Sometimes, playing as a bipedal humanoid just doesn’t do it for me. Playing as a creature or animal is a nice change of pace. Tripwire Interactive subscribe to my way of thinking and since sharks are awesome, they decided to make an RPG game where you play as a shark. Let’s see how they did.
Popular nature documentary, Maneater, arrives in Port Clovis as the crew follow hunter Scaly Pete in his mission to rid the waters of deadly sharks. After a fierce battle with a pregnant bull shark, Scaly Pete releases the pup into the wild, vowing to hunt it when it is fully grown. As the pup, you must grow far beyond any shark before you and get your revenge.
Watch the Maneater launch trailer below:
The concept of having Maneater be a TV show really helps bring the B-Movie style of the game to life, akin to Destroy All Humans. While the story isn’t the focus, it tries to make Scaly Pete a serious character and it just doesn’t mix with the overall tone of the game well. The confrontations between you and him aren’t interesting, even though you play as a shark, having a strong human cast and a consistent tone would have helped. That being said, the focus of this game is chomping living things to a bloody paste so, does it play well?
The main reason to pick this title up is the fact you play as a shark. From the first minute you take control and until you hit 100% completion, swimming the open waters of Port Clovis is brilliant. The developers nail the feeling of movement both underwater and as you glide across the surface. You can also jump out the water and this is kind of a mixed bag, while it’s understandably difficult to control a shark in mid-air, there are some strange hitboxes that can have your shark go in unintended directions and not in the fun way. This also applies to the times where you have to beach yourself. I don’t have a problem with it being finicky, as it should be but there are obvious control issues that can be quite annoying. These small frustrations are fine in the grand scheme of things but can get tiresome.
A hungry shark sometimes has to fight for food. You have a lethal bite and a tailwhip in your arsenal. Once you get a bite you can hold onto an enemy and thrash the stick for extra damage or slap them across the map with your tail. The latter is always hilarious but the biting gets stale incredibly quickly. You’ll be hammering the bite button until your finger nearly snaps. To vary things up, you have a dodge button and there are status effects like shock and poison you can inflict depending on modifications.
Even bigger frustrations occur during combat, mainly due to the terrible camera. As you and the enemy dart around one another, you have a lock on to re-focus on your enemy. While that sounds good, there is no way to toggle or hold that lock on, just to whip the camera around, which makes for a nauseating and annoying combat system. Fighting near the surface is even worse because if you get to the surface you enter a different control scheme and need to press the submerge button and have to relocate your enemy. The best way to survive is to meet your enemy head-on and spam the bite button and it gets old fast.
You regain health by eating things and are rewarded with several types of EXP depending on what you consume. You can also gain EXP by completing missions, exploring landmarks and obtaining collectables. The biggest way to earn EXP is to take on the aggressive hunted animals and the legendary apex predators. As you level up you get bonuses to health and damage but completing certain objectives earns you modifications like bone armour and electric fins. You upgrade these with the EXP you’ve earned and by the end, you are unstoppable.
If your taste for human flesh goes on for a little too long, you’ll find yourself at the mercy of the human hunters. As you fill up your wanted level, they relentlessly hunt you down and as each bar fills, your Infamy level increases and a unique hunter joins the fray. None of this is particularly difficult but the amount of grinding needed is just aggravating. Your bar only increases by killing sharks hunters. How complex is this? Well bite a few people and wait for the endlessly spawning humans to arrive. Then jump and bite, jump and bite, jump and bite until you want to bang your head against the wall.
As far as visuals go, it’s fine. The choice to start in an ugly swamp is not the best one but it’s not long before you’re in a prettier area. The art direction masks the visuals and they do a really good job of portraying deep water and the seaside city. While the music is passable the voice over is quite solid. The stand out is Chris Parnell, who serves as the announcer for Maneater, who wittily comments on your every move.
Overall, it’s refreshing to see a title like this and we definitely need more animal-based games but there are a few issues. Maneater gets all the basics right but struggles with finer controls. The cookie-cutter design is slightly saved by its novelty and while this is a power fantasy title, there needed to be a bit more difficulty. That being said, if you’re looking for a 10-15 hour distraction and playing as a shark has you interested, Maneater is worth your time as long you lower your expectations a little.