Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Maneater is a brilliant idea. It’s Jaws the open world RPG if you played as Jaws. Well, it’s that but if it were made by the guys behind Sharknado. It’s fun, campy, and is a game I would play for ages if the developers weren’t so insecure about it. Yes, the core of Maneater is a brilliant exercise in humor-based gaming, but the filler is nearly unbearable. It’s like eating a nice fish filet drowned in gallons of tartar sauce that you have to eat BEFORE you get to the filet.
If that didn’t make you gag, you like tartar sauce way too much.
You play as the daughter of a man-eating shark that was just going about her business, terrorizing beachgoers and eating up sea-life. Unfortunately, your mother was caught by the evil Cajun fisherman, Scaly Pete, and killed as part of his fishing reality show. He cuts you out of her womb, scars you so he can recognize you, and throws you into a bay filled with alligators, radioactive pollution, and discarded human art projects. Now you are off for revenge… we think. Really you just kind of carry on sharking, eating anything in your vicinity, and revenge sort of falls into your lap.
The writing here is brilliant. The game is narrated by Chris Parnell and framed as a nature documentary. He explains everything you do, even the stuff that doesn’t make sense. Why can your shark echolocate like a whale? Let’s call it a mutation. Why is your shark so aggressive when other sharks are peaceful? Because you are an RPG protagonist obviously. Why was all this art thrown in the water? Postmodernism. It’s witty and well delivered, and it’s a joy to get to each new quip.
Eater of things
The gameplay itself is relatively interesting. You start the game only able to bite, but as you level up you unlock things like tail-whips, death rolls, and other interesting abilities. You can also collect abilities from sidequests that you can then further evolve with resources like fat, protein, and mutagen that you get from eating other creatures and collecting nutrient caches. Some of these abilities are flat out fantasy world, like the ability to teleport, or shoot electricity from your body, or get covered in metal spikes. Play the game long enough and you will eventually become your own, personal, customized, B-grade horror movie monster.
But length is the major problem here. Maneater is about 90 percent padding, and that’s what eventually destroys the experience. Every time you enter a new area you are given three or so story quests to complete. You’d think that you can move on afterward, but no. The game forces you to experience its side content, placing arbitrary level and progression gaps before being able to move on to the next segment of the story, you know, the segments that have all the humor in them.
There are only really two types of quests in Maneater: go to a place and kill a thing and search aimlessly around the map for some collectibles. Nearly every quest will force you to travel from one side of whatever area you are into the other, wasting a ton of time just by traveling. Now, you can spec into abilities that increase your swim speed and even let you jump onto land to make travel time faster. However, these won’t help you much because there are invisible walls everywhere, forcing you to take long circuitous routes that do nothing but increase your travel time. Once again, it’s needless padding.
Maneater’s progression system once again forces you to needlessly pad out your shark adventure. Instead of simply gaining new abilities as you level up, your new abilities are all tied to sidequest completion, and most of the time these sidequests are the “find a bunch of hidden objects around the map” sidequests. This means that if you want to be anything other than a big shark, actually diving into the hilarious movie monster customizations, you have to waste so much time doing stuff completely unrelated to the core of the game.
Maneater could have been a must play with just a few changes. Change the progression system and take out the padding and you have a fantastic open world RPG that sells itself on camp. Sure, it would cut out like 75 percent of the game, but no one would care.
Maneater tries to mix things up as the game goes on. When you get the ability to much on humans, you’ll be able to raise your threat level GTA style, calling out shark hunters to try and take you down. This can add up to some hilarious and thrilling fights, but much like GTA before it, it doesn’t carry the entire game. It’s mostly just a side activity for when you are bored, and a framing device for amping up difficulty in some of the game’s larger conflicts.
You’ll also eventually encounter apex predators, other sea life that are as big and mutated as you. It’s these enemies that reveal the next big problem with Maneater: it’s shallow combat. While you can get a million evolutions from completing sidequests and taking down shark hunters, they are almost all passive. In the end, all you are really doing is biting, over, and over, and over again. Sure, you have different types of bites. You can lock on and thrash. You can stun with a charge or tail whip before biting several times. But the pattern is the same. Dodge the enemy’s attacks and then bite back. It’s like a really simple Punch-Out!
A long journey
Maneater is about 15 hours long, even when you consider all the padding and sidequests. Frankly, it bit off more than it could chew. This would have been a perfect campy indie game if it lasted 6-8 hours and just cut out all the padding. The absurdity of jumping out of the water, onto a boat, to tear the mast off while knocking all the shark hunters overboard, is definitely enough to keep you playing for an hour or so. But it takes too long to get to each new hilarious story beat and upgrade.
And perhaps that’s the main problem with Maneater: it’s an open world game with no faith in its open world. It doesn’t think that you’d want to explore its waters and hunt down the nooks and crannies of its maps, and it’s right. That’s why it forces you to. But no one ever liked a game because they were forced to play it.
If you can get this game on sale, do it. It’s genuinely just a fun and funny time but only for so long. You probably won’t finish it, or if you do you’ll finish it with a cheat program or trainer. It’s a great idea that just outstays it’s welcome.