It’s odd playing a game where your on-land metre rapidly diminishes as your little Bull Shark that could suffocates Meanwhile, being underwater is the norm. It’s a total script flip, but largely that’s the point of Maneater; a game where our protagonist is a Bull Shark bent on revenge and survival in a world literally trashed by humans and human settlement, and she’s hunted indiscriminately by yokels in a fictional-near-true Floridian game-world peppered with spins on Louisiana, California and the Gulf of Mexico. The whole thing is amplified through its presentation, which takes cues from Shark Week documentaries, Deadliest Catch and Dirty Jobs (as described to us by the devs themselves), only in hyper satirical form, lead by narrator Chris Parnell (Archer, Rick and Morty) in what is meant to be a *sort of* episodic docuseries format.
"After a prologue, our Bull Shark setup sees us, a young pup, without a mother needing to survive the dangers of Fawtick Bayou which is filled with alligators, barracuda and the most little dog-syndromed fish in the game, the muskellunge..."
For the most part this setup serves the game well. It keeps it light and entertaining against the game’s collectathon loop built around exploration, leveling up, combat and mutation. I say “light” because in the early stages of Maneater you are essentially grinding. This feeds into the loop, and helps balance the ecosystem for safety of travel and the aforementioned exploration. After a prologue, our Bull Shark setup sees us, a young pup, without a mother needing to survive the dangers of Fawtick Bayou which is filled with alligators, barracuda and the most little dog-syndromed fish in the game, the muskellunge. Non-aggressive animals such as grouper, catfish, turtles, seals, mackerel and more flesh out the underwater world, and each one you consume helps refill any lost health due to combat or hunters, while also giving your specific chemicals utilised in upgrading and mutating our Bull Shark.
With this in mind, Maneater is pitched as an action-RPG, and while to an extent that stands, it’s relatively lite-on. You begin the game as mentioned earlier as a pup, but through leveling you advance to teen, adult, elder and finally into something new altogether. Naturally, as with any progression system with XP and skills and abilities, you get stronger and gain new ways to combat the aggressive world around you. And once you break the level 10 barrier, confidence grows in your ability to handle encounters, which then promotes the aforementioned exploration. There are eight biomes in the game -- the aforementioned Fawtick Bayou, Dead Horse Lake, Golden Shores, Prosperity Sands, Caviar Key, Sapphire Bay, Crawfish Bay and The Gulf -- the largest space of all eight. Each one of these biomes comes with a grotto for your Bull Shark; a safe space where you can escape the other hungry animals outside and also upgrade.
"Landmarks are interesting moments frozen in time that range from tongue-in-cheek commentary around human behaviour through to pop-culture references ranging from finding a Banana Stand at the bottom of Sapphire Bay with the caption “There’s Always Money Here”..."
On top of the grottos, each biome also comes with a checklist of items to find and collect. Landmarks are interesting moments frozen in time that range from tongue-in-cheek commentary around human behaviour through to pop-culture references ranging from finding a Banana Stand at the bottom of Sapphire Bay with the caption “There’s Always Money Here”, to a massive steel grate at the bottom of The Gulf, chained up yet bubbling below with magma. This landmark is captioned “There Be Kaiju”.
It’s an odd reference to make, but Maneater reminds me a lot of games from the late 90s and early noughties. In fact, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater came to mind early, if only for the checklist-styled objectives riddled throughout the game-world, alongside the irreverent humour and the permeation of pop-culture Easter eggs, as did the Just Cause series (Just Cause 3 in particular). And this helps the game remain one step ahead of itself -- it doesn’t take itself seriously, but the setup alone is a thinker for us bipeds, giving food for thought on just what the world beneath any watery surface looks like to the actual custodians of those spaces. Naturally liberty has been taken on the social commentary side of the game, so it’s (hopefully) more over-the-top than the real world, but in our current climate with those in charge… I dunno. And I also digress.
"And when you’re a young Bull Shark trying to take on two of the fastest fish in the sea in Marlin and Mako alike (or sometimes at once), problems with the camera and orientation rear their head in ugly ways..."
Where Maneater lets itself down is in its own ambition. For one, movement as a shark in general in a near 3D environment is a hard thing to pull off, and when you’re a young Bull Shark trying to take on two of the fastest fish in the sea in Marlin and Mako alike (or sometimes at once), problems with the camera and orientation rear their head in ugly ways. Also “knifing” which is the act a shark performs when they glide just below the surface and their dorsal fin is all that can be seen -- the game auto-knifes when you’re close enough to the surface. This immediately changes your visual from below water to above, and happens all too often in combat. And, frustratingly, the amount of time and animation it takes to submerge again is more than enough for your opponent to get an easier drop on you. This is, in fact, my biggest gripe of the game.
Others exist though. As with games like GTA, you gain an Infamy rating based on killing humans. Raise it enough, and redneck hunters come after you. Kill enough hunters and the boss of that biome’s hunter brigade shows up. Kill him, and more hunters just keep on coming. There’s no end other than to hide from their vision or to just swim away as fast as you can. It would have been much better if after killing that biome’s boss the Hunters retreated to fight another day and gave you respite, it just doesn’t balance all that well.
Still, the game’s hilarious nature more than makes up for a lot of its shortgivings, and when you come face to face with each biome’s Apex Predator boss, you feel like you’re in another world, which is largely the point of the game. And there’s something truly lovable about being handed a mission with the description: “Bust up a National Shark Fin Exporters Convention by consuming 10 of them”. I mean, what’s not to like about that?
"The Day One patch which I’ve had a play with addresses *some* issues, but a few more persist. They’re not game-breaking, but stand as reason enough the game might have needed another month or so in sharpening up..."
On the whole, more time in development might have ironed out some bugs, and the Day One patch which I’ve had a play with today addresses *some* issues, but a few more persist. They’re not game-breaking, but stand as reason enough the game might have needed another month or so in sharpening up. All that said, there’s a fun game here for people who are into 100%-ing anything they touch, and for those looking for something a little bit different. Be sure to watch the video examples riddled throughout this review to get an idea of what you’re in for, but I’ll be spending the rest of my game-time after plonking roughly 18 hours into it, uncovering everything else it has to offer.
What we liked
Big biomes to explore filled with character and commentary
The episodic docuseries setup makes for great narrative
Flipping the script between hunter and hunted
Loads of things to explore, find and consume
Plenty gorgeous in many spaces throughout the game
What we didn't like
Can also look choppy and unfinished in other parts
Camera woes are amplified by auto-knifing if you're too close to the surface
In larger open spaces, the bull shark feels slower which greatly affects combat
The neverending tide of Hunters that only leave if you had or escape, rather than dominate wholly