Maneater puts you in the role of a bull shark seeking revenge on a deadly shark hunter. What developer Tripwire has crafted here is a “shark RPG.” It’s an open world you can traverse as this ferocious shark. Maneater is silly and campy, with just a hint of the realistic thrown in and thankfully, balances it all together very well. Things never feel too silly, yet you never get the feeling that you’re supposed to take any of this seriously, creating the perfect blend of fun.
The game places you in this aesthetic of a nature reality show, something akin to Deadliest Catch or something you’d see on Animal Planet. A narrator will narrate some of the story at times and give out some fun facts about sharks concerning actions you are doing in the game. Yes, there is a story here, albeit a light one, to drive you through the game. As I mentioned earlier, you’re seeking revenge upon a Cajun shark hunter. This hunter killed your mom and ripped you from within her. Now you roam around the waters of the Gulf getting bigger and getting stronger, to one day meet back up with this shark hunter and enact your revenge. Along the way, you’re eating anything and everything to devour apex predators and other shark hunters to become a monster of a shark.
The diversity of each of the environments is pretty contrasting. You start in the bayou, like a swamp, and eventually make your way to the crystal clear waters of the Gulf. You’ll swim along sandy beaches, polluted waterways, golf course water hazards, and even an old live gator show stage. The world looks gorgeous, even in the crummy brown waters of the swamp. Everything you swim through feels like a different world and feels like independent from one another. On a standard PS4, though, you’ll find that the game will begin to drop framerates in the more populated and object diverse areas. Still, above and below waters, there are some beautiful sites to look at, from architecture to the shark grotto full of “memorabilia” and intense colors.
The main missions you’ll find in Maneater usually revolve around eating a certain number of a specific fish, eating a specific amount of humans, and attacking stronger animals. You’ll discover hunted animals to battle that are no different than the ones you’ll regularly encounter. The only difference is the fact they are stronger. That isn’t to say there aren’t enemies comparable to boss battles. You’ll have to deal with apex predators. They are one-off animals that are much stronger than anything you’ve fought before encountering them. During these apex predator battles, you’ll want to have your upgrades topped off as things can get slightly rough, rather quick.
Speaking of upgrades, you’ll have some wild combinations of upgrades to give your bull shark. Not only do they actively change your attack, speed, and defense, but they’ll physically change the way your shark looks. I’ve been mostly rocking a bone plated shark for protection, and the way this beast looks is insane. Lobs of bone covering the nose and protruding bony edges coming off the body give my shark this horrific demeanor. It’s cool as hell! You’ll also come across different types of teeth, powering up your shark in various ways. I am partial to the electric set myself. Other abilities can range from added health to faster movement on land and more. Mixing and matching different upgrades to your shark can genuinely create a monster more sinister than anything Hollywood could dream to imagine.
You could mainline the story and eat everything along the way but, Maneater gives you collectibles to find and extra challenges to participate in. As for the collectibles, you’ll come across some pop culture easter-egg references and hidden license plates. The pop culture references were fun and not hard to find; once located, they would appear as a marker on your map. A feature that I wholeheartedly support more open-world games following. The additional challenges peppered throughout the world usually involve defeating a specific predator. It is nothing too complicated if you have your shark leveled up.
When it comes to the game’s controls, Tripwire did an incredible job of making your bull shark feel quite good. Some hurdles still get in the way, things like up and down movement in a 360-degree space. It doesn’t hinder your ability to move around the world, though. My biggest issue with the controls came in the way of attacking. There is no lock-on feature to speak of in Maneater. Although they do give you a button to position your camera towards the closest enemy instantly. Unfortunately, this method forces you to wrestle with the camera to find where your enemy has gone. The game will also lock you onto the surface of the water if you get to close. So to dive back down, you have to hit a separate button to get back. It is frustrating when you’re battling an apex predator only to have them dash behind you, while trying to turn your camera around, your shark swims up and snaps back to the surface.
With all that built-in frustration, Tripwire still made a game where it is fun to be a shark. Even if things start slow and you feel weak, as you open up the world and add abilities, you feel powerful and nearly unstoppable. Swimming around eating a mega-ton of fish and hunting the overpowered apex predators makes for a good play session. Once you finish the story and see credits roll, you’re free to swim around, eat, and collect stuff to your heart’s content. You may find yourself longing for more to do after you 100% it, it’s just that fun.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, Maneater’s biggest flaw is how bad it suffers in performance on a standard PS4. It’s not as noticeable in the early game, but later, when you’re almost always hunted by a variety of hunters and predators, the framerate slows to a crawl. Things got so bad that it looked like the game dipped into the single digits. The bad framerate would make the already frustrating camera movement even more frustrating! Frustrating to the point where I had to swim away into more open waters to somewhat “reset” things.
Maneater has a little bit of everything needed to make a game like this fun. A beautiful and brightly colored world, incredible shark animations, fun gameplay, and a not-so-serious comedic tone to it all. It honestly feels like a first in a genre and a way to bring back an arcade-like feel to games. Throw a score counter at the top, and I could easily see this as a cabinet you’d throw quarters into. I’ve seen the game run far better on more powerful hardware, and it’s incredible, so it’s a shame that the base PS4 suffers so much.
A PlayStation 4 code was provided by the publisher for review purposes