In its purest form, Maneater seeks to offer players a little more than they might expect from a game about a revenge-fueled shark terrorizing a seaside town. Its humor is well mixed with the concept, the gameplay is deeper than anyone would imagine, and it has some moments that stand out. But while the setup and the initial pitch of a shark RPG mixed with Far Cry are exciting, the execution feels lacking and the content quickly becomes thin.
Maneater follows a familiar format of open-world games. There are several zones within the playable area for players to explore/unlock as they progress through the story. Each zone has a different theme – like a coastal resort, Venetian-esque town, or an open gulf – filled with different sea creatures, people, and lots of collectibles. Players can completely ignore most of these items in each zone and just focus on the main missions, but they are key to leveling up and upgrading the shark.
The main part of the game is pretty standard for an open world game as well – players enter a new zone like Dead Horse Lake, unlock a fast travel hub in the form of a grotto, travel with new mission icons, complete missions, and progress to the next zone. Every now and then there is a cutscene to advance the story and there are a few boss fights, but this is the pattern from start to finish.
What helps break up the monotony of Maneater is its combat and customization/upgrade system. Developer Tripwire Interactive toes the line between realistic and absurd, making sure the gameplay is fun but never truly limiting. Players can pick off unsuspecting fish and sea creatures for health and resources (used as currency for upgrades), but when a more impressive creature gets in the way or tries to assert dominance it turns into an underwater battle (or occasionally over water or land) .
Combat in Maneater features several different options for the shark. He moves as one would expect and has a basic bite and lunge at the player’s disposal. But players can add those with an evade move, a tail whip, and eventually an “active” attack that serves as a kind of super. At first, it may seem like all players have to do is swim up to an enemy and hammer in a bite attack, but that strategy doesn’t take full advantage of what the game has to offer. And as the shark encounters stronger enemies such as elite divers, Mako sharks, and orca whales, they will need to consider their strategy more.
Maneater also has an upgrade system for the shark standard version of the game’s armor. Players can equip and upgrade (read: buff the bonuses) different pieces of “gear” on his tail, body, fins, teeth, and head that will offer different other abilities, passive buffs, and enhancements. These evolutions for the shark can favor different playstyles and enemy types, so it’s fun to mix and match them depending on the situation. The shark has also been upgraded beyond “the shark can bite harder,” and offers some unique abilities such as evading electricity or throwing poison with a tail whip .
The game’s greatest strength is the way it shows tangible growth for the shark. As he grows and gains new abilities, the enemies and creatures encountered early on become kinder as players progress. Size comparisons also show progress, as fish that used to be closer in size to sharks become tiny specks in the ocean.
Finding different ways to use combat and seeing how deep the upgrade path goes are the most engaging parts of the game, but the gameplay isn’t enough to keep things from feeling repetitive. – again. The game’s missions (if they can even be called that) are extremely frustrating and usually come down to traveling somewhere in a zone, killing a specified number of sea creatures/humans, and then moving on to the next one. mission. They may be core to the game’s loop but they feel like side missions masquerading as important content. After completing all the missions in a zone, a boss fight will trigger but most of those involve fighting stronger versions of existing predators. Fighting a level 8 alligator is not all that different than fighting a level 15 alligator, except for the fact that its attacks are stronger.
However, every now and then, the game falls back on its story, which is weird and violent if a little predictable. A shark hunter named Scaly Pete kills the playful shark’s mother at the beginning of the game and is out for revenge. Meanwhile, Pete is still chasing a Mega size shark to add to his kill record, which puts the young pup on a collision course with the hunter as he begins to grow bigger and bigger.
As a backdrop for this adventure, the story is thin and the cutscenes, dialogue, and action are passable but rough around the edges. Popping in texture can sometimes make the character models look odd and most of the interactions between the human characters – which are usually Scaly Pete and his son Kyle – are predictable and enlarged. Maneater has a goofy sense of humor but it doesn’t forgive a subpar presentation.
However, the framing device for the game, which imagines a reality documentary show called Maneater follows the shark and Pete adds a lot of whimsy to the game. Tripwire also enlisted Chris Parnell (Saturday Night Live, Rick and Morty) to narrate a lot of the action, which helps bring a less serious tone filled with fun easter eggs to current pop culture properties. Honestly, it’s worth the effort to find some of the Maneater collectibles just to hear more about Parnell.
Outside of a few bits of story and Parnell’s narration, Maneater struggles to move players forward. A lot of the fun in the game depends on what the players put into the experience. If they choose to explore, focus on collecting new gear and upgrades, and find collectibles they’ll find it more engaging than those who stay on the critical path. However, the game only takes about 10 hours to complete all 100%.
This won’t apply to everyone either, but performance on the PS4 Pro isn’t consistent across the board. Depending on what is happening on the screen, the frame rate can drop significantly, to the point where it becomes difficult to understand the action. It’s not a game that runs smoothly on Sony’s platform and it even crashes a few times while struggling through transition zones.
Playing as a giant shark evokes the fantasy of films like Jaws or The Meg, but there’s not much about Maneater that elevates it from its initial pitch. Aside from Parnell’s narration, everything else in the game becomes repetitive faster than players expect. The environments are cool to look at, but players don’t spend much time in them. It’s almost as if the game considered collectible hunting a part of the core gameplay instead of an optional bonus.
At $40, many will find that the Maneater provides the silly escape that many are looking for today. It has humor and charm, and it really indulges the concept of a gigantic shark terrorizing land and sea. But a frustrating mission structure, performance struggles on console, and a lack of variety kept the game from being a breakout hit.
Maneater is now available for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Today Technology was provided with a PS4 code for this review.