More than two-thirds of the planet is covered in water, and every inch of it is home to nature’s greatest killing machine outside of a bored cat in your yard. A billion years of evolution, hundreds of teeth designed to rip and tear until it is done and various organs fine-tuned for hunting. Sharks may not be able to win a thumb-wrestling contest, but as far as biology goes they’ve clearly got an advantage.
So imagine just how brilliant it’d be to actually inhabit the fins of a remorseless killing machine, unsullied by notions of morality. Yes, absolutely yes I do chews this path. Maneater is that game, a role-playing adventure where you start at the bottom of the food chain and work your way up the food chain, savagely devouring anything that dares cross your path.
Imagine Grand Theft Auto but in the briny depths of the ocean, and you’ve just hit the nail on the hammerhead of Maneater. There are plenty of aquatic differences of course, but the gist of it all is that you’re inhabiting a world that doesn’t take too kindly to your rampages and ability to turn an entire human into a bloody wad of chewing gum. Raise your threat level too high, and shark hunters will descend on you, eventually calling in the big guns in the form of an infamous hunter who’s just one reality show away from hitting the big time.
At its core though, Maneater is a game about growth and exploration. It’s about discovering wildlife around you…and eating it. It’s about tangling with dangerous predators in the water…and later eating them. It’s about reclaiming the waters around you from humanity…and eating them. There’s a running theme here, but you get the idea.
It’s not easy to be a fresh fish in these waters, but throughout your journey you’ll eventually grow from tuckus-nibbling guppy into an Omegaladon of alpha danger. That path will feature various evolutions, increasing your ability to bite ships in half, slap beachgoers across the screen with your tail as if they hockey pucks and sense danger in the ocean with fine-tuned electroreceptor organs.
Truth be told, the actual mechanics of being a shark within the waters of Maneater are jawesome. There’s a deadly grace to your movement, as you glide through the deepest oceanic trenches and regularly breach the waves to deliver the signature danger sign of a shark fin cutting through the deep blue sea, leaping into the air and snatching holidaymakers off of boats before you chow down on them and add their various nutrients to your gene resource pool.
There’s a perverse thrill in beaching yourself, grabbing a victim and then popping back into the waters, viciously thrashing about and ripping your victims to shreds. Heck there’s even a good story on offer here, as your own evolutionary rampage is juxtaposed against the tail of Scaly Pete, the ragin’ cajun who has a bone to pick with you after you left him short-handed. You’re wanting revenge as well of course, as Scaly Pete happens to be the hunter who bagged your mom and left you for dead, with both paths creating a story that can best be summed up as Jaws V Moby Dick: Dawn of Toughness.
All of this is told through the lens of a reality show, perfectly capturing America’s annual obsession with the greatest predators of the ocean that eventually culminates in shark week. Heck, Chris Parnell even lends his own vocal pipes to the production, although I wish he was given some more material to work with during the quieter moments of the game instead of listening to him repeat lines of self-love over and over again.
It’s all silly fun, completely ungrounded from reality and a colourful diversion, but one that doesn’t have too much depth to its waters. Maneater’s gameplay loop is a simple one and massacre mileage may vary with your taste for blood. You’re left with one option and tweaked missions, but the gist of it usually boils down to surfing on over to a new corner of the map and chomping down on whatever life you find there so that you can continue your journey up the food chain.
Sometimes you’re breaching the water and taking out mobsters, sometimes you’re tangling with the kings of respective underwater jungles and sometimes you’re working to draw out bounty hunters but the end result is always the same: Your teeth, soaked in a layer of blood and the endless void of your stomach ready to receive the remains of your prey.
It’s also frequently annoying to deal with certain enemies within the various lakes and oceans you inhabit, as Maneater’s selection of foes can be annoyingly relentless. I’ve spent entire sessions thinking that I’ve managed to loose a pack of hungry alligators, only for them to rock up and bite me in half from across the map, while barracudas and Mako sharks have proven to be tenacious foes whose AI scripting has allowed them to follow me into my sanctum sanctorum which is supposed to function as my safe space and allow for personal growth within Maneater.
Where Maneater does succeed, is in delivering a polished and fantastic world to explore. There may not be much to do within it, but the journey itself across radioactive bayous, lakes with suburban encroachment and the endless expanse of the ocean itself makes for a fantastic environment and cathartic travelling from point to point. Parnell’s narration is the cherry on top, thanks to these zones having some sharp tourism which he gleefully sinks his teeth into.
Last Updated: May 22, 2020