The creators of Maneater, Tripwire Interactive (of Killing Floor fame), would have you believe that the game is an RPG. They’ve even coined the rather clumsy ‘SharkPG’ portmanteau to signal as much. In reality, Maneater is closer to the types of collectathon adventures that 3D platformers pioneered way back when. There are certainly RPG systems involved, but the fun in these pales in comparison to the dopamine hit that comes from checking the game’s many, many boxes. It’s a shame then that, at least in my experience, Quality Assurance seems to be a box that Tripwire themselves left unchecked.
I’d like to say that I actually finished Maneater ahead of this review, after all completing the games that we critique here is incredibly important in maintaining our integrity and the trust of the people that read them. The game is also, as I understand it, less than 10 hours long. Still, completing it has proved incredibly difficult for me due to a persistent bug that completely wipes my saved progress any time the game needs to display a loading screen. If I die, if I fast travel, even if I save and quit to the main menu – instead of actually loading the next scene the game will load up the tutorial and save over my progress. I haven’t been able to fix this with any reasonable method, and I’m not particularly keen on attempting to play through the game in one sitting with the fear of very permanent permadeath looming. Instead I’ve opted to talk about the game with the knowledge of the 5-6 hour session that I managed to get in before being thrust unceremoniously back to the tutorial yet again.
Though I’ve so far been unsuccessful in seeing the end of it, Maneater actually has a story to tell. Framed as a cheesy documentary TV series akin to Shark Hunters, the loose plot sees a gruff, Cajun hunter by the name of Scaly Pete become the target of a local bull shark after he kills its mother on camera. Over the course of the game, the shark grows as it hunts and kills and becomes the ultimate predator, taking down a series of increasingly dangerous bounty hunters until it can finally square off against the man himself. You play the shark in this scenario, of course, and thus killing Pete is your ultimate goal. At least, I think it is. I mostly just smashed stuff and ate garbage.
It’s often said that the journey matters more than the destination, but in Maneater the opposite is true. The journey in this metaphor is one that consists entirely of swimming the same handful of locations and performing the same basic tasks over and over. The destination however is that dangerously irresistible video game drug – 100% completion. You know you want it. You need it. And Maneater is willing to give it to you for the low, low price of a dozen hours of menial order-taking. Never mind the fact that including an onscreen mini-map would have halved the time needed to get the job done, you’ve got your shark game and you’ll damned well enjoy it the way you’re told. The fact that the whole thing feels like a gleefully grindhouse deconstruction of every D-grade shark thriller ever makes it even more of a slap in the face that I’m not trusted to direct my own fun, and yet I can’t help but succumb to the extrinsic motivation of being told I did the thing enough times and that my shark’s mouth is now made of electricity!
For a game that feels as mechanical as the shark they used in Jaws, Maneater sure struggles with its mechanics. A fair chunk of what the game asks of its players involves engaging in combat either above or below water, and neither option…works. Despite the inclusion of mechanics such as evading and countering, and the suggestion that mastering them should give your shark an edge in battle, the reality is that furiously mashing the ‘bite’ button while hopelessly attempting to point your shark’s face at the thing to be bitten is about as deep as it gets. Finn (that’s the name of my shark) handles fine when the goal is just to get from A to B, but when squaring up against an a competing predator they move like a shopper on Black Friday; zero sense of direction and propelled forward by their blood-lust alone. It’s frustrating, because breaching the water with an impossibly high jump to land in the middle of a fancy garden party and start chowing down on the 1% is always funny, but trying to defend yourself against the waves of overly-aggressive hunters that rock up as a result is a sobering consequence.
The true hero of this game then, is that carrot on the proverbial stick. That blissful moment when ‘100%’ comes up on screen for the first time. The sound of that last trophy or achievement popping. Pure bliss. Shame I’ll never see it.
Maneater is a game about swimming and biting things for hours on end until you’re told there’s no more swimming or biting to be done. It’s messy and uninspired, but strangely compelling. I might even finish it one day, if it lets me.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher