A #shaRkPG? That’s how Maneater has been promoted on social media and very nicely sums up the ethos behind the game in a single hashtag. It’s about a shark. It has RPG elements. It’s ridiculous. That makes it perfect gaming fodder. Tripwire Interactive are more known for their team based FPS series Killing Floor, so hearing they’ve made a game about being a giant fish might seem odd. It’s not though. Despite the initial differences the two share some similarities in their humour, their blood letting, and that things get frantic. Can the shark-centric RPG manage to pull off the same kind of compelling gameplay as their previous entries, especially with it being single player only?
Meet Sharky (as I shall call her given the lack of name) – she’s a Bull Shark who’s given a hard start in life. Ripped from her mother before birth in arguably one of the most horrific scenes committed to a video game, she’s tossed back into a bayou with a wicked scar running from nose to dorsal fin as a souvenir. You’ve got to admit, that’s a hell of a motivation to get your revenge on the person that did that to you… and that’s before you count the fact they’d gutted your mother for fun. Still, at least you’d taken the guy’s hand off before getting away. It’s this vengeance that’s the driver for Maneater’s gameplay – you’re a single minded killing machine out to wreak havoc on Scaly Pete (the villain), and only have to overcome the small obstacle of being prey to nearly everything that’s swimming the waterways of Port Clovis.
That won’t last long though as sharks need to eat, and they feed big time. Devouring sea life builds protein which makes Sharky bigger and makes her a more formidable predator as she grows in size. What starts as a bit of cat and mouse around the murky depths of the bayou becomes a big game hunt in no time at all, and with that comes the chance swim off to new areas tracking your nemesis. It doesn’t need much explanation of what you need to do – eat, grow, repeat. Of course, just eating the local fish isn’t going to level Sharky up fast enough so completing objectives is the order of the day. Each objective revolves around (you guessed it) eating something. Whether that’s one big thing or lots of small things, as long as you’re chomping down on them you’re doing it right. Get your nashers around something really big and defeat it and there might even be an upgrade or two to be had. That’s not to say it’s the only way to get better at being a monster, there are scenic spots to visit, hidden caches to uncover and license plates to eat.
The levelling system in Maneater is about moving through the growth stages – pup, teen, adult, elder, mega – and the upgrades are for giving Sharky special abilities. Some are passive like increasing the amount of resources awarded for chowing down, or extending the sonar range; and some are active like bone armour or shadow teeth or bio-electric fins. There’s a full set of upgrades for each body part and collecting them all brings additional bonuses to the stats. For example, having all the bone upgrades will make Sharky more like a tank and able to withstand a lot in combat, whilst triggering the unique skill for the set is great for destroying boats. It’s possible to mix and match the different types to customise the look and feel of Sharky, though combining all like pieces tends to be the better option for tackling the toughest challenges. Every one can be improved too up to legendary status, and that requires fat, minerals or DNA, all of which are harvested from whatever you eat. Huge reserves are needed to get everything at its maximum, so don’t forget to stop snacking. Ever.
Whilst the gameplay is quite simplistic, the environments end up being the real star and draw you into the world of being an apex marine predator. Whether underwater at night or stalking the surface during the day, there’s a distinct difference not just in the look, but in the way the shark moves. You feel faster on the surface, but more exposed to danger, and slower at depths but safer in the gloom. In a nod to Sharknado you can also head out onto land and harass the population of any of the regions, though be mindful of getting too much air. The movement is pretty intuitive and motion modelling really well done so that you’re unlikely to get bored of watching your beast in action, it is a bit clunky in the fights though. As you near any prey across Port Clovis, Sharky auto-locks on so that a tap of the bite button will make her lunge and sink her teeth in. Get a firm grip and you can continue snapping your maw, or you can keep your jaws closed and thresh the unfortunate creature around until they’re dead and easy to swallow. There’s also the option to ram and to tail whip, the former you’re more likely to do to boats to knock humans overboard.
With all opponents having a level rating it’s usually clear whether it’s worth starting a fight, or just avoid them until you’re big enough and bad enough to take them out quickly. That said, it’s not impossible to take on the big boys early on, as long as you can swim away quickly enough and grab some food to regain health. What I tended to find is that get more than one enemy or fish fodder in range during a fight and Sharky would target the wrong thing and you’d end up getting blindsided with no real comeback for it. This isn’t too bad, though gets frustrating during the “Apex” battles that act as mini-bosses. There’s also a threat level system for when you attack humans. Get it too high and the shark hunters come out in force with harpoons and machine guns. They do need dealing with throughout Maneater to progress, but it can feel a bit “all pile on” when they flock in numbers. Satisfaction reigns though when you charge up from the depths and hit a hull in the sweet spot, disintegrating the boat and sending the crew splashing into the water to be hoovered up for dinner.
The blood flies liberally around, or rather, the blood clouds when you’re underwater, and this highlights the way the game looks. It’s pretty impressive when you take the humans out of the mix. With the transitions underwater, the day/night cycle, and the way your shark eyes adapt to the different light conditions, it’s quite pretty and worth a slow cruise around each region to experience the design of the maps. There’s also a lot of colour and each of the areas has its own theme to make it clear where you are. Not that the world is huge, but it is definitely big enough. One downside though is it’s not seamless and moving from one to another can trigger a loading screen. Usually that’s fine in a game, though in Maneater there’s nothing defining some of the boundaries and when it happens in the middle of a fight… urgh, it’s jarring. It’s also prone to crashing out, slowing down and cranking fans up to maximum without much happening. If you’re really unlucky there’s a save eating bug too.
Issues aside, I’ve enjoyed the 10 or so hours Maneater brings, and with the crashes and fan noise only really starting towards the end point, I got to experience most of it uninterrupted. It has some structure issues in that getting all the upgrades doesn’t happen until you’ve finished pretty much everything there is to do, so some are completely pointless; and there’s a fun bit of backtracking early on when you grow large enough to pick up tricky collectables that disappears by the halfway stage. It also borders just on the pricey side for the length of game. Yet on the whole it brings something fun and different to the table, and entertains through it’s presentation as a reality TV fishing show with a know-it-all announcer dropping insightful quips, blatant movie references liberally scattered around, and it trying to deliver every single shark pun on the planet.
A PS4 review copy of Maneater was provided by the Deep Silver PR team, and the game is available now for around £35 on PS4, Xbox One and PC.