Things had escalated quite a lot by the time Jaws: The Revenge splashed along cinema screens across the world in 1987. With the shark developing a personal interest in exacting revenge on the family of chief Brody, to the point of stranding his still grieving widow and surviving son out in the Caribbean in a fight to the death yet again — all bets were off. It’s a terrible movie by all accounts that tried to cash-in on the success of Spielberg’s breakout hit, but it helped cement a sub-genre of films that had as a theme nature fighting back somehow, often to ridiculous extent.
Since then, we’ve gotten a lot of variations on the idea of sharks going out of their biologically set ways to cause havoc on humans, from Deep Blue Sea to Sharknado, and games haven’t missed the boat on the idea either, with there even being a 1975 Atari arcade release based on Jaws and the original Xbox and PlayStation 2 Jaws Unleashed down to the more recent Depth. It’s a really entertaining concept to be put in the role of such a powerful animal and do work on humans, and in Maneater, Tripwire Interactive’s new over the top shark game, you get to do a whole lot of that… repeatedly.
Maneater opens like a faux Deadliest Catch-esque Animal Planet reality show starring Scaly Pete, a shark hunter, who in the opening minutes kills the protagonist shark’s mother and rips them out of her belly as baby, losing an arm and sticking a knife into the poor thing, tossing them out in the bayou for dead. It’s unlucky for him that it survives and yes, it’ll be out for revenge as soon as it grows, and grow it most certainly does throughout the game, followed by a witty, hit-and-miss nature documentary-style narrator. It grows into things that go beyond the mere scope of shark biology, thanks to mutagens and an obvious lack of any seriousness from anyone involved in the making of this game.
That’s in no way saying that Maneater is a bad time. It’s entirely the opposite. It’s an open-world game that lets you climb to the top of the food chain in a matter of hours, and in doing that, it’s extremely fun, albeit totally dumb. If you spent any time playing and enjoying games like Stubbs The Zombie and Destroy All Humans! in the early 2000s, you’ll feel right at home with Maneater: it follows the same formula of leveling up and acquiring new abilities, all the while exploring and partaking repetitive quests in a pretty cookie cutter level-gated open-world.
There’s a lot to appreciate in a game like this at the current time we’re living for a variety of reasons. Maneater proved to be an excellent distraction that kept me engaged for the 11 hours that it lasted me. Within them, I grew from a level 1 shark pup with little more than a tiny bite that hardly scratched anything into a level 30 megashark armed with a bio-electric body that could whip lightning bolts with its tail and zap anything in its path. I took over the waters that surround the fictional Port Clovis and called them my own, destroying anything that stood in my way, from orcas and other species of shark to the strongest people that humanity threw at me once I maxed a convenient onscreen panic meter to full. Within the confines of my TV at least, I became the apex predator.
Progression comes in the form of a series of quests, both mandatory and optional, that have you hunting a variety of living creatures, including humans of course. You can go exploring and find a bunch of collectibles as well which help you get the materials you spend to evolve into the killing machine you were born to be, out of a few different paths you can take, like the aforementioned bio-electrical one, or a more tanky form that’s basically The Incredible Hulk meets Thing in shark form. All of which are tied to leveling up, gaining the ability to use them, and of course, getting them as rewards from all the killing you do throughout the game. It all comes relatively quickly, so the grinding didn’t feel too tiring in my time playing, even if the activities all boil down to swimming to markers and doing what sharks do best.
Then there are things that sharks don’t necessarily do in reality that you get to partake in Maneater, like jumping really high off of the water and flopping around on the ground, using ridiculous super powers, and basically gaining the abilities of an amphibian creature. It’s all in the service of being silly and fun, and head to well, fin, Maneater excels at delivering, jank included. Combat is a little messy and all over the place since there’s little in the way of keeping the camera locked in to an already questionably targeted prey, and enemies are really good at circling around and zoning in on you. That’s especially the case of human hunters, which ends up encouraging plenty of button mashing on your part to keep afloat.
Maneater comes close to overstaying its welcome thanks to its limited quest design, even in its relatively short running time. I extended that by a few hours by going out of my way to do most of the optional content I could find, which made the progression system get me to reach the level cap way before the end of the story and the list of open quests, which seems to be the way that was found to discourage grinding. But it was weird having a cap considering that the enemy levels didn’t stop at 30 like mine.
Technically, there’s a lot to this game. My highlights are how the shark model is very detailed and creatively changes the more you grow, naturally or via the many crazy mutations, and how absolutely beautiful it looks when swimming underwater and the light from the setting sun shines from the sky above. It’s also extremely well optimized on PC, and runs at a stable framerate on whatever graphics setting you end up falling into. While I was not crazy about how the human characters look, they’re somewhat personable in how they’re animated, like how every one of the named mobs you go after has a freeze frame intro when you first encounter them, adding to the silliness at display.
Gameplay issues aside, I had fun playing Maneater. It’s hard to determine whether or not I’d be this positive about the game if the circumstances were different, but there’s no denying that it does what it aims to do satisfyingly enough, and that it came around in a very opportune moment where I appreciated turning my attention away from the outside world, at least for a bit.