Whoa, here she comes, watch out boy I’ll chew you up, Whoa, here I come I’m a Maneater!
Using that song lyric was not the only reason I wanted to do this review, although it did play a big part. No, I had been watching this game for a while, and was interested by the cult following and praise it had been receiving. Not because it was potentially anticipated to be a game of the year contender (as the hype suggested), but instead because there has been a recent cult following of films like Sharknado, the ilk of which are generally described as “so bad its good”, which in turn has resulted in a lot of excitement in a game where you play as an all powerful beast, destroying everything in its path. But will the gameplay live up to such high expectations?
Maneater is developed and published by Tripwire Interactive, who were previously responsible for the Killing Floor series.
It might be difficult to believe but there is a story to Maneater. It follows the story of a baby bull shark who is seeking revenge on a famous shark hunter named Scaly Pete, who killed its mother and disfigured it at birth. As you progress you evolve through various life stages of the shark, whilst taking on quests in seven different map areas of Port Clovis. As you wreak havoc you will encounter a number of other shark hunters – out to kill you obviously – and defeating them will also unlock special abilities, such as electric teeth and reinforced bone plates. Naturally there are a number of different quests to be completed, such as collecting licence plates (generic Jaws reference), finding landmarks, and killing apex predators, such as crocodiles, barracudas and other sharks. Now, I am really freaked out by crocodiles so the first time I encountered one underwater in the very first areas I very nearly needed a change of underwear! A warning would have been welcomed as the game loads – “This game contains crocodiles. Do not play and seek medical advice should crocodiles make you shudder in fear”. Each region also contains an underwater grotto, your home base if you like, where you can change your shark abilities and, most importantly, save your game. I didn’t realise this early on, and did have a few moments where an hour or so’s gameplay was lost because I had left the game without a trip to the grotto, which was incredibly frustrating.
One thing that I really liked about Maneater is its style. The cut scenes are presented as if you are watching a reality TV program called “Maneaters vs. Sharkhunters” and is voiced by Chris Parnell (30 Rock/Archer), who acts as your narrator for the game and cut scenes. This is done quite brilliantly and I loved it a lot! Maneater’s design really does straddle the line between realism and absurdity very well. Some of the landmarks that you can find are also very well designed, like the funfair ride car with two skeletons underwater. As your shark evolves its appearance also changes based on the upgrades that you equip, which was a great design element.
Unfortunately I didn’t love the gameplay quite as much. This is where Maneater was either going to reach that cult status or fall somewhat short, and I am afraid to say that for me it was the latter. There were a few things that didn’t quite click for me, and the first was the fact that you start as the aforementioned baby bull shark and not the apex predator that you might expect. This means that the combat mechanics are tested right from the start, as your shark is susceptible to attacks from small fish and can be decimated by the previously mentioned crocodiles. The combat includes a bite attack (obviously) and a tail swipe but when combined with buttons to dive underwater, a button for a speed dash, an evade button, all whilst swimming and trying to find your prey (or your hunter) in a 360 environment just didn’t feel natural. I guess I never really felt like I was fully in control of the situation, especially when the enemies felt more agile and dangerous. The Apex barracuda in the second map area was a prime example, as he was so quick that even when I was retreating to find health I was being chased and damaged. It just never felt like I was the dangerous beast I should have felt like. I described the controls as “janky” to another member of the Thumbstix team early on, which may have been a bit harsh, but that’s how it felt and it never really improved.
It’s a shame because a lot of the quests that you have to carry out are fun, especially when you are launching out of the water at a jetski or a boat and devouring the unsuspecting humans in the same movement. As I previously mentioned Maneater does veer into ludicrous at times, and the moments where you are flapping around on land happily eating sunbathing humans or golfers (they deserve it) is one of those moments, but it is a load of fun. Especially with the huge amounts of red splattering around. As your shark evolves so does your ability to spend more time out of the water, which is definitely where the game veers into the insane! The campaign is quite short, and can be completed in around eight hours, although revisiting all areas to unlock all the secrets and collectables will take some extra time. It is all rather samey though, whether you are killing other animals, humans or searching for the many different collectibles.
Ultimately there’s just not enough variation in the activities and the control of your shark just doesn’t feel right. It’s a shame these elements let down the great work that’s gone into the games design and presentation. It really deserved a better game to go with it. But you will have fun, unless it’s in those moments with those hideous crocodiles!