Review | Maneater

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It’s a Ubisoft style open-world icon-hunting game, but you’re an armoured mega-shark with lightning teeth. Maneater certainly has an appealing premise, but does it have the substance to match? In my opinion, yes – once you put a couple of hours into levelling up and letting the weirder and more comedic sides of the game come out.

The core of Maneater‘s story is its framing device, which presents everything you see as the contents of a reality show called Maneater. (If you’ve ever seen a “dangerous jobs” show, you know what to expect here). The game’s story takes place over an eight-episode season of the show, which follows shark hunters in Port Clovis, a city containing everything from resorts to bayous to sunken nuclear power stations. Cajun shark hunter “Scaly Pete”, who is searching for a shark that belonged to his father, becomes the central character of the show during the first episode when he attacks a pregnant shark and loses his hand in return. While the show Maneater focuses on Pete’s quest for revenge against the shark, the game Maneater focuses on your revenge against Pete.

After a brief prologue you start the game as a mere shark pup, who must grow and evolve by eating weaker fish until you’re strong enough to fight Pete yourself. During these stages, you’re an easy target for crocodiles and barracudas, so avoiding them and focusing on the easy starting tasks is the best option. This is the slowest and least exciting part of the game, and players who are just after some casual destruction will consider this to be the least interesting part too. (However, getting to full power is made even better by the contrast between your ending and starting strength: realising that an alligator that you used to hide from is now just a drive-by snack feels great). After completing the starting region, Dead Horse Lake, the rest of the map opens up, letting you choose between completing the main story missions or exploring to find landmarks, nutrient caches, and collectible …. licence plates? Yes, Maneater is referencing the only other shark-themed game most of us can remember, Jaws Unleashed.

Although Maneater’s opening leaves potential for the game to feel like a relatively sensible documentary, the game dispels that idea quickly. Narrator Trip supplies a few genuine biology facts, but they are outnumbered by descriptions of local landmarks, conspiratorial ramblings, references to SpongeBob Squarepants and Arrested Development, and cheerfully dystopian anecotes about the damage that Port Clovis residents are inflicting on the natural world. Trip’s voiceover has the polish you expect narrators for that kind of reality show to have, while his sarcastic insults to Port Clovis plus his gradual slide from curiosity to paranoia about the source of the shark’s abilities clearly convey the tone of Maneater. Given that the shark’s abilities include stunning prey with bio-electric shocks and infliciting poison damage, Trip is right to be confused.

Each of the shark’s 5 main body parts can be equipped with one of 3 different items: Bio-Electric upgrades create shocks and stun enemies, Shadow items are for poison damage and health regeneration, and Bone items focus on pure ramming power and damage against boats and hunters. Like in many open-world games, the items are the main source of the promised RPG elements. All items can be upgraded through familiar colour-coded rarity tiers by spending resources, which in this case are the nutrients provided by your prey. Seals are a good source of fats (yellow), and turtles are a good source of protein (blue), while albino animals provide the rare mutagen (green) needed for the strongest upgrades.

Some of these items can only be obtained by defeating named bounty hunters who appear when the shark has eaten multiple people or destroyed multiple boats in a short time. This bounty system is a bit like wanted levels in Grand Theft Auto games, but applied across the entire game rather than to single instances. The threat level starts at 1 then permanently increases after defeating each bounty hunter. As your infamy rises, the fishing boats that were trying to take the shark down give way to electrified command ships and even military helicopters. The best way to deal with bounty hunters is usually with aggression, but if you do need to run away then you have the upper hand: you can use the extensive network of sewers and caves that litter each region to hide or move undetectably. Exploration is the main gameplay element, outside of combat and missions, and the caves are useful both because of the travel options they provide and the nutrient caches stashed inside.

For a game that takes place mostly underwater, the environments in Maneater are surprisingly varied. The eight game regions are mostly differentiated well, with the most distinctive being the swampy sunset Fawtick Bayou, and the rich-person’s-paradise Prosperity Sands. The game uses its environments to convey the intended difficulty of each area organically instead of relying solely on number-gates – the Gulf, the last unlocked area, is clearly marked as the “end-game” area by its murky water, longer distances of isolated swimming, and stronger need to find hidden grates and smashable entrances, rather than just by its deadly Orcas.

Later in the story, when the previously sunny and clear Sapphire Bay becomes irradiated, the sickly green water and the barrels of unknown substances leaking toxic plumes into the water turn navigation from simple to disconcerting, as you realise that you can’t see your fins in front of your face any more. Swimming through that environment may not sound appealing on paper, but both the pristine and the perilous seas fit the story and themes well. The shark’s sonar ability is also designed to balance out these trickier environments by revealing the layout of the sea bed. It also highlights nearby points of interest and collectibles, plus the species of any nearby creatures and the type of nutrient resource they provide when eaten.

Above ground, the skyboxes and backgrounds are also well-designed and rendered. Humans, however, aren’t up to the visual standard of the environments. Character models in the full cutscenes that represent clips from the show Maneater are fine, and in-game human models are simply average (to be fair, they are usually in your jaws within a second of you spotting them). The character models and animations for the bounty hunters are weirdly far behind the rest of the game, and often accidentally comical as a result.

The human AI is often as questionable as their models: sometimes they don’t spot the shark until multiple people around them have already been eaten. When they do react, humans on land will often run into rocks or other scenery, while humans in the sea will tread water and seemingly wait to be eaten. Oddities like these were relatively frequent: I found that Maneater was consistently slightly buggy, but never to a game-ruining degree. Minor pop-in for objectives happened fairly often e.g.when I reached a mission marker for a creature or boat that needed to be destroyed, the target would usually appear from nowhere. The camera could also clip through boats during combat. The most annoying bug was that every time I took a screenshot or paused, a warning box saying “Alert!” appeared afterwards. Sometimes, pressing A to remove this warning just didn’t work. Instead the warning would remain on top of the game while my regular inputs happened below it. This happened twice while I was in combat, so during those times I couldn’t fight back properly and was killed as a result. However, because death doesn’t cause any loss of resources or progress in Maneater, this only resulted in a small amount of wasted time and no larger consequences.

One area of Maneater that really impressed me was its mostly loading-free world and long environmental draw distance. Most of the time, transitioning between regions is seamless: the first time I saw a between-areas loading screen was after 10 hours of gameplay, so I initially thought that I’d broken something! On my One S, I only experienced loading screens if I travelled rapidly through the area where three regions meet.

Maneater is currently free to play through Game Pass. It has one paid DLC expansion, Truth Quest, which is set after the events of the main story and introduced via an epilogue mission at the end of the main story. Completionists, be warned that getting all of the achievements will require buying Truth Quest. Truth Quest is currently £12.50, and offers around 2-3 hours of gameplay in a new map. It contains new, more interesting, Apex predators, an extra set of evolutions for the shark, and two more mission types; time trials and tower destruction missions that focus on the shark’s projectile-rebounding ability.

Truth Quest adds some extra challenge to Maneater, but for me it was also the point where the repetitive missions started to wear away some of my enjoyment. However, I played Maneater through Game Pass. So for me, buying Truth Quest was effectively paying £12.50 for experiencing both the base game and DLC together. Using that rationale I’m happy with my purchase and I definitely got my money’s worth of time and fun. Unless you’re using similar logic to mine, I’d suggest hesitating before buying Truth Quest. Wait until you’ve finished the main story, then consider whether you want more of what you’ve just played with a few extras.

Overall

I initially didn’t warm to Maneater, as I found the shark pup stage too slow and too avoidance-based. However, when I gave Maneater a second chance I got into it much more, to the point where I then 100% completed the base game and the DLC. Part of why I enjoyed Maneater, and came back to it to try it again, is because of what it doesn’t do. It has no premium currencies, daily / weekly challenges, or season passes. You just buy the game, and then play it, without any intrusion on your time, any immersion-breaking interruptions from cash shops, or any requirement to play a specific way. It feels weird to need to compliment a game for letting me play it in peace, but I want to highlight that Tripwire’s decision to design Maneater as a buy-once game without any live service elements was a good call.

Maneater goes into my Cool tier, as for me it was a solidly good experience: one with no major weak areas, but no peaks of excellence either. Although minor visual glitches are common, I didn’t experience any major faults or game-breaking issues during my~20 hours with the base game and DLC combined . When I reached shark-adulthood, and the shark began to feel like a truly powerful boss of the ocean rather than just another sea creature, the game was able to show off its strengths more effectively. Maneater is definitely at its best from level 20 onwards, once the pace of levelling increases, your mutations become more powerful, and your enemies get easier to deal with.

While the experience of being a shark with free reign to terrorise humans sounds like a one-note gimmick, its novelty lasts for longer than I expected. It also offers a good-looking map that contains plenty of collectibles and potential for exploration, without the time commitment required by full-scale RPGs or Assassins’ Creed-style collectathons. If you’re a Game Pass player, or a fan of open-world exploration games, I’d definitely recommend trying Maneater.

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