The truth is, when I would watch the JAWS film series…I kinda wanted the Shark to win. I have always been fascinated by Sharks growing up and I think it is fair to say that outside of actual wildlife documentaries, sharks have not been really given a fair crack at the whole “hero” gig. But that has all changed with MANEATER a game that is described as a single player action adventure open world RPG….with a Shark which is exactly what this game is. Time to sink my teeth in and get to work!
I have to start off by saying that MANEATER is perhaps the biggest surprise of 2020 so far for me as at first it sounded like a terrible “Be a Shark simulator” game but in no time at all this game completely won me over with both its story and the gameplay itself. The introduction reveals that MANEATER is actually the name of a TV show that is following a famous Shark Hunter in Scaley Pete who quite frankly would wipe out all Sharks from the world’s waters if he were allowed too. He is a 3rd generation Shark Hunter and fishermen as his father and his grandfather were as well and the intro is broken up when reports of a large shark with what appears to be the broken tip of his fathers harpoon in its side gets Scaley Pete all excited and he breaks the interview to set off after the shark.
The tutorial stage will have you playing as this very shark to begin with, as you get to grips with the swimming mechanic as well as the whole “eat anything that moves” and some combat techniques like dodging and tail whip. I found this tutorial completely helpful as it really manages to train you in what to expect for the rest of the game in just 20 minutes and I appreciated how it did not rush you either, teaching you about objectives and how to feed and fight without forcing you to get on with things as you just get used to the gameplay. The tutorial ends once you have completed all the objections and sees you immediately caught by Scaley Pete who being the complete tool he is, guts you to reveal that you were actually a momma shark and had a baby shark inside you which Scaley Pete, which we have already decided is a complete tool, takes his knife and scars you so he will “recognise” the baby shark again…..and promptly throws it into the sea, but not before the baby shark bites off Pete’s right hand, retribution has begun!
The main game will have you playing as the baby of the Momma Shark with the very traditional focus of wanting to get revenge on Scaley Pete but in order to do this, we have some growing up to do. Starting off as a Pup, there are five stages of growth for the shark all achieved by levelling up and earning XP from completing objectives in the area regions that make up the world of MANEATER. Starting off a Pup you are rightly very vulnerable in the waters and the world does not go easy with you as the starting location will not only feature fish you can manage to eat and battle but also threats in the form of higher level alligators who will target you, even teaming up with other alligators to do so. There is a real sense that you have been thrown in at the “deep end” so to speak but it is a great way for the player to experience what this world is all about, danger and knowing when to risk taking on a tough enemy and when to focus on growing and evolving.
Now this really is a game that does not take itself too seriously and a lot of the Shark aspects do not reflect reality at all but the game makes it very clear by its humour just how self-aware it is with the MANEATER TV show cuts with Scaley Pete as the story progresses but especially with the TV Show Narrator who will happily drop in random shark facts based on what you are currently up to. The animations as well when chomping down on fish or battling the larger sea life as well are over the top with brutal audio effects really make life as a shark great fun to start with and as you become and grow into a bigger more deadlier shark, it only becomes more satisfying to go on a feeding frenzy not to mention when you get to go after humans with their very funny reactions to you just popping out the water to much on them. You would think being on land would protect these silly humans from being dinner for you but nope, you can simply pop out the water and throw yourself on land to happily eat away until your air runs out and forces you to return to the water but there is just something highly entertaining about the arcade parody of the violence both in and out of the ocean.
The RPG elements or ‘ShaRkPG’ is where MANEATER truly comes to life for me, here is where you can earn new abilities and evolutions to push your Shark to new levels of monstrosity. Starting with Mutations, these are earned via progress in the story and completing tasks such as taking out the Hunter Boss characters and can give you either new abilities or boost attributes such as improved sonar location, more health or boosting the collection of materials needed to evolve and upgrade mutations and evolutions. There are also three ‘Shark Builds’ that can be obtained and these are the main evolution aspects. You will see that you have slots for Head, body, tail, teeth and fins and these can be filled with any of the three sets you start to gather via progress. The three sets will give special attack abilities so with the Bone set you will be able to inflict more physical damage and take more punishment when the full set is applied and upgraded. The Shadow Set will give your attacks a poison-based boost and the bio-electric set adds bio-electricity to give more stun damage.
You can mix and match the sets as well so you can have elements from any of the three types but equipping a full set will give you an added bonus on top. How you build your shark largely comes down to how you want to tackle the combat in the game as you will be expected to not only take on human hunters, which will be triggered when the threat level hits a certain amount when you go full “oh that human looks tasty” far too much or when taking on a region’s Apex Predator battle, which all grow in difficulty the further you go in the game. You will find your own style via trying out the different sets and each will give your shark a new cosmetic look as well so it is fully worth trying to 100% a region for its collectables, objectives and landmark signs as this is the quickest way possible to evolve your Shark and provide all the mutation options you will need.
Visually I love how MANEATER looks from the different regional environments to all the colours and wildlife you will see as you explore this world and it is a shame that the game lacks a photo mode for those more memorable moments such as launching yourself out of the water to land on a hunter boat which is just stunning visually once you have reached the Mega Shark size later in the game. But the game has sadly launched with quite a few bugs, especially for Xbox. I noticed a lot of screen tearing in some of the later regions as well as come of the landmarks and collectables just failing to spawn in the world making it impossible to 100% that region which also blocks out a good few achievements from popping. I have completed the game fully twice at time of writing this review, the first time in about 20hrs and suffered the non-spawning collectable issue and my second time to 100% cam in at just under 13hours and was then hit with the final “Queen of the Sea” achievement for 100% everything just failing to pop.
There is also a more serious issue with framerate issues on PS4 being reported as well as some Xbox One X users having their consoles overheating and shutting down whilst playing MANEATER, I did my two runs on my own two different Xbox One X consoles and did not have the overheating problem but the developer TripWire team has acknowledged these bugs and issues and are actively working with both PlayStation and Xbox on solutions so hopefully they can be resolved because this is one seriously fun game when it works and sadly frustrating when it doesn’t.
MANEATER was huge fun and I really loved all the RPG elements and exploring the world despite the very repetitive nature of the regional activities. It really is just satisfying to be a massive Shark taking on the world of land and sea and the story is both amusing and very well told with some great voice acting that gives this game a lot of credibility.
This is a game to definitely sink your teeth into whilst you maybe waiting for some of the bigger name games to come out this year and it will surprise you just how good it is.