Forget Jaws and Sharknado, it’s time to turn the tables and view the world from a shark’s perspective in frenetic chomp ’em up Maneater.
They’re the niggly doubts of beachgoing that sit there at the back of your mind as you think of all the glories of sun, swimming and sand up your clacker. They’re sharks, and they’re known as the lords of the sea for a reason. If your view of these incredible fish (fun fact, they’re not mammals as many think) is that they’re relentless eating machines hankering to chow down on the nearest human then this game won’t change your mind – even if the Aussie average of death by shark has sat at a mere 1.1 people for the past two decades. Not to discount the importance of those 1.1 people, of course.
Maneater is essentially the gaming equivalent of the Sharknado movies. It’s big, blissfully bonkers and a whole lot of fun if you put a little time into it. Basically, it’s Hungry Shark World in 3D, just with less silly moustaches, yet carrying an MA15+ rating when the PS4 HSW totes a PG. Then again, Australia’s classification people have variously rated the latter game, played by kids the world over, at PG, M and MA15+. We won’t comment further.
Anyway, the story – yes there is one – plays out in TV documentary format that’s enthusiastically voiced by Chris Parnell, aka 30 Rock’s Dr Spaceman. Fisherman Pierre “Scaly Pete” LeBlanc captures a shark that has terrorised a beach. Upon gutting it he discovers that it is pregnant, and the baby shark (please don’t sing it) in question escapes, taking a swarthy human hand in the process. You are that baby shark (PLEASE don’t sing it) and you’re out to avenge your mama. Hey, that’s story enough for us, can we start chomping now?
Gameplay happens in the third person, so you get to see your sharky self swimming merrily away onscreen as you trundle about seven main areas ticking off tasks. It all plays out very much like other open world action RPGs. You start out all feeble in an opening level, gradually becoming stronger the more that you devour, thus preparing you to take on larger creatures that you’ll encounter. Fighting encounters can be a blast, if not a temptation to button mash when things get frenetic.
The first level can be a bit of a slog, whereby you have no power-ups and everything seems out to get you. A tussle with an alligator might see you deadened and sent back to your home, or grotto, in seconds, after which you’ll have to schlep back to the encounter in order to try and succeed to unlock more things to do. Each area introduces something bigger and harder to kill, so you’ll need to keep your fighting chops up in order to keep going – quick tip, you can swim ahead to later areas and complete collectible missions to help bolster your power, but otherwise you have to stick to ticking off story objectives. At least each area’s grotto acts as a warp point, so once you’ve discovered them you don’t have to keep schlepping from one end of the game to the other later on.
Power-ups – or “evolutions” – are where things take an even tighter turn from Jaws to Sharknado, as they’re gloriously nuts. Earned from completing various events – be it grabbing a set of sightseeing collectibles in an area, taking down a local hunter or even an apex predator – they bolster various aspects of your sharky self. These range from internal boosters such as health level and ability to regenerate, to bony structures that wallpaper your outer self, adding all important protection against those apex predators and other oceangoing creatures that fancy setting to a spot of biff with you.
“That mako shark that caused so much grief earlier? Hello lunch!”
If you keep going, you’ll eventually evolve to a larger, more powerful shark. From baby to teen to adult to elder to the very desirable mega. It’s a slog initially, but once you hit about the halfway mark things really become fun, and worth the grind. That mako shark that caused so much grief earlier? Hello lunch! We’re not sure what the glee with which we went vengefully hunting down anything within snapping distance of our glorious sharky teeth says about us, but we don’t really care. Be it sea creature or hapless human, going the chomp is remarkably satisfying, especially when you bound out of the water and flip through the air as you do so.
While Maneater is capable of hours and hours of entertainment, it isn’t without its faults. Beyond the aforementioned grind, and fairly strict adherence to the standard action RPG template (but you’re a frickin’ SHARK!) we experienced occasional slowdown on our PS4 Pro, seemingly random – and very jarring – loading screens whilst in the middle of just swimming about, and an average of one blue screen crash every three hours of play. We’re hopeful that an update will be swimming by soon. Load times can also test patience, and there’s a one-difficulty-fits-all approach which will turn off some players.
Visually pretty – well, the scenery is, once your shark’s powered up it looks a right sight – the shark animation is fluid, and handling feels fairly natural – except when you jump it on land and it, appropriately we guess, handles much like a bloody big fish out of water.
Given time to level up a bit, Maneater is a hoot, and despite occasional, assumedly fixable technical concerns it kept us coming back to tick off just one more apex predator. This one’s for the sharks!
Maneater is available now on PS4 and Xbox One.