May 22, 2020
Who knows what goes on behind a shark's eyes? Those lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eyes. In Maneater, you can (sort of) find out, as you get to live the life of a female bull shark from fledgling pup to all-consuming mega fish. On a quest for revenge against single-minded Cajun shark hunter Scaly Pete, Maneater's premise is perfection; you can't help but wonder why it hasn't already been done (2006’s Jaws Unleashed excepted). That rarest of things – the game casts you in the role of villain, albeit one that's hardwired to act on instinct – and tasks you with eating anything and everything in sight. Maneater is the anti-Ecco, and for the first ten hours or so, it's an absolute blast that's unlike anything else.
Presented like one of those Discovery Channel documentary series, Maneater follows Scaly Pete and his crew as they set out on a mission to harpoon you to death and string you up by your tail, and what follows is something that makes Jaws look like Finding Nemo. Starting out as a pup in an irradiated swamp on the Fawtick Bayou, you'll very rapidly graduate to rubbish-strewn, polluted lakes; then pristine, affluent bays; before visiting spotless beach resorts teeming with humans ripe for the picking. At first, you'll be bullied by alligators and barracudas, as you strive to eat as many fish, turtles and other marine animals as you can, in a bid to grow and evolve.
From a wee, vulnerable pup, you'll develop into a teenage shark, able to consume slightly larger beasts, before ascending into adulthood sees you beginning to grow large, fierce and formidable. By the time you've reached the status of elder, you'll be turning the tables from the top of the food chain, swallowing up mako sharks and alligators as if they're mere snacks. As you acquire collectibles, complete side quests, and progress through Maneater's storyline, you'll gain evolutions that enable you to tailor your shark, be it with a bony jaw, fin, tail, and head, or the ability to emit a deadly spark with bio-electric body parts, or a poisonous mist with the fearsome shadow set.
Applying your evolutions means a trip to the safety of one of your grotto havens, which also serve as fast travel points dotted across Maneater's open-world. Here, you can upgrade your evolutions or mix and match them, altering both the look and deadliness of your insatiable, toothsome fish. But as enjoyable experimenting with setups can be, it does little to combat the inherently repetitive nature of the game, water-based dogfighting soon becoming a tad wearisome after a while. A lack of variation in the objectives you're presented with in each region doesn't help, and as such, you may find that the novelty of chewing all and sundry into bloody chum by repeatedly jabbing the R2 will gradually wear off.
Maneater can be incredibly janky at times, too, especially when you've gained enough 'Infamy' to draw out hunters, only to find yourself juddering violently amid converging skiffs and trawlers, all trying to shoot and harpoon you. Regardless, there is a gleeful, stomach-churning satisfaction to leaping out of the water and snatching a hunter off the deck, pulling them into your jagged maw, kicking and screaming in a shower of claret. Or flopping onto land to drag someone to a horrific, grisly death. Indeed, for the most part, Maneater is insanely good fun, making it easy to overlook the occasional visual glitch – or one bug that rendered it impossible to bite until I reset the game. Annoying loading screens between each region can be problematic, too, especially when you're caught between two places while locked in a battle with hunters.
Narration from Chris Parnell (Rick and Morty, 30 Rock, Anchorman, Archer) also provides a constant source of entertainment, chipping in with amusing asides and factoids to keep things interesting while you're gorging on fish, seals, and killer whales (yes, really). A raft of collectibles also provides distractions all over the map, with landmarks, license plates, and valuable nutrient caches (filled with fats, minerals, mutagens and other tasty treats that serve as currency for upgrades) always giving you something to track down. Completing certain sets of collectibles award new body augmentations for your shark, so they're worth seeking out, using your sonar.
You'll need them, as well, if you're to survive the relentless onslaught of hunters, rival aquatic fauna, and apex predators that conspire to make your life as a shark less than simple. Intermittent catch-ups with Scaly Pete, meanwhile, see the hunter increasingly consumed with vengeance, as you ruin his hunting endeavours in spectacular fashion. Eventually, you'll rise to meet him head-on with extra teeth, bigger fins, and more than a few additional tricks up your gills. Wonderfully offbeat and frenzied, Maneater succeeds in being big, silly fun, which, in spite of a handful of technical shortcomings and somewhat repetitive gameplay, is a piece of deliriously enjoyable mayhem that's utterly unique. It's also a sobering reminder that nature is not to be trifled with. Or else, you're gonna need a (much) bigger boat.
Subtle tunes that fit the bill perfectly, fun narration from a game Chris Parnell, and excellent voice acting all round.
Some decent vistas and truly lovely marine life, marred by some unfortunate glitches and a fair bit of jank.
Hammering R2 to eat stuff is a great workout for your index finger, but it soon gets repetitive. Targeting can sometimes be a little bit off-kilter, too.
Maneater is fun, but the same objectives are repeated ad nauseam across a good 12-15 hours of open-world swimming, eating, leaping, and diving. Evolutions add spice, though.
A list for completionists with little in the way of interesting tasks. A serviceable set of objectives that will keep you poking around Maneater's world.
Manic marine mayhem, Maneater is a one-of-a-kind shaRkPG that can feel a little one-note at times, but it's never anything less than an unhinged, knowingly daft piece of entertainment. You get to be a shark and eat people, for crying out loud. It's fun and guaranteed to make you smile, (you son of a bitch).