25th May2020

‘Maneater’ Review (PS4)

by Matthew Smail

With the evergreen popularity of Jaws, and the close proximity of trashy B-Movie stories to video games, I’m genuinely surprised that we haven’t had hundreds of shark themed video games. I honestly can’t fathom (lol) why there haven’t been more, but that may change going forwards if Maneater realises it’s full potential.

This game has its tongue firmly in its cheek, and whilst the subject matter is often graphic and the action visceral, Maneater shouldn’t be taken too seriously. The more time I’ve spent with it, the more I’ve come to refer to it as something of an underwater Saints Row.

Maneater begins with the player controlling a large, powerful bull shark who has dominion over all she surveys. A cut scene, made in the style of a reality TV show introduces us to Scaly Pete, a notorious and aggressive shark hunter, and it becomes clear that our bull is his top priority.

Following a brief and bloody battle with his minions, Scaly Pete harpoons us and it’s game over for the Queen of the ocean. Pete is a bit of a sport however, and upon discovering that she’s pregnant, he removes her pup, scars it and throws it back into the sea in the hopes of a climactic future encounter. What he doesn’t expect, however, is for the baby shark to take a chunk with him – specifically, his hand – ensuring a mutual hatred between man and shark that will play out over the next ten to fifteen hours.

Now controlling a tiny level one bull, the player is immediately bumped further down the food chain. In the shallow bayou waters that serve as a proper introduction to the game though, enemies are few and far between. A few medium to large sized alligators will pose a threat, but aside from them, the only other enemies are a pike-like species of fish known as the Muskellunge.

As Maneater reveals its systems, the player will learn that each area contains a dizzying array of side quests and the equivalent of collectables. From landmarks that reveal a brief story section, to license plates that simply encourage leaping out of the water or even a brief sojourn hopping around on land (more on that later) there’s lots to do. There are chests of nutrients (essentially XP caches) to locate, dominant rivals to kill and, in each later area, humans to hunt and devour, including named bounty hunters who will spawn when a certain level of threat is reached.

A big part of Maneater comes from eating more or less everything you see, with prey animals (including everything from turtles through to other sharks, or even Orca) providing both health and protein (experience.) Whilst there is no hunger mechanic, you’ll feel inclined to hunt everything because protein (which comes in four colours) makes the shark grow, and also unlocks new abilities and upgrades. Additional (and usually more powerful) upgrades are also granted when bounty hunters are defeated.

As the shark grows in level and size, adding mutations and abilities like advanced sonar, electric or bone teeth, armour plating and so on, it obviously becomes more and more dangerous. Whilst enemies like large gators, sharks and especially orcas are deadly (like one or two hits deadly) when you first encounter them, Maneater does a good job of making most of these foes seem less and less dangerous as things progress. Now whilst I appreciate that no real bull shark will ever develop external bone armour, there should be a difference in power between a new born pup and an experienced, large shark of several years in age. This is something I certainly liked about Maneater.

Clearly, a lot of what you’ll be doing in the game is focused on combat. The shark begins with just a bite attack, which is soon augmented by a tail whip. These two moves will be the mainstays of our sharks survival throughout the game, but the ability to leap further and further out of the water (and survive whilst hopping around a beach, bizarrely) and a few other physical features will change how the bull handles.

Underwater combat in large, open areas is by far the most satisfying, and arguably the easiest in the game. This is because it’s much easier to keep the shark from surfacing, which then introduces another button to press in order to submerge again. Combat in shallow water therefore becomes a bit clunky, and you’ll inevitably take some hits simply by being at surface level when you actually wanted to stay beneath the water line. There is a button to apparently lock onto your target, but on PS4 at least, this doesn’t lock at all – it just points the camera the right way.

Another PS4 (Pro in this case) issue is slowdown. Maneater looks fabulous to my eye, with levels that are both very creative in their design (ranging from bayous, to sewer pipes, to open ocean with lots and lots of scenery.) The problem isn’t that with so much going on, there are significant frame rate drops at times and having spoken to a fellow reviewer, this is not the case on Xbox One X. No doubt, the PC version of Maneater on high settings with a quality rig will look and perform superbly.

Whilst there are seven varied and interesting regions to explore (most of unlocked based on the level of your shark) and about ten bounty hunters to kill, Maneater does feel fairly brief. Fifteen hours should see players through the main game content plus a lot of the side missions, and you’ll certainly be done with everything within sixteen or seventeen hours. That said, the story is pretty light (I mean obviously the shark doesn’t have much of a personality) and the combat does eventually begin to feel a little samey, so it’s not the worst thing ever that the game is fairly punchy and visceral whilst it lasts, rather than being a longer, slower affair.

Overall then, Maneater gets the shark-on-a-rampage feel more or less spot on in my opinion. It may be violent and intensely gory, but it’s also silly and sensationalist, with a lot of humour. I’d suggest that it’s an ideal purchase for players who still enjoy the more childish, chaotic elements of games like Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto. It’s definitely not a kids game, despite its obvious silliness, and no amount of laughs can hide the fact that Maneater is an ultra violent experience. Personally, I liked it a lot, and I’m very keen to see what the inevitable DLC has to offer us!

***½  3.5/5

Maneater is available on PS4, Xbox One and PC now.

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