Remember the days when not every game was a military first-person shooter (FPS), a battle royal Fortnite wannabe or a sports sim? Well, Tripwire Interactive does. The studio’s latest release, Maneater, sets out to prove it. The player embodies that most feared killer of the deep, the shark, with the singular mission of enacting revenge upon mankind in the goriest fashion possible. It’s original, that for sure.
Future Games of London, an Ubisoft studio, has previously dabbled with the concept in its Hungry Shark mobile games, and more than a decade ago we saw Jaws Unleashed come to PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox. However Maneater is considerably different. It’s a full bloodied high-end action game with a story and many of the associated conventions; twin stick controls, deep progression system and unexpected celebrity voice actor, for example. Maneater aims to bring something new to current generation, and that it does, though it does take some effort on behalf of the player to reveal it’s full potential.
The thematic of the game is simply wonderful. Aping the current trend for corny entertainment shows dressed up as documentaries, Maneater aims to make you believe that its cast of rednecks and undesirables could actually be based on real people, however cartoony some of them may be. The story of the sharks is narrated is if a tertiary character in this faux documentary as the Maneater narrator comments on your successes and losses. The quips and jibes are somewhat hit-and-miss, but that only lends itself further to the low budget docu-drama that Maneater reliably mocks.
The game proposes a free-roaming playing field, both underwater and above ground. As your shark gains additional skills it can increasingly survive on land, but as might be expected the bulk of the experience takes place in and under the water. The player will begin small, gobbling up innocent fish and turtles before ramping up to take on alligators, other sharks and, of course, humans. It’s the latter that provide the most enjoyable combat scenarios by a good degree, so it’s a shame that the developer keep them out of reach for a while after the initial tutorial.
The areas in which the player can visit are divided into sections with different aesthetics and missions. While the player can freely traverse between them as they wish (with unlockable safe zones in each) it’s best to think of the map as being in the style of Bully (aka Canis Canem Edit) opposed to Grand Theft Auto. The set of missions in each local – story, optional and collectathon – give the player a choice as to how to progress through them. However, the story will obviously not continue until the story missions in each area have been completed, thus making subsequent sections largely devoid of interest until the necessary progress has been made.
Controlling your shark can be difficult at first. As stated above, Maneater uses familiar twin stick controls; however it’s better to think of the game as a space shooter or something akin to the classic Forsaken than a more traditional third-person game. You’ll often find yourself spiralling while looking for a cave exit in the first hour-or-so, but once your situational awareness kicks-in the control system will become second nature. So too will the upgrade system: at first seeming like a useless metric that should highlight success but fails to deliver any improvement, once a small amount of progress through the story missions has been made (and a few bounty hunters have been felled) it reveals itself to be a compelling reason to continue playing.
And that’s potentially Maneater’s biggest downfall. The initial blunders in signposting and level system soon give way and Maneater becomes an enticing and challenging prospect, but its then over all too soon. Completionists will find depth in trying to crash every sign, collect every licence plate and find every hidden treasure, but almost as soon as the story (and thus comedy) aspect of the game gets up to pace it feels like it’s coming to an end. There’s potential for additional episodes via downloadable content (DLC), but given Maneater’s budget price that seems highly unlikely.
Maneater does provide a nice well-rounded entertainment package for that mid-range price point however, and also acts as something unique in today’s release line-up. As the traditional summer draught of new titles approaches Maneater could well find itself a comfortable place in the landscape, and for anyone looking for a change of pace will surely be a welcome addition to their at-home entertainment options.