There's no boat big enough to handle this apex predator.
All it took was one film by legendary director Steven Spielberg to make the world turn on sharks. The fear of the species that came from the timeless horror of Jaws has given them a stereotype as brutal, evil killers and whilst nature advocates would almost certainly disagree, That said, Blindside Interactive's latest title, Maneater paints the predator in a different, more vicious light.
Maneater is an open-world, action-adventure-RPG built around a documentary show, similar to the likes of Duck Dynasty, and following a shark hunter known as Scaly Pete. The difference is, in the context of this title, Pete is actually the bad guy. He's a cruel unforgiving hunter who shows no mercy and displays great levels of cruelty, especially when dealing with sharks, which is why the anti-hero of this story is actually the shark you play as. To keep the story feeling personal, before beginning your adventure, Scaly Pete murders your mother, rips you out of her womb and scars you terribly. It's all part of his maniacal game, which he likes to call "the hunt". Before casting you out, however, you manage to take Pete's hand as payment and now he's out for revenge.
Designed with a heavy emphasis on RPG mechanics, Maneater is the GTA of underwater adventure. Throughout the title, you are tasked with growing and evolving as said shark, by eating everything in sight, all whilst simultaneously causing havoc on any human population you encounter. You'll begin as a small fry; a tiny shark who is quite low on the food chain, not low enough as not to feed, but low enough to encounter some dangerous foes. It is your duty to eat, grow and evolve so as to be able to contest and consume these deadlier predators, all with the final goal of evening the score with Pete himself.
Playing Maneater is simple. The mechanics revolve around swimming and eating, with the occasional tail smack and a bit of land-based parkour ultimately meaning you don't need to be a crack shot FPS player to succeed here. Swimming has two main areas to master: simple movement and the speedier lunging mechanic that is essentially sprinting. Feeding is also easy to master; there's one button tied to chomping, which can be developed further with the occasional bit of thrashing when necessary. We found the best way to grow was to spam the chomping mechanic as we swim about, just to consume as many fish as we can when exploring.
Aside from feeding and swimming, your shark has a few other tricks up its gills, in the form of tail-whipping and the ability to take a quick stroll on land. Tail whipping can be used to daze fish and people, making it a great mechanic for dealing with strong predators in combat-based scenarios, and it can be developed further to act as a ranged move that allows you to boot fish you hold in your mouth at targets. Likewise, your shark can dive out of the water onto land to reach new areas and feast on unsuspecting humans. This is where the shark is most limited as you can only stay on land for a certain period or else you will begin to suffocate, however, take a quick breath back in the sea and you can jump right back out and dish out some more terror.
Maneater's combat revolves around taking on other predators and human shark hunters who travel in boats. The other water-based enemies can be anything from alligators to orcas, and each differs in strength depending on the size of your shark. For example, alligators prove to be terrifying enemies at the start of the story, however, as you grow from baby to elder, alligators can be snapped up in almost one bite. The human enemies, on the other hand, are the Maneater equivalent of GTA's police. When you cause too much havoc to the human populous will deploy mercenaries to take you down with maximum prejudice. The more of these guys you kill, the stronger the units that get sent in the future.
To keep the combat scenarios feeling fresh at every turn, Maneater features boss fights at different points in the story. These can be easier mini-boss encounters where you face stronger versions of the many predators found throughout the game, such as 'Hunter Barracudas'. Likewise, boss fights can also be bigger and more unique, such as the apex predator and bounty hunter fights. These are much more challenging than their counterparts as the enemies are stronger, faster and healthier than regular types. Apex predators will be grossly over levelled and will hit incredibly hard, occasionally even thrashing you about, whereas bounty hunters bring new weapons such as dynamite to help get you to sleep with the fishes. Due to the added challenge, defeating one of these bosses will provide a new upgrade for your shark, which will be a great help especially when taking on Pete down the road.
On the topic of character development, Maneater provides several ways to strengthen your shark into the killing machine of your dreams. From bioelectric teeth that shock enemies when bitten, to an extra bony body great for ramming boats. Likewise, you can also equip your shark with abilities such as sonar to assist with finding new collectibles and locating fish. These other abilities also provide passive stats such as damage resistance and extra movement speed and can be upgraded to increase their potency with the resources acquired from consuming creatures. As far as the resources (oil, protein and various other minerals) go, they essentially act as currencies, although the need to grind for more isn't usually a problem provided you keep feeding and growing.
The open-world of Maneater is split into seven different provinces, from the open gulf to murky bayous and industrial docks, with each area featuring unique types of fish and new areas to explore. To keep the open-world feeling engaging and to give you something of a storyline to follow, each area is laden with quests and collectibles (ranging from number plates to mineral deposits, through to landmarks depicting humorous takes on pop culture, including references to Jaws, The Godfather, and even Finding Nemo). Gathering these items provides extra resources and bumps up the completion percentage of the game. On the other hand, the available quests are usually based around eating people and fish, or taking on a boss. The main issue with this design is it never really changes, which means you're pretty much doing the same thing, just in seven different areas.
On a more positive note, the audio-visual experience is fantastic. It looks great, feels great and always makes for a laugh especially when narrator Chris Parnell blurts out something witty and daft in reference to something you just did. Likewise, the way it's framed as a documentary makes for an ingenious and unique storyline, however, the issue remains that in terms of depth, Maneater is actually quite shallow. Considering the title is an RPG, being able to complete pretty much everything, aside from a few upgrades and a couple of bounty hunters, in just shy of seven hours seems to signify the limits of Maneater, which is disappointing considering how fun it is.
In summary, Maneater is a genuinely fun, maritime RPG featuring unique mechanics and a daft storyline. It takes the essence of GTA and channels it into a relentless ocean-based romp that somehow also manages to show the atrocious impact we humans have on our oceans. The main drawbacks, however, are the limited quest design and the lack of variety in its playable locations; while each area is pretty and the mechanics work well, you can only stomach eating so many sea creatures. All things considered, Maneater is a lot of fun, although it would probably not be recommended for any fish are friends, not food believers. We're looking at you, Bruce.
7 / 10
A lot of fun, great character development, unique mechanics based in a visually impressive world.
Lack of variety in quest design and general limit in playable content cut short the fun quite abruptly.