Picture a sunny beach. Sunlight filters through palm fronds, sparkles on sand crystals, illuminates a cresting wave, and gleams off the sunscreened bodies of beachgoers. Gulls cry above as they circle, complementing the soft sound of crashing waves and the laughter of tourists.
But this peaceful scene is about to become a slaughterhouse.
A shrill scream is heard at the far end of the beach. Then another. The perfect blue water turns red, as a scarred dorsal fin races toward an unfortunate swimmer. This tropical paradise just became an all you can eat buffet.
We all have a fascination with sharks. Whether our first exposure was the movie Jaws or Discovery channel’s Shark Week, these fierce predators frighten us for many reasons. One of the few animals that occasionally still hunt us, they come unseen from the inky depths, mouth gaping wide with razor sharp teeth. Their streamlined bodies and cartilage skeletons are prehistoric nightmares that inspired H.R. Giger’s Alien, and it’s no wonder we portray them as monsters.
But what would it be like to spin the focus from fear and swim a mile in their fins? I don’t think Maneater, the latest game from Deep Silver and Tripwire Interactive answers this question exactly, but it does provide the power fantasy of being an unstoppable apex predator ripping apart and eating all in its path. And it turns out eating tourists is really, really fun.
The game opens as an almost invincible elder shark joyfully noshes on many many swimmers. I lost track of how many unfortunate vacationers were dragged to the depths, or snapped in half. This is as good a time as any to mention that this game absolutely earns its MA rating. While gouts of blood spraying over every surface might be hilariously entertaining to twisted adults such as myself, this is absolutely not a game for children. But if you’re warped like me, the carnage is hilarious. If you’ve seen Sharknado you have some idea of the gravity-defying leaps your murder machine makes as she lunges at some helpless victim. I laughed out loud more than once as my giant shark flopped and jumped on the sand, completely out of the water, chomping away like a psychotic Pac-Man. Sure, there was an oxygen meter and I eventually had to return to the water, but not before painting a wide strip of sand red.
Fun in the sun comes to an end as a local shark hunter named Scaly Pete harpooned this particular Maneater, and the game’s multiple revenge story begins. The game is presented as a reality show with truly terrific narration by Chris Parnell (30 Rock, Rick and Morty). Through a memorably gruesome scene on Scaly Pete’s boat, we are introduced to the game’s
hero protagonist, who not only has reason to hate Scaly Pete but also acquires a taste for human flesh very early in life.
Yes, you start the game as a baby shark. No, I won’t mention the song, but it’s too late, it’s already stuck in your head. As a pup shark (is that better?) you are three things, small, vulnerable, and hungry. Yes, in this game you are hungry, and not just for blood. Eating fish or people not only refills your health, but gives experience points and different building block nutrients such as fats, protein, and mutagen. These nutrients are a currency to level up various Evolutions you unlock through various quests and beating certain enemies. You can choose which evolutions to equip and customize your shark into something you’ll never find in the real ocean, whether it’s stone armor, sonar like a dolphin, extra fins for mobility, or my current favorite, electricity that basically turns you into a glowing blue kaiju.
Maneater reminds me of another Deep Silver game, Saint’s Row as far as the world layout. Starting in a small bayou area as a pup, new areas can be unlocked after a certain number of story missions are beaten. Every area has at least one hunter, which will come after you if you eat too many humans, raising your wanted level. There are plenty of side quests such as eating x amount of catfish, and as you level up you also grow in size and can take on challenges you couldn’t easily face before. The crocodile that beats you as a pup is no match for you as a teen shark.
Each area has a distinct look. Two of my favorite locales were the superfund nuclear waste site and the golf resort. Each has nice environmental touches like the mobile park homes flooded over in the canals of the resort, or the glowing radioactive wastes in the nuclear plant zone. Secret or hidden areas can be unlocked as well such as sewer tubes or natural caverns with glowing moss. Each area also has a home cave where you go to evolve and level up, and I really liked the way these caves were decorated with sunken cars and glowing fiber optic cables.
As you would expect with any game laid out in the tradition of Far Cry, Saint’s Row, etc, there are collectibles. I vastly preferred one over the other. Landmarks are presented as signposts that when chomped give a little flavor to a scene, such as two skeletal lovers in a sunken swan boat at the bottom of a marsh. The other collectible is license plates, and these were placed high above water where the player would have to use speed and acrobatics to reach them. Maybe I’m a traditional shark, but I just feel more comfortable in the water.
I was surprised how much fun it was to explore the world of Maneater, and if I had to sum up my review in two words, it would be “pleasantly surprised.” I came for the guilty pleasure of being a murderous bloodthirsty shark, and I stayed for wonder of underwater exploration and exhilaration of transformation into an unstoppable force of teeth and fins.
Maneater is available May 22 on Windows PC, Xbox One, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch. A PlayStation 4 copy was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.