I had never heard of Maneater until opportunity knocked on what the game was – a shaRkPG. Acronyms aside, having a game based on controlling a shark sounds like a great idea but also rather plain and dull; the sea being rather vast and empty only aids greatly against its cause.
Right from the intro, I was surprised with the colourful cartoony look that immediately screams “don’t take me seriously”, and it certainly plays out that way.
You play as a newly born shark ripped straight from your mother’s womb at the hands of a crazed shark hunter. Being mishandled and about to be sliced by this butcher, you bite his hand clean off and escape, thus your journey to survive begins. It’s a story to give context to your “taste of human flesh” beginnings, totally forgetful and almost non-existent. Still, it keeps the game somewhat going and amusing, especially with the television reporter vibe.
You start in the middle of a swamp surrounded by low-level fish and high-level alligators with a couple of quests to undertake to get you going. As you progress at the start, you eventually receive a skill called “sonar”. Yes, we know, sharks do not have this ability unlike dolphins but within the game, it is used to help track positions of objects, quests, fish types, and other things to do in the world – replacing the Assassin’s Creed birds-eye view. The quest system is precisely the same.
Exploring the world starts quite slowly and can take a while to get used to. The movement seems simple and often is, it just takes a little getting used to how the shark moves and then it’s smooth sailing from there.
Completing these quests will net you more abilities to increase the effectiveness of your shark, which are interchangeable within three slots available. Every skill can upgrade to level 5, which can give severe boosts, evidently making it more worthwhile to improve your skills before your armour.
You acquire some armour upgrades from quests with the majority obtained from defeating named hunters. There are ten hunters, each dropping various armour pieces which tend to be either electrified or scale armour pieces. Having a full set of either will increase the statistics of the shark, be it attack power or repelling gunfire.
Each of these armour sets has unique abilities, with the electrified armour set, you are able to stun enemies with ease but it will make you more vulnerable to hunters. Bone armour is strong against hunters as you can apply a temporary hard shell, which is devastating to hunter boats and gives more vigorous tail whipping power. Lastly, there’s a poison-based armour set; to make the lives of other fish and humans life a misery until they snuff it.
To bring the named hunters to the foray you have to prey on hunters who are brought out by man-eating; this will fill the “infamy” bar, similar to Grand Theft Auto, of which waves upon waves of hunters threaten you until you dive below and hide. Staying out for a prolonged time will turn your shark into fin soup so until you get bone armour, it’s best to err on the side of caution past a few named hunters.
That leaves you with quests and the consumption of delectable fish. As a little shark, you can only consume prey your level. As the levels increase, it’s much akin to every other game. Higher-level prey becomes much easier to devour. But there are upgrades to your shark; surely there must be a way to get materials to upgrade? Well, there is, and it is based on the type of prey.
Finding all of this prey (and side-quests) without using the sonar ability is a bit difficult at first, but once upgraded it makes things considerably easier, unless you remove the ability completely. However, it makes navigating the world markedly faster and I never once removed it for this reason.
Fish are easy to spot but knowing which ones to munch on is only known once you get closer to your prey. It can also mean bumping into the wrong target at the most inconvenient of times – there are missions in areas which require you to come back as an adult (your shark evolves in the Grotto – a haven and only place to upgrade, available in each map area). The first area is full of them.
The game also encourages being brave. With alligators around much of the first area, it’s a matter of fast swimming from point A to B and completing the quest in the said area as fast as possible before being rolled out of existence. If you die, you respawn back to the nearest Grotto keeping your current progress from where you just died.
The developers have done an excellent job of making the marine world chock full of detail, and it makes the world above the water pale in comparison. They both look amazing, but the underwater work clearly shows, especially in the earlier levels. Thinking that the game would be a dull affair would have been true until the beauty beneath the waves reveals itself to become a gorgeous rummage through debris, buildings, and tunnels - it all sparkles and glows, until the emptiness of the vast ocean is greeted.
What aides the beauty of the ocean is the marine life. While the marine life is 99% fish, sharks, and orcas, the detail put into the entire marine life is extraordinary, the texture work and especially the animations; it shows the care and attention in every fish.
Getting into battles shows off the gruesome nature of a shark attack and the animations and movement is incredibly detailed too. Attacking on land is the icing on the cake. Being able to attack humans in the water is one thing, but deciding to flop your belly on the ground is something quite special; it allows you to access golf course ponds, other people’s swimming pools, and flop along bridges is funny stuff, then consuming the flesh of man while in the process just makes hilarity ensue. There are various caveats that can make this game very frustrating, and they happen frequently enough that you want to bite your controller or throw your mouse against the wall (I came close to this!).
Consuming marine prey is okay and not difficult; the difficulty comes when taking on other carnivores at a higher level than yourself. The game allows for focusing on an attacking enemy, be it underwater or a hunter/boat. No matter the target, the focus lasts a short time. When focused, you can attack quickly, but once the prey whizzes by, auto-focus just simply detaches and you have to press the button again. Couple with shallow water and your shark will get stuck on the surface.
It’s even more frustrating with the fact that you can’t see below the surface of the water when skimming. You have to “dive” to see anything. When there are more enemies, autofocus simply becomes useless, and it’s just a matter of rapidly pressing the “bite” button until you’ve eaten the attackers down to size. If a higher-level prey were in the mix, you’d be dead. There are workarounds which will work to your playstyle, but this will only come evident a good 50% through the game.
A massive issue which plagues the game even more than the above is having to hold the “swim faster” button down almost continuously throughout the game. When navigating vast expanses of water, you want to always get from A to B in as little time as possible. Not once did I remove my finger off the SHIFT key except for when attempting to recover from cramp. Having an option to have “swim fast” enabled as the default would circumvent this issue.
While there is a lot to do, the quests felt very “MMO” like and early “Assassin’s Creed” like too. Instead of fetch quests, they’re eating quests. MMO quests are culling quests are precisely the same. The other quests are your typical “get to this area for a chest or symbol”. Nothing is exceptional and progressing through the story can get quite monotonous.
When fighting hunters and boats at a later stage of higher infamy, there will be frequent framerate drops and stutters when whipping ships and setting them on fire. This has led to being killed a few times when there should not be a need. Workarounds to this made it easier in the end, but one should not need to do this when you want to jump out of the water and land on one’s head.
For a game of this nature, it is a short affair with about 13 hours playtime to 100% everything with great ease. Most games in this ilk are considerably bigger and longer but as a new experience and to venture through the water is a fantastic feeling and one that I can’t recommend enough.
If the developers produce a sequel, I would hope that a more substantial story would be incorporated, fixing some of the quibbles that hurt the game, and perhaps open up the game a bit more to the ocean. Maneater is ever so close to becoming a great game to play. However, there are too many glaring issues that make it difficult to bite its way to the top.