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August 2020


Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Tripwire Interactive
Developer: Tripwire Interactive
Release Date: May 22, 2020


PC Review - 'Maneater'

by Cody Medellin on May 22, 2020 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

Maneater is an open-world, single-player action-RPG where players take on the role of a shark.

We've all encountered a video game that involves fighting sharks, one of the ocean's most fearsome predators. Playing as the shark is a different story. There's Jaws Unleashed, which was released on multiple platforms over a decade ago, and there's Depth, for those who are interested in multiplayer-only affairs. We're finally getting another shark game in the form of Maneater, which looked ridiculous in the most positive possible way. With the exception of a few issues, the end result lives up to that hype.

You play the role of a freshly born bull shark pup. While most births are joyous celebrations of nature, yours wasn't as expected. You were born when a shark hunter cut open your mother; this act left a giant disfiguring mark on your body, and then the hunter threw you back into the water to survive the hard way. You got a little payback by tearing apart and eating the fisherman's arm, but now you seek real revenge. To do that, you'll have to grow up to become the most fearsome predator of your species.

The setup is something you've seen in other games, and the summary makes Maneater seem rather serious, but the tale's tone varies quite a bit. The title is set up like a season of a reality show named "Maneater," where a camera crew follows the shark hunter Scaly Pete and his son Kyle. As in many reality shows, there are hints of drama among the action, so you'll see how Kyle is reconsidering being a fisherman and how Pete hopes that going to college will work out for his boy. While that does a good job of making the antagonist more than a Cajun caricature, those dramatic moments are minimal, since the game aims for humor. The comic relief is provided by Chris Parnell's performance as the show's host, who has quips for almost every occasion, pointing out the ironic history of the area or random humorous facts about the sea life. It's offbeat but not off-putting, and seeing the watermark hashtags appear in key cut scenes shows the title's tongue-in-cheek vibe.

The gameplay takes a page from Super Metroid in terms of letting you start off with a good chunk of your powers before stripping them away and making you work for them again. In this case, you take control of your mother to see what you can do as a shark. Aside from fast swimming and chomping on victims, you can leap out of the water to smash boats or beach yourself to get people on land. You can thrash enemies in your mouth to break them, or you can use them as projectiles against other enemies. Aside from your ramming speed, you also have a tail whip attack that can be used to stun others or knock them back. It is a very powerful move set to have, and it becomes a great motivator to level up and return to that power level.

Those moves aren't the only things you'll have at your disposal. From the beginning, you get a sonar to help you locate enemies, fish, and victims (so you can grow up big and strong). You also get an evade move that lets you avoid attacks at the last minute. Level up enough, and your leaps go higher, your attacks hit harder, and you become much hardier so you can withstand loads of damage and stay on land longer.

Perhaps the more interesting addition to your repertoire of moves is the fact that you can change out parts of your body with those infused either with bio-electricity or dense bones. You can't infuse two different abilities to one body part, but you can mix and match body parts with different abilities. For example, you can give yourself a bony tail and electric jaws, so you can swipe hard at enemies and hit them with a bite that stuns nearby enemies.

The body part modifications change the tone of the game; you go from controlling a juvenile that wants to be Jaws to controlling something that sounds at home in the recent "Sharknado" movies. In a grotto, you can modify body parts to create the perfect killing creature, and that also changes the difficulty level. Early on, it's a struggle to survive, but by the time you get the second modified body part, you're almost unstoppable. You'll only die because you were overwhelmed by other creatures or you didn't pay attention to the health meter and forgot to eat. The game sends increasingly powerful enemies, but the difficulty switch from tough to a cakewalk occurs almost instantly when you reach the adult phase of the shark's life.

The "show" is set up as episodes, each serving as a marker of a new area. Maneater is set up as an open world where you can go back and forth between areas, with some disguised load times if you're at the appropriate evolutionary phase (pup to teen to adult to elder) to break open the gate that's blocking your way. Whether you're in the Gulf of Mexico or a swamp, you have the same routine when entering a new area. You need to find a grotto so you have a base for fast-travel and respawning . Once there, you'll need to hunt down some dangerous fish and engage in feeding frenzies. Then there's the hunting of humans; when you eat enough of them, that bring out the shark hunters. Complete enough of these tasks, and you'll summon the area's apex predator, such as a mangled barracuda, a giant alligator, or even an orca whale. Finish them off, and you'll be instructed to swim to an area to progress the story via cut scene before you find the way to a new area and start the process again.

As in many open-world games, there are a number of side activities. Each area contains license plates to eat and chests of minerals to digest to increase your abilities and strengthen your body parts. Killing shark hunters brings about a longer-term side-quest that sees you summoning and killing 10 of the best shark hunters in the game. You'll participate in this questline the most, since killing each hunter is the key to getting new abilities and different body parts.

With Maneater containing eight different areas and a bonus ninth area after the game has been completed, you'll notice that the gameplay loop rarely changes. Hunting down the different water predators, both the regular and apex versions, can be daunting when you're a pup or a teen, but the attack patterns remain the same. Thanks to the aforementioned difficulty drop, the later stages show those fish get torn asunder before they explode in a red mist. Feeding frenzies have more predators, but they are more of a nuisance than a threat. Stronger boats are the only major change for a while, and dynamite isn't introduced until late in the game. The major deviation is the inclusion of a goal where a certain percentage of the area's missions need to be complete before you can reach the area's end. Completionists would do this without prompting, but it can be an annoyance for those who want to move somewhere new without mandatory missions slowing them down.

There's also the matter of the targeting system. While you can lock onto a nearby fish, that only happens when you're close enough to attack. Make that attack, and there's a good chance that you'll move past your target and break the lock. You can flick your camera around to find your target again, but it is an annoyance. More bothersome is the fact that a good chunk of your fights is close to the water , forcing you to skim the surface and hit a button to initiate a dive and return to the fight.

With a loop that doesn't change throughout the game's 10-hour trek, it would seem like boredom can quickly set in. Surprisingly, that doesn't happen because the actual gameplay is so addicting and well done. Once you get over the novelty of playing as a shark, you'll appreciate that the game tries its best to push you along the path of power. Get to the point where you have two modified body parts, and the ability to do ridiculous things begins to open up, such as jumping extra high, decimating fleets of hunters with an electrical dash. The game knows that its main selling point is becoming a shark and doing ridiculous things to terrorize land and sea life alike. By leaning heavily into that aspect and providing the tools to jaunt through seaside amusement parks, it makes it easier to forgive all of the other issues.

The presentation is quite nice. From the audio side, the music is minimal, but the chase music during fights is good and doesn't affect the tone of the scene. The effects are fine, and the voice work is quite nice, but don't be surprised if some of the narrator's quips and the radio calls of the hunters repeat more often than you'd like. Graphically, the game may sport a more animated design style, but you'll still find the models for the various hunters to be lacking, especially in the area of their dead eyes and the fact that they don't stand out as much as Scaly Pete does. The fish are impeccably done, and your shark looks grotesque and gorgeous, especially when you make it evolve with all of the body modifications in place. The environments are the most impressive part of the game's graphical side, thanks to the use of light to modify the underwater vision in an area. Even if you were to take that out, there's an impressive amount of detail in the grottos and sewer pipes; it's something that you'd see in a title like Abzu if it displayed the aftermath of what humans have done to the oceans.

If you can live with the issues, you'll find Maneater to be a ridiculously good time. The aforementioned issues are a shame, but the distinct nature of being a shark and the ability to deliver mayhem in a different way will remind players of the appeal of open-world games. Thanks to Maneater's relatively short completion time compared to other open-world titles, it's well worth checking out.

Score: 8.0/10

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