STAFF REVIEW of Maneater (Xbox One)

Wednesday, June 10, 2020.
by Adam Dileva

Maneater Box art There’s something fantastical about sharks that spark curiosity and wonder. I mean yeah, sure they are predator, there are reported cases of shark attacks and the movie Jaws made many people scared to go into the open ocean, but when that Shark Week on primetime TV comes on, you know there’s always some good binge watching entertainment to be had. While there’s been the odd game about sharks over the years here and there, none are really all that memorable, probably for good reason.

That ends now with Maneater. No, not the Hall and Oates song (though it’s almost criminal they didn’t license the song for the intro), a dedicated game where you are a shark, aptly described as a ShaRkPG. What’s a ShaRkPG you ask? A game where you’re a shark, with RPG elements of course. You start as a small infant pup, eventually leveling up and growing into a larger and fiercer predator. Eat. Explore. Evolve.

Yes, somehow there is also a story within Maneater. Scaly Pete, celebrity fisherman, has finally caught a massive shark that’s been a menace to the area for some time. Now that he’s caught this mother shark, he kills her and rips her baby from within prematurely. Before tossing the baby, he scars the baby so that he can identify it as the same one in the future. That baby bull shark is where your journey begins.

Tossed aside, Scaly Pete serves as the antagonist in your story, as you start out as a baby pup, eventually growing into an apex predator. You begin in a swampy bayou, only able to feed on small fish, but eventually you’ll level up and grow, allowing you to feed and hunt bigger prey, including humans of course. Narrated by Chris Parnell (Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, Rick and Morty), the whole premise is that the backdrop is a reality TV show. It sounds like an absurd setup and idea for a game, and on paper seems like a terrible idea, but surprisingly works quite well.

Played in third person, you control your shark, and while normally underwater sections in game aren’t always done well, it works decently here. You’re able to maneuver pretty easily in the water, and if you start skimming the top of the water to go faster, you can easily dive with a press of a button. You begin as a small pup though, so you’ll be quite small and weak, needing to avoid other predators in the bayou like alligators that will make a quick snack out of you. The more you eat, the more experience you’ll earn, which in turn levels you up and makes you grow. So the first few hours should be spent on simply exploring and feeding on anything you come across. This will pay off in the end later on as well, as you’ll need to consume lots of other fish and animals to gather different currency types for upgrades.

As you explore the multiple areas, the map will show you certain locations where collectibles and other points of interest are. Some might be sign posts, license plates, crates or banners to smash through. Yes, you’re a shark that can catch some serious air and even go on land if needed, though only for a short time. Some areas are gated off with metal grates that can only be smashed through when you’re an appropriate size and age, so you’ll constantly be revisiting old areas, like the starting bayou, later on when you’re an adult or elder shark. Most missions will start off simple, like eating a certain amount of fish in a specified area, eventually giving you more quests like killing and beating larger apex bosses.

You’re able to tail whip to stun your targets and you’ll be spamming the Right Trigger almost constantly to bite with your powerful jaws. Small prey will only take a bite or two, but once you start feeding on humans and fighting against alligators, simply spamming attack won’t just cut it, and you’ll need to be more strategic. Once you’re able to take on humans, Maneater becomes much more interesting.

The more humans you attack and kill will raise your threat meter, much like a wanted level in Grand Theft Auto. Once you’ve maxed out the meter, you’re going to have hunters with spears and guns start to chase you, trying to take you down. Continue to fill your meter and you’ll have unique Bounty Hunters also start to try and destroy you. While you could quickly retreat and swim away to safety, taking down these bounty hunters will earn you special mutations, so they are absolutely worth trying to eat. These humans will come in force on boats, jetskis and more. While you can eventually destroy their floating fortresses, it’s always satisfying to leap midair and snatch a human off their boat as you devour them under the surface.

Taking down the difficult bounty hunters will allow you to evolve. You begin with just a simple sonar ability that allows you to track anything nearby in a certain range, but evolving your skills after collecting these bonuses really change the gameplay a great way. When you’ve unlocked your grotto’s that act as a home base, one in each area, you can choose to evolve your shark as you see fit. I enjoyed how the slots were on different parts of the body, like your teeth, body, fins, organs and more. I was quite fond of the bio-electric bonuses, and each evolution can be upgraded even further to make you more powerful, which take more resources. There are numerous sets and options for you as you unlock them, so it’s a matter of finding out what suits your playstyle best and changing your evolutions appropriately. The coolest part is that all your evolutions, especially when leveled up, actually changes how your shark appears, so you can have a pretty badass looking shark by the time you’re an adult.

Where I did have a constant issue though was in combat. You can click in the stick to snap and look at the nearest enemy, but there’s no lock-on mechanic at all. So this means you’re going to constantly be dashing at an enemy or predator and miss quite often. Keep in mind you’re a shark, so you’re swimming in full 3D, so it can become a little disorientating without any lock-on system when you’re trying to find your target before they take a bite out of you. Also, when you have a bunch of hunters chasing you down, it can be hard to choose and attack the specific target you intend.

There are a handful of areas to explore, each having a distinct feel and look to it, all with plenty of collectibles to find and full of details within the murky waters as well, such as floating debris. Audio is decent as well, with the narrator chiming in here and there with some witty writing and quips, and of course, the screams of the humans you’re eating.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Maneater, but what I got was an odd mixture of Grand Theft Auto for its threat level and Assassin’s Creed for its map markers, all while being a shark. While it has its flaws and can suffer from fatigue in long bursts, it’s also a unique experience (I’ve never heard of a shaRkPG) and can be quite entertaining and comical. Oh-oh, here she comes, watch out boy she'll chew you up. Oh-oh, here she comes. She's a maneater.

Overall: 7.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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