Release Date: May 22, 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Genre: Adventure RPG
I wish I were in the meeting where a developer pitched the simple idea of playing as a shark and being released in the wild to eat anything you want. Sure, this idea sounds like something you’d find in games like Goat Simulator, but could this concept be fleshed out into a fully realized game?
Well, developer Tripwire took up the challenge with their latest release, Maneater. Centered around a shark’s lust for revenge, we get a game that is arcadey in its systems but definitely presents some quality features that make it worth taking a bite out of.
Maneater does have a narrative. It’s not in your face and could probably be skipped, but it tells the story of a relationship between a shark hunter, Scaly Pete, and his son. After the two catch a shark, Pete slices it open to reveal a baby shark, which swiftly bites his arm off. Players then assume the role of this newly born shark and head out to the open sea.
Throughout the game, you’ll meet up with Pete and Son and learn more about them, but these small bits of narrative only serve as a way to break up the gameplay portions. For me, this didn’t add or take away from the experience the game provided, but it was surprising to see the depth the team went to make you understand these characters, even if you kind of hated them.
Maneater isn’t going to win over players from its story alone, but that’s where the gameplay picks up the slack. Now, it’s not entirely easy to explain what this game does well and how it manages to elude the common criticism of repetitive mission structure. You see, there isn’t much to Maneater outside of eating things and causing a commotion. It’s a shark; I don’t know what you expect. However, it’s the developer’s use of creative environments and the joy brought by being as destructive as possible.
Maneater likes to carefully tread water on being set in a realistic environment filled with fantasy RPG elements. No, the events in this game can’t happen, but it would be one wild ride if it could. As you complete missions and eat things, you’ll earn experience to level up. Once you hit a certain level, you’ll proceed through the life of the shark from baby shark to mega-shark and each step in between.
Each new age allows you access to some secret areas and better stats, but the core gameplay elements stay consistent across each new form. Interestingly, no matter how strong you get, there’s always a bigger fish, but sooner or later you’ll end up the Apex predator of the water. And that’s where this game ultimately takes you. Each mission completed is another step toward ruling the sea, but the game does require a bit of imagination from the player to really get the most that this adventure has to offer.
Missions require players to do rather mindless tasks of eating a certain amount of something, but again, you’re a shark, so I’m not really sure if I can fault the game for this structure. These missions aren’t handed to you either, while you’re eating a group of fish or humans, preditors will appear to make things a little more difficult for you. Other missions will have you destroy a target or defeat an Apex predator. I never really had a sense of the game being too complicated, which might be an issue for those looking for a challenge.
As you cause waves, hunters will appear to take you out. There are ten levels of infamy amongst the hunters, which increases the more you fight them. Each level is capped with a human boss, which provides your shark with a new upgrade. These bosses aren’t difficult because, I mean, they’re still human, but the additional upgrades are cool to have.
The customizing of the shark is where most of the fun happens. A lot of the first few areas focuses mostly on adjusting the player to the controls, but in the latter portions, you pretty much turn into a powerhouse of death. Each new equitable upgrade can also be upgraded using materials for added effects. These materials are earned by doing anything, and I never really had an issue with not having enough to enhance what I wanted to.
I’d have to commend the developer on their attention to level design and creating this underwater playground. Before playing, I couldn’t really wrap my head around how much depth a shark RPG could have, but they squeezed as much as they could, and exploration is just a bonus. Getting lost in caves and in adventuring down into the depths might not yield rewards, but it does provide a bit of eye candy in terms of presentation.
Controls in the game take some getting used to, and I still have issues merely jumping out of the water. The game works best when using a controller, and the shoulder buttons are continuously used. The shark’s movements are responsive, and I was able to get through most encounters without much trouble. However, the camera will always be an issue.
Maneater does a great job of giving players a compelling and rewarding shark RPG. The entire campaign concludes with your shark being an absolute tank, which is when the real fun begins. The mission structure is repetitive, and the controls take some getting used, but in the end, this a game about playing as a shark and eating things in an open world. If you know what you’re getting yourself into, you’ll find yourself in a sea full of possibilities; if not, then you might consider this to be a shallow experience.
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