Reviewer: Jeremy Jackson
Developer TripWire built a name for itself with humanoid-on-humanoid combat titles like Chivalry and Killing Floor. Maneater sees the team sinking their teeth into a whole new genre—all while reaffirming reviewer JJ’s fears of the vast deep blue.
This action role-playing game sees you filling the fins of a shark pup as it seeks revenge against a shark hunter who poached its mother. How do you do this? A feeding frenzy through a vacation resort. You munch your way through the water—and sometimes land—to flourish from a wee shark pup into a behemoth.
Sure, Maneater was built around one gimmick, but once I scratched the surface, I found this seemingly shallow game to be deeper than it appeared.
Story: sink or swim?
The story, though, is shallower than a puddle. It’s a reverse Jaws: fisherman kills pregnant shark—baby shark survives and seeks revenge on said fisherman. If you’re in it for the story, I just covered Maneater’s entire plot in one sentence.
If you’re looking for a fleshed-out narrative experience, you won’t find it in Maneater. Like many of these smaller indie romps, it’s all framing and McGuffins—the plot is a means to an end, with that end being eating everything that gets in your path.
The journey from nano nipper to massive megalodon is a satisfying one: the more you eat, the bigger you get. The feedback loop of watching my character grow as I progressed—quite literally—never really got old.
Beyond the core munch-to-mature gameplay, there are a few minor shark hunter ‘bosses’. While these encounters are actually pretty fun and charming, they’re usually short-lived. Luckily, they do add some much-needed pacing to an otherwise one-track-minded title.
There’s also plenty of collectibles littered throughout Maneater’s lush and believable ocean locales. The number and quality of collectible landmarks caught me off guard. And yes, just like in this review, ocean-related puns are here in full force. On top of this, the game’s sense of humour hit the mark for me.
Apex legend: it’s a long way to the top of the food chain
The game quite rightly claims that ‘’humankind is ultimately impotent to stop mother nature’s vengeance.” In this case, your shark personifies (sharkifies?) mother nature’s wrath. And the developers clearly worked hard to get the feel of the shark—as well as the havoc it wreaks—absolutely perfect.
From the life-like animations to character models, TripWire went above and beyond. I wish the move set were a little more robust, though. After 20 mins, I’d pretty much experienced all the gameplay mechanics Maneater has to offer.
Still, there are some RPG elements and other forms of progression to keep you going. You can unlock mutations that make your shark even scarier for those unfortunate unsuspecting holidaymakers.
Each of the game’s regions also has its own apex predator. These alpha hunters are the centre of their region’s food webs. If you’re up to the challenge, you can take them down to claim the coveted spot for yourself.
Despite there being little variety, Meaneater’s mechanics still make for a fun experience from a gameplay perspective. Things get repetitive at times, however, but some strong themes and narrative devices help keep this repetition at bay.
People for dinner; knowledge for dessert
Just under a decade ago, narrators in indie games were pretty common. Titles like Bastion seamlessly added personality by including snarky and wise-cracking raconteurs who help ground the experience with humour. Sadly, the trend fell out of fashion in the past few years. I’m happy to report Maneater brings it back via a hilariously over-enthusiastic narrator.
Let’s say you just devoured a catfish. The narrator gleefully explains that—in some regions—catfish are responsible for more human deaths than sharks. Needless to say, I’m now equipped with enough bull shark trivia to kill the vibe of any party in its tracks—not that I needed any help to do that…
The narration goes beyond humour, though, which is where Maneater really caught me off guard. Mostly due to Hollywood, there’s still a massive stigma around sharks, with many people believing they often violently attack humans.
The release of Jaws actually created a moral panic, leading many hunters to turn their weapons to sharks. Yes, people are fucking stupid. Sure—sharks are objectively terrifying. There’s literally a species with a HAMMER FOR ITS FUCKING HEAD, for crying out loud. The reality is, however, that sharks rarely attack people unprovoked, and the few attacks that do happen each year are accidents.
Sadly, many species of shark are now endangered. Maneater presents troves of neat info about how badass and safe sharks are. And that definitely scores bonus points in my book, even if I terrorized unsuspecting holiday goers in that same game.
Political chewpoints: sharks can get partisan, too
And then Maneater truly surprised me. It got political. When you wade your way into regions that show signs of human civilization, the narrator gives non-shark-related information bites and rants. At one point, I saw an oil rig on the horizon, and the narrator quipped, ‘’Sure—we could avoid catastrophic risks for future generations, but then we wouldn’t have 4×4 trucks with V8 engines”.
In fact, across each of the eight available regions in this semi-fictional Gulf resort, humanity is never portrayed in a good light. In addition to the fossil-fuel dig above, there’s also Dead Horse Lake (a toxic-waste dumping ground for corporations) and Caviar Quay (an abandoned Sea World-like amphitheater).
Whenever I stopped for a second to take in the environments, things got depressing. Maneater really underlines how companies are destroying the world’s gorgeous environments for quick and lazy financial gain.
Aside from damning statements about humanity devastating the environment, the narrator also paints a striking picture of wealth inequality and a segregated class system. Poor vacationers reside in the toxic Dead Horse Lake, while the upper-class play golf at the Golden Shores or bask on the beaches of Sapphire Bay, where the water’s tetanus-free (lucky them!)
It’s safe to say this shark tale has beef with modern-day society, but I wish it doubled down on these issues just a wee bit more. But your character doesn’t discriminate. Regardless of class, race, gender, or body type, nobody’s is safe from the jaws of this vengeful bull shark.
The final word
Maneater came out of left field for me. I bought it on impulse, expecting a forgettable YouTuber-baity experience that’d be fun for an hour. Instead, I discovered a neatly packaged, funny adventure with a surprisingly compelling message. What the game lacks in variety, it makes up for with its stunning environments and tongue-in-cheek humour. But most importantly, it’s fun. Nevertheless, the $35 asking price is a little too steep for this game in its current form. But the mechanics, tone, and setting are all here, and are ripe for a sequel. If Maneater 2 does for Maneater what Assassin’s Creed 2 did for the original Assassin’s Creed, TripWire could be onto a winning franchise here.
6/10 – Good