As much as the sea’s most fearsome predator has dominated the realms of B-Movies, they’ve never had quite the same luck making waves in video games. Sure there have been many games which use sharks effectively, here’s looking at you, Cyber-Shark from Far Cry: Blood Dragon but nothing has really captured the visceral nature of actually being a shark.
Maneater is the latest release by Georgia-based developer Tripwire Interactive, a studio primarily known for developing first-person shooters like the Killing Floor, Red Orchestra and Rising Storm series’. It is a third-person Acton RPG in which if the stunning Gifs around this haven’t made clear by now, you play a shark.
The opening of the game introduces you to the controls as you play as a fully souped-up Bull Shark rampaging through a nearby beach and a group of shark hunters you attract. That is until head shark hunter Pierre “Scaly Pete” LeBlanc finds you, hunting for the shark that killed his father. Killing the shark you’ve played as so far, he finds a baby shark (sorry for putting the song in your head) in its belly, scars it and tosses it overboard to hunt down one day. And that is the character you will play for the rest of the game.
This spin on the traditional ‘Start the game with all your powers then immediately lose them’ Action RPG opener is both good fun in terms of immediately delivering on the premie of ‘you play as Jaws’ as you tear apart a beach before immediately being transported to a bayou full of delicious catfish and alligators that want to kill you.
You get the feeling that Tripwire has really put the work into making this feel as satisfying as possible to chew through people, plaice and things. Not only do the animations look great and control great but you really feel the crunch as your teeth go through bones. The control scheme is well-balanced to start out. It’s simple and builds its complexity to reflect the degree by which the difficulty increases.
The character work is broad but effective as the Cajun caricature that is Scaly Pete becomes a somewhat terrifying prospect the more you see how committed he is to avenging his father, even if it’s at the expense of his own son, Kyle. The running theme of family becomes fascinating as you are dealing with lineages of sharks and hunters, it brings in elements of everything from Moby Dick to The Lion King.
The skill tree system it implements is, much like the control system. It starts off simple but expands appropriately, giving you access to a variety of fun upgrades. I don’t want to give too many spoilers but let’s just say, if you like bone protrusions, you’ll love Maneater.
The game is given the framing of being part of a television programme based around Scaly Pete called Maneaters vs Sharkhunters which means the game is given the soundtracking and narration of a shark documentary. As present by Dr. Leo Spaceman himself, Chris Parnell, the game immediately enters the hall-of-fame, alongside Danny Wallace for Thomas Was Alone and the team of John DiMaggio & Greg Proops for MadWorld in terms of actually funny video game narrators.
Round about the only issue with this experience is the load times. This might be down to the laptop I played upon but it took a good few minutes to load to opening cut-scene and then the game needed to load again. I don’t know whether its that modern gaming has made us so used to receiving things immediately but it does take out some of the immersion when you have these gaps in gameplay while you wait for the game to reset itself.
Equally, as well developed as your main antagonist is, the ten hunters you’ll face on the way to Pete all end up falling into that trap of having one quirk and a unique weapon instead of feeling like fully-fledged characters. For a game that has put as much emphasis on atmosphere and world-building, this seems a strange oversight, not one enough to drag it down particularly, but it was certainly a missed opportunity to build some more interesting dynamics than “here’s another wacky shark hunter.”
If you’re willing to chew through some quite lengthy loading times, there is a very satisfying experience to be found here. Where some similar games can get repetitive, Maneater has enough character and depth to its skill tree and upgrade system to keep you involved for the entirety of its 10-12 hour campaign. While I’m not sure there’s much potential for replay value, there’s enough here to sink your teeth into for a very satisfying underwater adventure.
Maneater is available now for PlayStation 4, PC & Xbox One.