Maneater sinks under the weight of repetitive quests and shallow systems
Maneater is an open-world action RPG in which you play as a hangry shark that eats a lot of stuff. When you think about it, it’s a bit surprising that this premise took so long to be put into practice following 2006’s Jaws Unleashed. After all, the sheer killing machine potential of a bull shark should easily make for an excellent protagonist in such a title. But as much as Tripwire Interactive’s Maneater has its power trip moments, its lack of variety and disappointing combat struggled to keep us invested during our 15-hour playthrough.
A revenge tale at its core, Maneater frames its story as a TV show, set in the fictional city of Port Clovis, following shark hunter Scaly Pete and what grows to become his shark nemesis. A run-in with the hunter cuts short the life of the mother shark that you control during the tutorial. As he marks the offspring with a cut before throwing it back in the water, the small shark takes his hand as a souvenir. With the conflict established, you take on the role of the baby bull shark hell-bent on devouring things to grow in size and enact revenge.
Maneater’s core gameplay loop revolves around exploring seven of the map’s eight areas, one at a time, and completing a number of repetitive tasks. These always involve devouring things like civilians, armed shark hunters, other wildlife, license plates or signs. Maneater does a good job of showing how sharks aren’t adept diplomats but its missions seriously lack variety. You’ll endlessly bounce between killing helpless opponents and those that fight back. Each area is also chock-full of three types of collectibles, one of them – landmarks – contributing to directly growing your shark’s strength. Thankfully, using your in-built sonar makes grabbing them surprisingly easy and the game’s open levels are fairly straightforward to navigate.
As you find landmarks, defeat apex predators and named hunters you unlock Evolutions for your shark. Think of them as loot that lets you specialize, although, like with most things in Maneater, don’t expect much depth. You can mix and match items belonging to three different sets. We liked using a mixture of bone Evolutions – which make the shark excel at dealing with boats –, bio-electric Evolutions – which stun nearby foes – and the shadow set’s tail Evolution which let us fire a ranged poison attack. You can also equip a couple of passive upgrades that increase health, gathered resources or let you swim faster. They can also be upgraded using four types of nutrients gained from tasks or farmed from specific fish which you’ll find plenty of while exploring Port Clovis.
Although Evolutions have a visible impact on Maneater’s protagonist, they don’t do enough to shake up gameplay. Equipping the bone set does turn you into a battering ram when fighting ships, but you’re still performing the same two attacks while occasionally dodging to avoid projectiles. Evolutions suffer from the same issue as most other systems: their novelty wears off too quickly. As badass as they made us look, we stopped caring about unlocking them before we completed each set. As you progress through the story and level up, the shark also grows in size. You go from being a baby bull shark all the way to becoming a massive Mega shark that can access the entire map. While we still had orca and sperm whales to contend with, going back to deal with the alligators that caused us much hurt early on is one of the few things that felt consistently satisfying about Maneater.
One of the title’s major issues lies in the fact that progressing through each area involves performing an identical set of tasks. While new zones introduce a few new types of wildlife, from seals all the way up to the aforementioned sperm whales, this doesn’t really help fend off the tedium that steadily accumulates as you play. Whether it’s eating 10 turtles, humans or destroying boats, you’ll see more than enough of everything the game has to offer by the time you reach its halfway point.
This isn’t helped by Maneater’s janky combat, either. You attack using either your mouth or tail, with mass and size playing a role in how deadly you are. You’ll use these two attacks ad nauseam. If you’re bigger than an enemy, you’ll be able to grab them and chew on them while they desperately try to escape the powerful grip of your shark jaws. When you’re not effortlessly eating fodder fish unlucky enough to be in your way, you hunt other predators like alligators or hammerhead sharks which do fight back. Wipe out all of them in an area and an apex predator shows up. Sadly, they’re just tankier variants of existing opponents that use the same limited moveset. Bigger enemies can, however, just as easily grab you, which is why steering clear of those that vastly outlevel you is a sound strategy.
You can punch above your weight and even take down bigger, higher-level opponents but, as survival in Maneater relies on a rudimentary dodge mechanic to avoid damage, hard-to-read animations make fighting these longer battles a chore that’s not worth dealing with. The camera also contributes to this, failing to maintain focus on targets that dash past you, including those whose attacks you avoid. This leads to inevitably missing openings that are quite vital when facing stronger foes, as they allow you to deal more damage. In this case, your only option is to break away, eat smaller fish to regain health, then go back to chip off a little more health in drawn-out fights; that or wait and pursue other activities until you’ve outgrown your opponent in size and show them who’s boss without breaking a sweat.
When it’s tasty human eating time, you’ll have a few more things to look out for. Kill enough civilians and you’ll generate Threat which makes armed hunters come for you, akin to cops in GTA. They make use of boats giving you the option of jumping out of the water and devouring them one at a time or ramming into the boat until you sink it. As they retaliate, yellow crosshairs mark the moment you need to tap dodge to avoid their projectiles. Fights are, overall, simplistic affairs that involve lots of button mashing. Every now and then, especially when sinking ships in quick succession, you do feel badass, but that wears off quickly. Kill enough regular hunters and your Infamy Rank increases, calling forth a named hunter and permanently raising the level of regular opponents. This also equips them with firearms and dynamite instead of just harpoon guns. Expect the named hunters to be anything special and you’ll be thoroughly disappointed – they die just as easily and the few ones that try to spice combat up can easily be downed by majestically jumping out of the water and swiftly grabbing them.
Our system is an Intel i7-8700k, 16GB RAM, Nvidia GTX 1070 8GB and Windows 10 64-Bit, and Maneater ran smoothly on it at the highest settings at 1080p.
Maneater’s world does change as you move from area to area. The dirty yellow of Fawtick Bayou’s claustrophobic, swampy waters heavily contrasts the clean blue of the open Gulf. Ramshackle buildings get replaced by skyscrapers, a lighthouse and other imposing structures in the distance. You never get to visit them, although you will have to hop onto land every now and then to clear quests asking you to kill humans and confuse hunters while chilling in nearby pools. Although Maneater’s different areas feature new assets, the game looks better underwater than above it. Diving beneath is fairly atmospheric and does give a different, more foreign feeling than exploring other open worlds, at least while getting acquainted with each area. For the most part, you’ll either be navigating through narrow waterways or broader expanses that, by the end of the game, do begin to meld into each other.
Developer Tripwire Interactive deserves props for simply running with an unusual premise as this and trying its best to make it work. Sadly, the execution is lacking and no matter how fun devouring hunting parties and unlocking new evolutions is in the beginning, its core gameplay loop becomes dull way before its relatively short campaign comes to a close. There’s some fun to be had in short bursts, but they’re spread out too far to leave a lasting impression. Maneater’s premise remains the only thing that stands out, painting it as a largely forgettable experience.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Returning as a bigger shark to tear alligators in Fawtick Bayou to shreds with ease.
Occasional short bursts of enjoyment
Overly repetitive tasks
Shallow combat and customization
Unreliable camera during combat
About Bogdan Robert Mateș
When not brewing coffee or debating serious topics with my cat, you'll either find me playing video games or writing about them.