away to avoid death and detection. The infamy rank starts at 0 and goes up to 10. It’s a blast and brings back the same feeling and thrill of going on a rampage in GTA and trying to survive.
While eating people as a shark is great fun, this is an RPG and what would an RPG be without builds and classes? Maneater allows you to spend resources you gain by eating things and allocating them into the game’s evolution system. The resources are divided into four types; Protein, Fat, Minerals, and Mutagen. You spend these resources on leveling up various parts of your body and organs. You can have up to three different organ evolutions at once. These can vary from improving your health, making you faster on land, and even improving how much of a resource you get from eating something.
It doesn’t just stop there; the game also has three different Body Evolutions for your shark as well. Think of them as classes as this is an RPG, after all. The Body Evolution options the game features are Bio-Electric, Bone, and Shadow. Each specific evolution can be upgraded five times and improves greatly with each tier. You can equip them on your tail, head, body, fins, and jaws. Every evolution type does something different and can change the gameplay. The Bio-Electric evolution focuses on stunning enemies with shock attacks and doing AOE damage with your bite. The Bone Evolution increases your mass, ramming attack and decreases the amount of damage taken. The Shadow evolution specializes in speed, healing when you bite, and poison attack damage. You unlock these evolutions by progressing through the story mode and meeting certain requirements on challenges. Things like finding all landmarks in an area or defeating apex predators that serve as the zone bosses. Once you’ve unlocked a new evolution you can retreat to your grotto. This is where you can change and equip your loadout as well as mix and match evolutions to fit the play style you like the most.
Smile you sonofa…
Maneater is a brilliant game but it does have some minor issues. Being a big, open-world game, I did run into a few fish that seemed to have frozen in place or had stopped moving altogether and aggressive enemies that seemed to forget that I was there after engaging with them. Sometimes while I traversed on land to eat people the camera would violently whip around and convulse for no reason.
The game’s auto-targeting system is great and works well, however, early on in the game fights can be tough. Especially when there are multiple aggressive enemies around. This is due to the lack of a target lock feature. It can be annoying as you’re trying to attack a target designated as highly dangerous only to have the game swing you into another smaller, unimportant target thus missing your window for a critical strike on your intended target. This was only noticeable early on in the game when more than two underwater enemies are focused on you. My Xbox One X also chugged at certain points during my playthrough, mainly when a lot of boats and evolution effects were on screen at once. None of these issues ruined my experience, but they’re worth noting.
The story itself is fun and it’s told in a very creative and interesting way. I just can’t help but feel it was cut short. During the game you hear about this mega-shark that killed Scaly Pete’s father. I kept thinking the story was going in the direction of having me fight this mega-shark as the last boss and inadvertently save Scaly Pete’s life teaching him a lesson in the process. However, the story didn’t go in that direction. In fact, the story seems to speed up and ends pretty abruptly. I can’t help but think there was a lot more to this narrative but maybe Tripwire Interactive didn’t have the time, manpower, or budget to complete it.
Explore, eat, & evolve!
The developers over at Tripwire Interactive have gone above and beyond in executing this game’s concept, gameplay, and design. The game feels like a AAA title. You could even call it Grand Theft Shark, because honestly, that’s what it feels like. The sheer number of things to explore, eat, and collect will keep you busy for hours. The gameplay combat may be simplistic but, it is one of the most addictive loops I’ve played in a long time.
Tripwire Interactive has managed to capture what it feels like to be Jaws, right down to jumping out of the water, landing on a boat, and chomping away at the hunters on it. That in and of itself is a momentous achievement to accomplish. At 40 bucks ($39.99? Really?) for one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played in a long time means you have no excuse not to get this. I cannot applaud Tripwire Interactive enough for taking a risk with a new IP and a concept that we haven’t really gotten since Jaws Unleashed in 2006. If you were a fan of Jaws Unleashed or ever wanted to truly live out your apex predator shark fantasy, do yourself a favor and buy Maneater. While you're at it, tell your friends about Maneater. Spread the shark-loving goodness because this franchise has fins and I can't wait to see what's around the next coral reef. I can sum the game up in one word: Jawsome!
This review is based on an Xbox One key provided by the publisher. Maneater is available now for Xbox One, PS4, and PC for $39.99.
- Fulfills the ultimate shark fantasy
- Amazing environments
- Lots of collectibles & secrets to find
- Fun combat
- Incredible sound effects
- Minor visual bugs
- Console chugs at times
- Story moves a tad fast and ends abruptly
Greg Burke posted a new article, Maneater review: A true Shark-RPG
Looks like it could be fun.
I can't believe they made a game this fleshed out about being a shark
I guess it feels like something we would have seen years ago but don't see much now
This totally seems like a game we would have gotten during the PS3/360 era or earlier.
I bought this after watching the Shacknews coverage.
It's priced nicely, and should be extremely entertaining for now.
I really hope co-op or multiplayer eventually makes it in somehow.
Waiting to wrap up a team meeting and then I'm Going IIIIIIINNNNNN IM A SHHAAAAARRRRRRRRRK!
Greg, any idea if the PC version has upgraded textures VS. the XBONE / PS4 versions? I had a quick look around but didn't see anything mentioning 4K textures, etc.
Maneater PS4 is $62.95 CAD (+TAX) here on disc (so about $70 CAD) and that's how I'd normally purchase it.
But with my coupon on the EPIC GAMES store it drops to $35.99 CAD, like half price!
Incidentally, JAWS is my favourite movie, and I do own the 2006 JAWS UNLEASHED PS2 game (and I've been meaning to rip the disc and try the game out in PS2 emulation on my PC).
Hmm. I know that Xbox One X and PS4 Pros versions are native 4k. The devs confirmed that via twitter. Not sure about the textures on PC.
How many Milleh?
That's surprisingly high praise. I figured the loop and restrictions would get old fast, but it sounds like you really enjoyed it. I'll have to take a look!
You had room for at least one more Jaws joke.
I watched a guy play through this on Twitch. It looks fun as hell and better than it has any right to be. Don’t know if it’s $40 better but maybe.