Maneater rekindles a forgotten spirit of simplistic, no-pressure gaming, and perhaps most importantly it lets you be a shark.
This review of Maneater is based on the PC version. It is also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
Maneater is the 2020 lovechild of Blindside Interactive and Tripwire Interactive. At its core it is simply a shark simulator, however, don’t take simplicity for being uninspired. Maneater takes this concept and executes it marvelously.
The story is presented under the guise of a network cable TV show, following Pierre ‘Scaly Pete’ LeBlanc, a steroidal Cajun shark hunter, and his son, Kyle. The film crew follows Pete and his son on the show’s initial hunt, which ties nicely into the game’s tutorial, whereby you play an adult bull shark and learn the finite game mechanics before you are inevitably captured by Pete. Pete has a shark-shaped bee in his bonnet, for reasons hitherto unclear, and rather than a swift execution, he chooses to gut you, unveiling that you are pregnant with a pup. He mutilates the pup with his knife, the pup bites his right hand off and he tosses it into the water, concluding the introduction to the game and your first dance with Pete.
From here on out, you play the bull shark pup, slightly disfigured, but entirely functional. Thrust into a Louisiana bayou, you are left to explore, eat, and more importantly, grow. The core gameplay is bolstered by Chris Parnell’s brilliant whimsy interlaced with factual information on sharks, your environment, and the varying species you encounter.
The key to becoming the beefcake bull shark we all secretly want to be reincarnated as is eating… eat everything you can. The game’s upgrade system works on accruing proteins; lipids, minerals, and mutagens, which are found in all the different critters you encounter and snaffle (the game labels which animal has which resource next to their name and that animal always has that resource to make specific collection easier.)
Resources are spent on upgrading your shark in two different ways: Passive upgrades (called organs), which affect things like how far your sonar travels, recharge times, how long you can breathe on land, etc. You can stack three organ upgrades on at any one time. The other upgrade choice is armor; these have active effects on your enemies and affect your shark’s stats the most — they are also wildly entertaining. The two presented armor choices are Bone and Bio-Electric; wearing the full set of either grants you greater power, so it’s best not to mix and match, but whether you want to smash a boat to pieces as a bone torpedo or fry an amphetamine-fuelled shark hunter with 20,000V, you are in for a treat.
Eating everything as you swim along is a good way to grind your way from Pup to the coveted size of Mega Shark, however, side quests and collectibles are heavily rewarded. I’m by no means a completist, but I didn’t find it difficult to collect everything, there aren’t that many collectibles (most of which you swim by), but primarily, Chris Parnell’s hilarious running narration of the location signposts made it enjoyable to do so. Akin to the way we all enjoyed exploring each area on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, collecting SKATE and ollie’ing the Magic Bum, no part of it feels tedious and the rewards are well worth it, especially if you like secret bonus armor…
To acquire the rest of the upgrades, you will need to eat humans and apex predators: The in-game population of (not explicitly stated but definitely) Louisiana are easy shoreline targets; they are extremely buoyant due to their gluttonous creole diets and don’t swim too fast. Eating humans builds your infamy and continuing your homo sapien banquet will trigger a named shark hunter to come and attack you — killing the named hunter gives you an upgrade reward. Nearing the completion of each area, you are presented with the chance to fight that area’s apex predator; each one you defeat will present you with an upgrade, but more importantly, that sense of pride that you are now the veritable Mack Daddy of that ecosystem.
Combat within the game is based on learning the enemy’s patterns of attack and reacting accordingly to defeat them,.Your choices are dodge, bite, tail-whip and ram; while limited, mastery grants you that warm fuzzy feeling and eating the remnants of your foe grants huge amounts of resources and XP.
The downsides: The camera control is also your movement control, which during combat can leave you a little disoriented. There is a handy “Focus on target” button (F key on PC) so spamming this helps you maintain target lock, however, it did make some combat scenes seem a little easy. The story itself is rather short; I completed the game 100% within 13 hours. I recommend playing this as a downtime game when you want to play something without putting a lot of thought into it, or only have an hour spare to game.
In summary, I’d highly recommend Maneater to anybody, it has that rare, and in modern times elusive feeling of simplistic joy. Back before there were achievements and everything had to have a battle royale element to sell at all, there were games you could play on your own and have a great time. Maneater perfectly rekindles that forgotten spirit of gaming; it takes a linear concept (be a shark) with limited control options (because, you know… you’re a shark and sharks can only do shark things) and deploys it into a dynamic environment, beautifully rendered and teeming with life. The outcome is a fantastic game that strikes a perfect balance between satire, gore, and simulation, but above all, you get to be a shark.
Written by guest critic David Yates.
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