'Maneater' Review: A Jaws-Droppingly Brutal Open-World Shark 'Em Up
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Just when you thought you'd seen all the action-RPG genre had to offer, Maneater comes along and makes a big splash in an attempt to spruce up the genre. Developers Tripwire Interactive have appropriately dubbed this a shARkPG which, if you haven't guessed it yet, heavily hints at the focus of the game.
In the build up to release, Maneater bit its way into the headlines and gained a fair bit of attention. As an open-world game widely described as GTA but with sharks, it obviously went down very well with gamers hungry for some Jaws 'em up action.
The game aims to take players on a journey through uncharted waters. You start as a baby bull shark and gradually evolve, ultimately asserting yourself as the apex predator of the seas. Maneater, as a concept, does in places bear a strong resemblance to the likes of 2006's far-from-fantastic Jaws Unleashed. However, 14 years later, Maneater arrives armed to the teeth with upgrades and diverse underwater environments, wanting a chunk of the action.
Maneater quickly introduces you to shark life, teaching you the basics in order to survive in such a demanding watery world. A brief tutorial section lets you feel the shark's true power while keeping you alert for bigger predators coming at you. Throughout the game you are always reminded that you are not the strongest. This grace period soon comes to an abrupt end as you are captured by the notorious shark hunter, Scaly Pete. From this point on you assume control of a baby bull shark who wants revenge. Is it just me, or is everything cute when it's a baby?
The storyline takes the shape of a reality TV show titled Maneaters vs Sharkhunters, which is presented by actor Chris Parnell, aka the voice of Jerry in Rick and Morty). With this being said, you are not confined to the storyline in the slightest. The beauty of this game is that you have the luxury of doing whatever you want, whenever you want. If you just want to nom on swimmer limbs all day, there's plenty of humans lazing around on the beach. However, if you want a unique and engaging story to accompany you on your underwater journey, Maneater has just that, too!
Over time you in a way find yourself growing more and more protective over your lil shark, carefully selecting your victims based on their level and the type of nutrients they provide upon consumption. It almost goes without saying, but in order to survive and evolve you must eat - and proteins, fats, minerals and mutagenics can all be obtained from various aquatic wildlife (and humans), so a balanced diet goes a long way towards evolution.
In Maneater, it's easy to think you are invincible just because you're a shark. But after an early game encounter with an alligator, I quickly learned I'd bitten off more than I could chew and retreated to the seabed. One thing Maneater does well during these encounters is put you into survival mode, with accompanying soundtrack helping to build the tension and compliment the gameplay. Tension is sometimes hard to master, especially when it comes to games that encourage a degree of freedom, like Maneater. But I feel Tripwire have nailed this perfectly.
One thing Maneater really gives you is choice. Firstly, throughout your journey, you get to dictate what attributes your shark gets to brandish. These are unlocked as you progress and can be equipped and upgraded at a litter-filled Grotto in each region, where you can adjust your jaws, head, body, fins, tail and organs. Each upgrade comes with a unique set of attributes which give you an advantage in combat.
Secondly, as a shark, you get to show who's boss and pick exactly how you'd like to kill prey. You could just take a few bites, sure. Or you could leap onto land, grab a human and take them underwater to drown them. But then, you could also attack a boat from underneath, throwing everyone onboard into the water. The variety of combat choices really helps when you've got bounty hunters on your tail.
Bounty hunters are a hugely important factor in Maneater, and work similarly to Grand Theft Auto's star system. Maneater has an infamy system, which can sometimes get in the way if all you want to do is eat humans all day. This means that the more you kill, the higher and harsher the bounty hunters will be when they track you down. In the early stages these are quite easy to evade by dodging bullets or dropping to the ocean floor - but, naturally, as you evolve, so too do the hunters become harder.
With each new environment you unlock, you are spoiled for choice with objectives to complete and locations to discover. And upon completing these you are rewarded with nutrients to help you progress even further. Some locations can be accessible from the start, others are locked behind a gate which requires your shark to have evolved - which is easily achievable if you put your teeth to work.
For the completionists among us, Maneater sure has plenty to see both above and below water. Naturally, as a shark, you expect to be spending a lot of time underwater. But the world above ground is equally as beautiful in this game, and although you can't survive for long out of water, a shark chomping away on land is a weirdly stunning sight to behold.
As you explore the open world you will encounter a wide variety of wildlife and water conditions, all of which varies depending on your location. This helps keep the game exciting and makes exploring the depths a delight. Each region concludes with a battle against fierce apex predator such as alligators, giant squids and killer whales, just to name a few. And these are perfect opportunities to test out any upgrades you've acquired along the way.
Maneater is in some ways a spiritual successor to Jaws Unleashed, so if you're a die-hard fan of that old cult hit, this is definitely up your creek. The game boasts beautiful environments and a compelling combat system which work really well hand in hand. The story in some ways feels as if it exists just for the sake of it, however - it doesn't seem to add a great deal as the game progresses, other than to explain the origin of the baby bull shark at the start. Maneater makes for an interesting addition to the action-RPG genre, and is one that is sure to capture the imagination of adventurous aquatic gamers, if only for a few hours of undersea fun.
Maneater was reviewed using PC code provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 today, and Nintendo Switch later in 2020.