Maneater is a wild ride of a game that lets players play a murderous shark that can take to the air, land, and pwn the oceans. It's an insane concept that would make Sharkado proud and it's basically GTA but with teeth. With that being said, it should be obvious that this is one heck of a game and a fantasy that we didn't think we'd be sold on, but we totally were.
This "ShaRkPG" is an open-world action RPG that has players taking on the role of ... well, a shark. You'll start as a wee little baby shark and must work your way up the food chain by decimating everything in sight. Humans, fellow wildlife; it doesn't matter - eat it. Eat it and grow. The open-world is a massive playground giving total freedom and a clear objective, which while still locked in COVID-19 quarantine has been a unique source of sanity. No complexities, no dramatic twists - just pure, unfiltered fun.
Before diving in, there's one thing you should know. It may seem obvious, but this isn't a game you're supposed to take seriously. It's campy, it's goofy, and it's an experience that is meant to be fun. Not all games have to have this golden arch of universal truth as the kernel of its experience, some adventures are just meant to be an enjoyable journey for the sake of having a good time. Now that we've gotten the obvious out of the way, here's our review!
The goal is simple: eat everything. The open-world setup might be a little overwhelming for some, the beauty lies within an almost mindless wandering, but it's oddly cathartic if you ignore the mass murder. That being said, that doesn't mean the decision to go open-world is without flaws. From shark hunters to innocent golfers, there is no shortage of yummy humans to munch on, and those munchies are what's going to make you powerful.
Maneater is fun, really fun, but at times the open-world environment felt almost unnecessary. Kill, swim, and repeat makes for a niche gaming experience that is a hilarious concept, but did this need to be so massive in its entire scope? Probably not and that massive decision is a reason I think some players - and even reviews - will be conflicted.
There are certain missions to take on, like eating innocent golfers on land, as well as a core story, in typical RPG fashion. Minus the golfers. Usually. The story itself iwill last anywhere between 7-10 hours, which is short but does make a certain kind of sense when looking at the subject of the game. You can't really expect a lengthy campaign driven by war and love. You eat. You cause mayhem. That's it, and most of the time; that's enough.
The story begins, as mentioned before, as a wee little baby shark that comes into the world in a violent fashion: cut out from his slaughtered mum by a seasoned shark hunter. That hunter's name is Scaly Pete, because of course it is, and he leaves his permanent mark on the player by marking you. This, obviously, doesn't make a newly orphaned baby shark too happy, which will cause you to bite the hunter's hand before he throws you back out into the ocean now motherless.
The story itself is about growing that sad little pup into a ferocious man-eating (heh) machine waterbent on revenge against the cajun shark hunter. The progression of growing up from a defenseless little baby shark into a full-grown predator is oddly satisfying. Seeing that progress of growth with each kill feels like an achievement and more often than not is enough to distract from the creeping sense of boredom from all of the seemingly mindless swimming.
Yes, you can eat people but you can also prove your dominance by eating other wildlife as well. Battle it out with aquatic bosses like a giant Orca while feasting on smaller fishies to regain any lost health. You can avoid these boss fights if you wish, but taking them on will make you infinitely stronger before eventually heading off to the final boss fight: Scaly Pete.
There are also clueless human NPCs that you can take out as well, which is a feature that instantly had people harkening this experience to that of Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto. Bellyflop for your life onto land-dwellers and make their wildest Sharknado nightmares come true. You'll also face a lot of shark hunters as well, an enemy that feels very gratifying to chew up into itty bitty bits.
As the campaign progresses, the human foes will get stronger and some even come with armored boats and heavy artillery. For the most part, the boss fights are pretty evenly balanced in a way that makes it not too terribly frustrating to take them on, though the AI does seem a little bit wonky and seems to encourage mindless button-bashing. Still, blood goes pew pew and everything is once again right in the world.
The one thing that grated on my nerves a bit during my quest to become the most advanced apex predator was that my shark was ... sticky? You know how in Assassin's Creed you'll go to climb and then suddenly your assassin is plummeting to the ground at an alarming rate? This is kind of like that, but the opposite: instead of plummeting, you just sort of stick to surfaces. The number of times I'd go to stealth-evade an enemy only to awkwardly get stuck on the ocean floor was alarming.
The diving and jumping mechanics too were just a little left of center, making it incredibly easy to fire a mis-command and accidentally performing the least elegant belly flop in the history of belly flops. Not even Bob Ross would call that a 'happy mistake.' Still, overall the mechanics of the game from the camera angles to the combat controls are generally satisfying and work in tandem to achieve the game's ethos: be a shark, be an epic, epic shark.
For those that are familiar with the GTA franchise, there is a similar mechanic here but instead of cops, it's hunter infamy. With the more humans you kill, the higher your infamy ranks, which means more and more foes show up until you finally trigger a boss fight. Take out those bosses, and you've unlocked a new evolution, which is a key way when upgrading your not-so-baby shark (do-do-do-do?).
I'm a shark, hear me ... roar?
I do want to point out just one thing: when playing this game, there was an awful lot of roaring. Last I checked, sharks don't really do that. Is that an issue? No, in fact, quite the opposite! The level of primal brutality adds a layer of immersion to the game that keeps the player engaged in the moment. Does that make me worried I might be part serial killer? Maybe, because I had way too much fun watching chunks of NPC flesh flying all willy nilly like. There was something uniquely satisfying about watching the carnage you bring unravel before your very eyes. It felt good in the worst way possible.
Think shark, but then make it fashion
You can evolve your shark, as mentioned briefly in the mechanics section, through boss fights and ranking up infamy points. Evolving your shark allows for certain mutations, like bone armor, becoming an electric animal of doom, and more powerful attacks, which is another progressional tool that feels satisfying and marks in-game elevation. Passive and active abilities are also tied to these mutations, which makes your ability to survive tough fights and land invasions even greater.
Overall, there is a lot to love about Maneater. I feel like I might be in the minority that will give this game a higher score but I knew what to expect going in: this isn't your traditional RPG, this is about being a shark. Sharks don't have detailed love quests, philosophical debates, or politically-driven wars - they eat, they sleep, and they make cute little shark babies. While you can't make shark babies of your own in this game, you can eat to your heart's content, and really - at the end of the day - isn't that the endgame for all of us in life?
Maneater could have been improved by adding more meaningful activities throughout the open-world, but again - look at the subject material. To me, Tripwire had a vision and they executed that vision in a way that made sense for the creative direction. It's mindless fun that is equal parts campy and challenging and it's a nice way to unwind; especially if you need an outlet for annoying co-workers or just A Really Bad Day.
Our Score: 7.5 out of 10
Maneater is available today on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC on the Epic Games Store! A copy was provided by the studio for review and guide purposes. Thoughts on our review? Interested in playing Maneater for yourself? Then holla at yo human (not shark) over on Twitter @PrimaGames!