When a little guppy floundered its way to me and told me some crazy Colonials had asked, and then subsequently answered the question: “GTA but with Sharks sound good?” my interest was well and truly piqued. The ocean is a big place, sharks are pretty damn awesome and hijacking an inflatable flamingo for a few seconds before blacking out due to a lack of processable oxygen, sounded like a good time.
Runs Out Of Gas
Heck, it was a good time…just not for very long. Maneater is one of those games that is dumb as a baggie of goldfish, but as fun as the pond bike. You pop it on for an hour, have a blast eating some strangely proportioned bloke, get bored, and turn it off. There is a bit of charm, and buckets of novelty, but it ultimately ends up floating upside in the bowl.
Despite its lack of longevity, Maneater is well made and surprisingly ambitious for a game that, on the surface, looks to be fairly shallow. Maneater is technically an open-world game, although it would be more accurate to say that it is a series of open zones blocked by progression gates. Cordons be damned, however, Maneater is quite sizable and filled to the brim with things to do, and fish (or people) to eat. There is a variety to each zone, and the pacing felt good throughout. I never felt like I was forced to stay in one area longer than I really wanted to, even if I was mechanically locked from progressing.
Maneater has more quests and objectives and side bits to do than you can shake a fin at, meaning you are never that far away from a hidden cache, story beat or exploration point. The waters of the world are dense with content, which gave me plenty of incentive to swim around and explore every nook and cranny. When that got a bit tiring, I was able to engage with the game’s combat, which is a boatload of fun.
Being a shark, the brunt of your offensive is your jolly gnashers mounted at the front of your dome. If you want something dead all you’ve got to do is bite down, shake them about and swallow them up in one mighty gulp. Different targets require a different approach, I mean, munching on a barracuda is one thing, but launching yourself onto a nearby yacht and eating all of the occupants is a completely different game.
Outside of nibbling, your shark can tailwhip for a quick burst of stun damage. If you combine a bit with a hearty swipe you can even launch enemies into other enemies for massive damage. Let me tell you, there are very few things in life more satisfying than yeeting a turtle into a shotgun-wielding maniac and catapulting him into the murky depths before tearing him a new one.
Eating fish and exploring are activities that won’t draw too much attention to your sharkery, however, if you start tasting the locals you begin to generate threat – similar to games like GTA. Eat enough people and bounty hunters will start coming after you. Kill enough of those pricks, and a named hunter will spawn. These guys mean business, but sending them to a watery grave provides incredible rewards and progression towards your next threat level. Needless to say, going on killing sprees is one of the more interesting, and fun, aspects of the game.
Under the Hood
Tying into the exploration and the combat is the RPG/Evolution mechanic. Killing apex predators or munching on a named hunter grants you unique evolutions. These could be an upgrade to your sonar abilities or a powerful new set of teeth. Heck, you can even change your breed. Each evolutionary part can be upgraded to be more effective and most parts can be combined to create powerful RPG-esque ‘sets’ for added benefits. It’s a fully-fledged system with loads of visual and mechanical detail that is far beyond what I expected from the game when I first booted it up, which was nice.
Unfortunately, it’s mostly wasted. As funky as the mechanics are, there simply isn’t enough variation to the combat or the content. Combat never really gets more complicated than jumping out of the water, dodging and biting stuff with the occasional whip. Every fight plays out basically the same way, which causes the blood-soaked carnage to lose its lustre pretty quickly. Outside of combat, quests are almost exclusively “go here, kill that”. Beyond questing, there are just collectables that reward you with evolution points that are wasted on an RPG mechanic tied to a game that doesn’t do enough to justify it.
At the very least, Maneater runs well on Switch. I got a few dips here and there, but the game managed to hold a fairly solid frame rate throughout. The game is pretty damn ugly though. Whilst your shark looks great, everything else looks pretty bad. Poor textures and that trademark Switch blur muddy the visuals, something rotten. It doesn’t help that the game is played mostly underwater, which may sound ludicrous as a complaint, but hear me out. When you are underwater everything looks hideously hazy. This murk makes playing large portions of the game unpleasant and helps remove any visual variety the game may have had.
Blood and Gore
That being said, the animations are top-notch. When you gobble up a wandering lady, it looks great. There aren’t that many animations to be had, but what’s here is great. This is made better thanks to the generous amounts of blood and gore. Maneater’s main story is also really well presented with the whole idea being a shark hunting documentary. These cutscenes look great thanks to a style that’s not found anywhere else.
This is supported by a pretty entertaining voice cast. The game is narrated frequently by a genuinely funny chap who makes clever remarks on your actions. This is bolstered by some solid performances during cutscenes. The sounds of screaming beach-goers was also a highlight.
I had fun with Maneater. A lot of fun even – right up until I didn’t. The game started strong but fell off of a cliff after a few hours of play. The game is well made, the premise is strong and the mechanics are well implemented. Ironically for a game about the ocean, there just wasn’t enough depth and the game got repetitive long before the credits could roll.