Last month saw the release of Maneater, a shark sim action RPG that sees you controlling a bull shark as you massacre your way through predator and prey alike on your journey from a pup to a mega. The game is (very loosely) framed as a sort of Deadliest Catch reality show as a TV crew follows Scaly Pete on his quest to catch and kill the mega shark his daddy hunted all his life – and, it’s implied, ended up killing him.
You’ll swim and eat your way through eight regions in the fictional setting of Port Clovis. Unseating apex predators (by eating them, of course), battling bounty hunters, and rounding up collectibles in the form of license plates and unique locations will provide you the means of leveling up and evolving your shark.
While Maneater definitely has some limitations, that doesn’t keep it from being an enjoyable or even worthwhile experience. Something worth *ahem* sinking your teeth into.
Where Maneater Succeeds
While the aesthetics of Maneater are’t anywhere near pushing current-gen hardware to their limits, it can’t be said that the game isn’t pretty. The eight different regions differ visually significantly from one another both above and below the waterline. The game definitely leans towards a more cartoony look and feel, and it does a solid job of delivering on that front. The underwater scenery is super fun to explore!
The fats, proteins, and minerals you need to collect in order to level up your shark’s “equipment” are provided well enough through caches scattered about the environment that you don’t really need to do much grinding in the form of munching down your fellow sea creatures. You might as well eat whatever swims across your nose, of course, but you won’t have to spend hours and hours feasting to have all the resources you need.
A significant portion of the game is spent using your sonar to locate various landmarks, caches, and license plates and rounding them all up. Doing so pops trophies/acheivements as well as unlocks upgrades to your shark. I didn’t find them to be tedious at all, as some in-game collectibles can definitely be.
The locations, in particular, are among the best things in the game. They’re chock full of jokes and pop culture references. Finding each of them is an absolute delight. Chris Parnell lends his voice to the game as the narrator of the framing reality TV show, and he adds color to the locations as well as to a lot of your quest-completing actions. While none of it is necessarily laugh out loud funny, all of it is definitely fun!
Cruising around as the shark and advancing through the regions is simple fun. And the game developers seemed to recognize this as both a pro and a con by keeping the game necessarily short. The 15-20 hour completion time is just about right to keep Maneater from feeling too long given its simplicity.
Same Old Shark Business
There isn’t a whole lot of depth to Maneater. Go to a place, eat all the things, move along. The apex predators are fun challenges, but don’t bring much else to that formula besides quirky appearances like strange growths and golfballs for eyes. The bounty hunters vary in name, but aren’t given any real character. Each one feels and hunts just like the last with very little exception. I really would have liked to see them fleshed out as characters and given unique ways of challenging you as they hunted.
The biggest grind in the game is luring the bounty hunters out. You have to raise your infamy rating to attract them and you do this by eating humans and smashing boats to bits, but the game imposes ceilings on that based on your game progress without telling you when you can advance. So you might wreck twenty hunters’ boats while on the cusp of your next infamy level without drawing the ire of the next named bounty hunter. That just makes combat with the hunters an annoyance I’d rather avoid until I was reasonably sure the game would let me increase my rank.
But your greatest enemy in the game is the camera. You’ll find yourself constantly battling it during combat and navigation. While there is a lock-on feature for the camera, it isn’t persistent – meaning you have to constantly keep clicking that button to keep your target in view. A dedicated lock-on feature that keeps the camera pinned on your enemy or prey would have gone a long way in preventing much frustration.
And because you’re a shark, combat itself is limited to swatting things with your tail, dodging incoming attacks, and biting. The armor sets you unlock in the game change things up a tad with various effects and even active abilities, but only a tad. They look super cool and add some fun sci-fi flair, but there’s a distinct lack of overall variety to combat, which is the main mechanic of the game.
Maneater Knows Its Place
I thoroughly enjoyed my play through of Maneater. It is fun for what it is while at the same time remaining aware of its limitations and avoiding overstaying its welcome. Given its simplicity, it is right about the perfect length. Plus, it isn’t a full-priced game, coming in at $40. But there is absolutely zero replay value to it, so once you’re done with it you’ll likely never return. Though I will say that if the developers were to offer expansions or a sequel, I’d be all in.
It is available for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.