Even though Maneater is quite a repetitive game, I couldn’t get enough of it. After 23 hours of play, I’d finally gotten 100% clear and done everything I could possibly do. And yet, I still wasn’t done with it. Maneater is a game that is so entertaining, so enjoyable and so thrilling, you won’t want to put it down. And I didn’t.
Called a ShakPG by developers Tripwire Interactive, that awkward portmanteau is a pretty good fit. Playing as an infant shark, Maneater is Bambi, if instead of a deer, Bambi was an apex predator with rows of razor-sharp teeth and bloodlust.
But that’s not all.
It’s also part hardcore nature documentary, think Swamp People, meets River Monsters with a touch of Deadliest Catch. All narrated by Chris Parnell.
Maneater is wild.
The in-game show, also called Maneater, stars Scaly Pete and his son. Scaly Pete comes from a long line of shark hunters. He loves his job and is proud of it. At the very beginning of the game, you’re put in control of an adult bull shark and taught how to play the game.
This tutorial sequence also acts as the narrative chum, by setting Scaly Pete up as the bad guy. See, after you chomp on a few of the locals, Scaly Pete catches you and kills you, before he guts you and finds an infant shark inside.
Thus, the epic battle of man versus nature is set in motion.
As you progress through the game, you’ll periodically check in with Scaly Pete in short clips from the in-game TV show. You’ll learn about more about his backstory and about his son, though it’s hard to feel any empahty for Scaly Pete when he seems hellbent on murdering you for simply existing.
I guess that’s how the smaller fish feel about the shark.
As an infant shark, you’re pretty tiny. Even catfish and grouper outsize you and so, to grow and get stronger, you need to feed. This is Maneater’s core gameplay loop. You swim around one of the seven areas, eat prey, fight other aggressive fish and animals and grow. You grow depending on your XP which is earned by completing missions and through combat. Each living thing you eat provides you with Fat, Minerals, DNA, Protein or Mutagens.
As you level up and grow in size, you can spend these ‘currencies’ to upgrade your various body parts and evolutions. There are five tiers per evolution and as you level them up, you’ll gain additional benefits and abilities. Evolutions are split into a number of categories, head, fins, body, tail, teeth and organs.
If you manage to unlock a set of the same evolutions, Bio-Electric for example, you earn a special bonus for equipping them all. It should be noted, the bio-electric shark is totally insane and allows you to become a shark made of pure electricity all to a thumping dubstep soundtrack.
It’s so fucking good!
From the time you start as an infant through until you reach the level of Mega, Maneater has a pretty standard set of challenges for you to complete. You need to deplete a food source in each region to lure out the Apex, you need to get revenge by eating humans, fight some difficult enemies and find a range of collectibles.
As I said in the beginning, Maneater is quite repetitive, however, the gameplay is so good that it doesn’t matter. Conbtrolling your shark is a breeze with the left stick controlling movement along the X and Y axes and the right stick taking care of Z.
You bite with RT, swim faster with LT, tail whip with LB and dodge with RB. There are a few other nuanced controls later on, but that’s really all there is and it’s all you need. Cruising the waters as a giant, silent shark is a real thrill and as you become an expert at the controls you’ll never want to put them down.
As you grow and level up, eventually you’ll be able to do some truly ridiculous things. My favourite is being able to leap out of the water, onto the beach and eat 10-15 people before having to go back into the ocean. Apparently, my shark was able to evolve some amphibious abilities. Yay!
Whilst your killing marine life, there’s no real consequence. If you get too near enemies, they’ll attack and you’ll have to fight back or flea, depending on your size. However, when you attack humans, you start to fill a threat meter. When it’s full, the local shark hunters start actively hunting you. Should you take them on and sink their boats and eat them, you’ll continue to fill the threat meter until you trigger their leader.
There are 10 of these shark hunting leaders to defeat and by doing so, you’ll unlock some extra evolutions. The shark hunters are definitely the most difficult and often most annoying feature of the game. They’re relentless and even when you’ve lost them and the threat meter has cooled all the way down, they’ll still attack you on sight.
That being said, playing as the bio-electric shark, spamming dodge while knifing and eating hunters from their boats is pretty satisfying.
Maneater isn’t going to set the gaming world on fire but it is still a great game and a lot of fun. The power fantasy of being a living, breathing killing machine is incredible and you really feel the shark getting bigger and stronger over time. Once you’re the mega, it’s so satisfying to swim around and eat whatever you like, Sperm Whales included.
Tripwire Interactive has done a fantastic job of creating two different worlds that merge together too. Underwater and above water feel like two very different places and swimming between them, you get a real sense of transition of difference and of the huge expanse we know very little of that sits underneath us.
It’s hard to describe the sensation you get as you swim between the surface and underwater but it’s something pretty special. It helps that Maneater is visually, quite pretty. It’s heavily stylised and cartoony but even so, the underwater sections, especially in the Gulf are breathtaking.
It’s not perfect and it is quite repetitive but I wasn’t bothered. Maneater is a game we’ve not seen the likes of before and I hope it inspires more like it. Go and buy Maneater and experience what it’s like to be the ultimate Apex Predator.
Maneater was reviewed on PC using a digital copy provided by the publisher.
Game Title: Maneater