I grew up on a commercial bait boat which meant I saw all manner of fish but the two things that always impressed me most were dolphins and sharks. Dolphins I would sometimes see as far as the horizon, jumping and playing together as well as playing with the boat. I would sit and look down to see dolphins just barely staying ahead of the boat flapping their tails from one side of the bow to the other always looking like they were having great fun. Sharks however were more like ocean protectors, checking us out to make sure they didn’t need to come in and chew our asses up for being up to no good. I saw dozens of them, from sand sharks to great whites with even a couple hammerheads in there as well, over the years. Even today when I see them in aquariums sharks still seem to instill a sense of awe and majestic prowess, they never seem to lose that impression of raw power. Now try to think of Spinal Tap talking about sharks instead and you would suddenly find yourself closer to the vibe of Maneater.
Maneater is the story of an orphaned baby bull shark that has to find its way in a world full of dangers both above the surface and below, though that sounds like a fairly heavy premise it really is used little more than the story’s driving force. The story is told from a mashed up point of view between a fishing reality show like Greatest Catch where it follows different shark hunters trying to mount your jaws on their wall to a tongue-in-cheek Shark Week style narration of the shark while it swims around. The end result is surprisingly enthralling, I was paying close attention to everything and enjoying the story a lot which is nice since the storyline could have easily been just a throw away.
Gameplay is sandbox style with controls map styles very similar to GTA or Saints Row. If you have played either one then you will get the hang of the primary controls which move you horizontally as well as vertically like when you fly a plane in those games. The big difference is flying too high in those games won’t cause you to start suffocating, if you hop on the land to eat some folks or jump on deck of a floating boat to make it into a burning one you are quite literally a fish out of water and you have a little corner meter that will show your breath loss until it gets too low then starts subtracting from the health line. As soon as you go back in the water then your breathing meter refills. Otherwise it has a corner mini map that can be pulled full, your cruise around taking out other fish for health or just the fun of it, if you attack too many you kick up your notoriety and they will send out shark hunters when it reaches a certain level of infamy and the greater you get it the bigger the enemies.
Also very much like those games in a good way is the upgrade system or in this case evolution. Who needs millions of years to evolve when you can learn quickly from your environment and develop armor plated skin or electronic teeth? It is pretty funny to evolve your baby shark considering sharks are believed to have hardly evolved since coming on the scene 200 million years before the dinosaurs. That being said you have three different main skill trees to work with and 11 organ upgrades. The skills are Bone Set, Bio-Electric Set and Shadow Set and each set has an upgrade for teeth, fins, body, tail and head. You earn them different ways like beating a shark bounty hunter or collecting license plates (like in the shark in Jaws) but luckily they are all fun if a bit challenging, some also require leveling up (going from baby shark to teen then adult).
It’s kind of weird to compare a game about a man-eating bull shark to GTA Vice City but aesthetically they both have some very vibrant neon colors, when you go in new areas it shows similar fonts on the screen and your mini map marks all kinds of places for missions to take out a certain number of enemies or take on a boss figure or get collectables strewn all over the map. If you are cruising along and see something or someone you want to attack you can go ahead at it. The different areas of the map have different feels and scenery, if you are in the fresh water bayou (bull sharks can live in fresh water) you have to be wary of alligators all over the place while swimming through yellow murky waters, then you head out to munch on a few bathers and you find clear waters and people filled beaches.
There is one big issue in the game and, while it isn’t a game breaker, it does take some getting used to and that is the camera angle and follow system combined with the water surface. If you have played a game where you are flying a lot you rely heavily on your camera to help you stay oriented between the ground and sky. In this game’s case it is the water and the world above the surface that act like your ground and sky but when you are in the water you have very limited view of the surface and visa versa. The results will often be that you will get attacked from underwater without being able to see your attacker below. From below isn’t as bad until you start fighting bounty hunters at which time the camera system really starts to fail. The hunters on the surface can shoot down at you without you even seeing them, all you see is a laser sight focusing in and hitting us with great damage and accuracy. The laser focusing is quick and pretty hard to dodge so that it can be hard getting through the henchmen to get to the boss. To combat this you have to do defensive rolls but at the same time you need to go to just below the boats or above the water to attack the boats which leaves you open to enemy fish and alligator attacks from below the water while you are trying to hit and destroy the boats before getting shot to death then you need to eat the people swimming for shore. If you get tagged too much you either run away really fast to eat some catfish and fix your health or you die and wind up back in your grotto.
If it seems a little hectic it is but mostly because the camera doesn’t like to follow you. I tried using both a keyboard and mouse and a game controller when trying out the game to see if maybe it was designed as a port but I found for the most part I preferred the mouse and keyboard control layout and camera angle control. That doesn’t mean it was still great, I think I have the camera controls pretty well down but when I did my fight with the first boss I didn’t know I had managed to kill him until I got a notice from the game. Since I got it for Epic I will probably stick to keyboard and mouse but both sets of controls could probably use a little shifting in the key and button binding.
Maneater is a really fun game with a huge sandbox environment of sand and water to swim or flop around in. I had high hopes jumping into the waters of this title and TripWire did not disappoint. The tongue-in-cheek over the top narration by Chris Parnell (Jerry from Rick and Morty, SNL alumni) pulls everything together making it a solid outing with lots of hours built in and high replayability, especially with all the different builds you can make. With you behind the controls it won’t be safe in the water, or the dock, the sand, the nearest submersed tunnels. You get the picture, and it is a bloody one.