Thalassophobia is an intense fear of the ocean that encompasses the dread of open water and the sea creatures that reside within it. Yet even this anxiety-inducing phobia is quick to dissipate when you’re the one inhabiting the black, lifeless eyes of the ocean’s apex predator.
Instead of being frightened by what might be lurking in the murky depths below, Maneater casts you as a bull shark and turns the ocean into your playground, where seals, turtles, and human beings are only one violent bite away from providing a hearty meal.
Admittedly, this insatiable bloodlust isn’t great PR for sharks, which have been vilified since the release of Jaws in 1975; though Maneater isn’t concerned with providing a lovable human cast, either. It parodies the cheap-thrill reality shows you’ll find on American TV, following the shark-hunting exploits of antagonist Scaly Pete.
A natural rivalry is formed when he kills your mother, cuts you out of her womb, and proceeds to lose an arm for his efforts, setting the stage for a bare-bones story that at least provides some momentum.
From here, you begin life as a pup before gradually growing in size to a teen, adult, elder, and finally a megashark. That last growth spurt is more at home in a cheesy B-movie than anything based in reality, but it does give you a decent idea of Maneater’s irreverent tone.
As you devour the local sea-life and complete quests, you’ll not only grow in size but also amass a curious assortment of evolutionary upgrades. These range from electrified teeth to rock-encased fins and even the ability to fire lethal venom from your tail. Experimenting with this diverse arsenal of upgrades is a large part of Maneater’s charm.
Unfortunately, however, the novelty of Maneater’s premise doesn’t carry over into its mission design. The environments may be varied, as you begin life in a dreary bayou before making your way into the waters of an opulent beachside neighbourhood, the expansive depths of the Gulf of Mexico, and so on, but the majority of quests in these areas simply revolve around consuming x number of y. This only deviates when you have to, say, sink a boat, or defeat a single, more powerful target.
Combat against foes like alligators, orcas, and great white sharks is slightly more interesting than eating defenceless fish and humans. You have a standard bite attack, a tail whip for stunning targets, and a dodge for weaving out of harm’s way when whatever you’re fighting propels itself towards you like a torpedo.
The lack of a dedicated lock-on makes these encounters clumsier than they would otherwise be, though, and spamming the attack button is usually more than enough to defeat most enemies.
There’s a simple pleasure in being a killer shark, but Maneater’s unique premise and comic tone are neglected in its pedestrian mission design. At under ten hours in length, repetition isn’t enough to completely sink it, but this shark could’ve done with more bite.
Actor Chris Parnell (SNL, Rick and Morty) provides narration throughout the game, injecting the moment-to-moment action with plenty of character. He has a talent for sounding authoritative even when talking complete nonsense, and spends the game delivering comical one-liners, numerous pop culture references, and even some actual shark facts.
Being a killer shark is inherently satisfying, but tedious mission design holds Maneater back.
Format: PC (tested) / PS4 / XBO / Switch
Developer: Tripwire Interactive
Publisher: Tripwire Interactive
Release: Out now