Maneater — Chummy delight
Duh-duh, duh-duh, duh-duh.
I think it was around the time I flopped my scaly body up out of the water and onto the fairway of a luxury golf course, chowing down on golfers and whatever else I could sink my teeth into, that I realized Maneater was unlike anything I've played before. First and foremost an action RPG, this open-world swimmer puts players behind the fins of an evolving, and ever-hungry, bull shark. Over the course of the game, you'll feast on other sea life, apex predators, angry fishermen, and of course carefree civilians — both in the water and out. And while the novelty is refreshing and offers a boatload of unique and memorable gaming content, the shtick wears off rather quickly, leaving you aimlessly swimming without a clue of what you're doing with your fishy life.
But before we get into the murky, let's start with the bright: Maneater is a gorgeous game. Beautifully vibrant underwater settings provide the perfect playground for your sharky deeds, from the algae-covered waterways of the Fawtick Bayou, to the crystal blue hues of Sapphire Bay, to the grimy graveyard of Dead Horse Lake. Within each of these distinct biomes are landmarks to find and collect, or in this case, bite, as well as license plates, crates of MREs (because why not?), and hundreds upon hundreds of fish to tear apart. This isn't even mentioning the aboveground areas, which, while not nearly as accessible as underwater, mirror the colorful explosions that exist beneath the surface.
While you swim around, chomping as you go, you'll also be greeted with fun shark facts thanks to the narration from an enthusiastic TV host, and many self-aware and fourth-wall breaking jokes. You'll also find safe havens known as grottos. Here, you can apply and upgrade your various evolutionary traits and magically transform into a bigger, deadlier shark. The visual differences each trait and mutation provides is wonderfully designed, from bone armor and shadow teeth, to fins mutated with bio-electricity, and it isn't long until your little shark becomes the top of the food chain.
But with the top of the food chain comes others who wish to tear you back down. Scaly Pete, a fishermen with a deep hatred for sharks, has got his eyes on you, and the more carnage you cause the more bounty hunters he'll send after you. Think of the wanted system from any open-world game of the past decade and you'll get the gist of how this works. Of course, this then opens up the game to shark-on-boat-combat. You'll lunge out of the tranquil depths and shred blue collar workers into minced meat, while at the same time avoiding their rifles and well-timed bombs. The more bounty hunters you eat, the more mutations and evolutions you unlock, once again making the point of this game clear: just eat everything.
And this is where Maneater slows to a doggy paddle. The gameplay is outrageously repetitive. You enter a biome, eat some fish, fight off an apex predator (like a big alligator or barracuda), eat some bounty hunters, and repeat. It's fun for about three hours and then it becomes a boring slog of just swimming, eating, and swimming again. It doesn't help that the environments, while colorfully impressive, don't have visual landmarks to make traveling any easier. You'll come across a sunken ship here, a cave there, but the rest is just seaweed and openness, meaning you'll be relying on your map most of the time.
The RPG elements of the mutations and evolutions are another missed opportunity. Again, visual impressiveness doesn't make up for dull gameplay, and this is exactly how the later game upgrades feel. There's nothing to loot and then equip, your offensive and defensive skills don't change beyond rudimentary damage and armor increases, and your overall move set doesn't change either with the exception of stat boosts, meaning all elements of strategy are binary: eat or don't eat. Because of this, the goal of devouring everything in sight begins to feel pointless way too early on and makes the later areas not nearly as captivating as the early parts. It's just simple, easy, mindless carnage from start to finish.
- Final Thoughts -
Maneater allows you to fulfill all of your deadly aquatic dreams by putting you in the body of a ravenous shark. While it's fun stalking humans and creating your own scenes straight out of Jaws, the lasting appeal is repetitive and shallow. A lack of gameplay variety discourages multiple playthroughs and hinders the already relaxed RPG mechanics. It's worth trying just for the exceptional quirkiness and glittering open-world, but don't be surprised when you lose the urge to just keep swimming.
(Maneater image courtesy of Tripwire Interactive)