At a time when we shouldn’t be going to be the beach for other reasons, there’s a perverse and reverse pleasure to playing Maneater (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Switch), a new action game in which you get to be the original beach deterrent: a shark. It’s just too bad that the pleasure doesn’t last a lot longer.
you play as a baby bull shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo, who wants revenge on the fisherman who killed your mommy (which is who you play the game’s tutorial as). To do this, you’re going to need to get big and strong. So, you eat right and exercise in hopes of not only growing up, but also bulking up enough that you can take down that jerk and anyone else who gets in your way.
As you can probable imagine, much of your time in Maneater is spent chowing down. You eat tons of fish and other aquatic life, eventually moving on to people who are either swimming innocently or shooting at you not-so-innocently. Good thing you’re heavily armed. Er, finned. Not only do you have such teeth, dear, but you can also stun enemies by smacking them with your tail, which you can also use to fling things. Which may not sound handy, but only if you’ve never been knocked off a jet ski by a turtle someone flung at your head. You can even jump up out of the water and, say, land on the deck of a boat full of tasty fishermen.
It also helps that the attack controls in Maneater work well. Though they are simplistic. Sure, it’s all a bit button mashy, but that works when you feel like going on a feeding frenzy and don’t feel like doing some complicated combo just so you can filet a fish.
As you grow, you not only get stronger, and learn to jump higher, but you’ll also unlock and improve your sharking skills…though not always in accordance with the laws of nature. Your shark can not only develop poison glands, but they also get bio-electric organs that make me wonder if I should pitch SyFy on a movie about a cybernetic shark sent back from the future to kill John Connor’s goldfish.
Thankfully, some of the upgrades you can chose in Maneater make more sense, scientifically-speaking. Like Batman in the Arkham games and Lara Croft in Shadow Of The Tomb Raider, your shark has a radar system that identifies nearby edibles and other interesting things in the water. Though, like Batman’s and Lara’s similar skills, your shark sonar could work better. Even when you upgrade it, food and other things don’t stay highlighted very long.
This, however, isn’t the only thing that keeps Maneater from being as much fun as it could’ve been. For starters, the camera controls are seriously wonky, even after you adjust them. It also doesn’t help that you can’t lock on to an enemy, which would compensate somewhat.
Navigating the waters in Maneater is also problematic. The lack of an on-screen map, or any way of marking your trail with a constant indicator — like say, the kind they employed in Fable 2 — means you constantly have to switch to the full-screen map to figure out where to go. Granted, you can mark spots on the map, which puts a beam of blue light in the sky to indicate where you want to go. But with the waterways being rather maze-like, doing this doesn’t make it any easier to actually get there.
There’s also a lack of variety in Maneater. It’s a lot of eat or be eaten. Which, admittedly, what a shark’s life is like, and you don’t hear them complaining about being bored. But then, they’re sharks, and sharks can’t speak, so even if they were bored, how would you know?
It also doesn’t help that, when you’re just a kid or a teenager, you have to face off against alligators, who are both much, much stronger than you, and also really common. Granted, you do eventually get bigger than them, but until you do, this can be really frustrating. Doubly so when you get attacked by two at the same time.
Even the goofy narration in Maneater gets to be a bit much after a while. Though delivered expertly by Chris Parnell of Rick & Morty and Archer fame, his bon mots are entertaining for the first hour or two, but eventually have you wishing he would take a break. Or hand the mic over to H. Jon Benjamin or Justin Roiland.
Maneater also has a problem so common these days that I basically just cut and paste this paragraph into every relevant review: the type is too small. If you sit at a reasonable distance from your television — y’know, like your mama told you to — you’ll have a lot of trouble reading the menus and especially the captions. The tiny, tiny captions.
As bad as this may make Maneater sound,
it is still a fairly entertaining game. Granted, some of that comes from being unique — it is the first shARkPG I’ve ever played — and is decidedly more so having a silliness that makes it more Sharknado-esque than Shark Week approved. It’s also satisfying when you can go on a killing spree without being accosted by some future piece of luggage. But the lack of variety and problematic camera controls and world navigation keep it from being as, well, biting as it could’ve been.