Maneater | A Full-Course Meal
When I first saw Maneater at E3 2019, I had to know more. Speaking with Bill Munk of Tripwire in an interview with AllGamers, the game was described as a “ShaRkPG” that's kind of like “GTA, but with sharks” which in and of itself sounds like a game you just have to check out.
Based on my time with the game, I found both of these descriptions to be absolutely spot on.
In Maneater, you play as an angry little bull shark with a vendetta against the man who killed your mother and ripped you from her womb. Sure, you took one of his hands as payback, but the conflict is far from over.
You’re out to finish the job – or at least take his other hand – while he’s determined to find you and kill you once you’re big enough to be a prize worth bragging about.
One must die for the other to live so to speak, and given that you’re playing as the shark in this scenario, Scaly Pete is the final boss.
As much as you might want to, you can’t fight him as a baby. I mean, I guess you could, but the game won’t let you and that’s probably for the best because Scaly Pete would make quick work of you.
To teach Scaly Pete a proper lesson, you’ll need to grow in age, size, level, and power. Queue the training montage!
At the beginning of the game, you find yourself hungry and alone. You can’t help but snack on anything that crosses your path and as you do so, you get bigger and stronger. Turtle? Dead. Grouper? Dead. Catfish? Extra dead. The more you eat, the more you grow. As you grow in level, you also grow in size.
You can acquire one of four different nutrient types from your food, all of which help you gain new skills and increase your prowess as a deadly aquatic predator. Nutrient types include Fat, Minerals, Protein, and Mutagen.
You can see what nutrient each fish provides next to the name of the fish, but you won’t need to strategize your feasts until later in the game. Eat everything.
As you explore, you’ll also see the levels of the fish swimming around you which can help you spot potential threats. In the first area of the game, Fawtick Bayou, you'll encounter level 8 alligators swimming around. Given that you start out at level 1 and have to work your way up, you’ll want to avoid them until you’re close enough in level to win the fight.
A good rule of thumb while playing Maneater is that, as long as your prey’s level isn’t staggeringly higher than your own, you should try and eat it. Understanding this is one of the game's main draws, the developers made eating both simple and straightforward to maximize your enjoyment.
As you swim and look around, you’ll automatically target nearby enemies. If you’re interested in eating the enemy you see your target pinned on, swim closer and press the button to bite. Don’t want to tangle with that particular fish? Keep looking around until you see your target locked onto something that looks a bit more appetizing.
I have to say, I really appreciate the way Maneater guides you towards your prey. It saves you the time of having to carefully line up your strike every time you want to take a bite of something. You’ll need to be more precise with bigger foes that require repeat damage and finesse in order to defeat, but eating dozens of helpless groupers?
Target, swim, bite, and repeat.
They say you shouldn’t play with your food, but in Maneater it’s hard not to. It’s a hell of a lot of fun tail-whipping your prey to stun them, thrashing a foe left and right as it tries to escape your jaws, flopping around on the beach to grab yourself a little land snack, and battling it out with apex predators.
When you first start out, you're limited in what you can eat and where you can go which can be frustrating, yet Maneater is clever in showing you the sort of formidable monstrosity you’ll eventually become through the game’s opening tutorial where you play as the baby shark’s mother (mommy shark doo-doo-dodo-dodo).
As tragic as mommy shark’s final outcome is, there’s no denying it’s a blast to wreak havoc on beachgoers and take out a few hunter boats before Scaly Pete gets to you. Even in your baby stage, Maneater makes you feel powerful by providing you with plenty of enemies that require nothing more than a single snap or two of your jaws to consume.
Leveling up widens the menu of tasty treats available to you. Circling back to that alligator example, returning to Fawtick Bayou at a higher level and showing it who’s boss is indescribably satisfying. You want to level up not only to keep yourself safe and kick some alligator tail, but also to access new areas that are locked until you meet a particular evolution.
This Isn’t Even My Final Form
Swimming around Fawtick Bayou, I discovered an area that could only be accessed as an Elder shark. It’s hard to not be curious what’s in there. As an Elder shark, you not only get new reasons to return to previous areas, you can also bully most would-be attackers. The key word here is most. Elder isn’t the highest shark evolution in Maneater.
To be the biggest, baddest shark around, you need to become a Mega. To do this, you need to first evolve into a Teen at level 4. You then evolve into an Adult at level 10, an Elder at level 20, and finally a Mega at level 30. The higher your level, the more resources you need to reach each subsequent level.
With this setup in place, you get a nice level of grind in Maneater that always feels fair. You never feel like you’re struggling to make progress towards your next evolution, while hitting that Mega evolution feels rewarding thanks to all of the time and effort you put in to get there.
Speaking of time, I was able to beat Maneater in 11 hours or so. I’ve heard other completion times ranging from 8 hours all the way up to 12 hours. Maneater has no New Game Plus mode right now, but you’re always free to return and act out Jaws whenever you feel the urge.
You could easily put more than 12 hours into the game if you enjoy being a shark in Maneater as much as I did. I enjoy customizing my shark to look like a true sea menace, and I look forward to seeing what else the developers implement in terms of shark customization in the future. DLC, perhaps?
Woah, Here She Comes
Unlike Bruce, the great white from Jaws, Maneater has you play as a female bull shark. It’s an interesting choice, and I found myself curious as to the difference between the two. Looking them both up, I was surprised to learn that, while smaller, bull sharks are actually more dangerous and aggressive than great whites.
People often picture great whites when it comes to sharks they want to stay far, far away from, and for good reason. Great white sharks are one of the ocean’s largest predators, reaching up to 20 feet in size. The bull shark, by comparison, only hits a maximum of 11.5 feet.
Great whites rarely stray from coastal waters, whereas bull sharks can survive in just about any water condition. Ocean, river, lake, brackish swamp, all of the locales you explore in Maneater are totally fine for a bull shark to be in. It’s a scary concept if you think about it. The ocean isn’t the only place where you need to be wary of sharks apparently.
When it comes to Maneater’s explorable areas, there are 7 total locations which include:
- Fawtick Bayou
- Crawfish Bay
- Caviar Key
- Dead Horse Lake
- Prosperity Sands
- Golden Shores
- Sapphire Bay
Each area feels unique and different. You’re able to not only traverse rich, underwater landscapes, but you also get to see the sights above water. Skimming the surface of the water increases your speed, helping get you to the action faster.
It’s kind of cute seeing your shark’s dorsal fin sticking up out of the water as you work your way from one side of a map area to the other. I can hear Maneater by Daryl Hall and John Oates playing in my head as the fin (and the shark it belongs to) gets closer to land.
It would have been easy to skimp on the above-water areas seeing as how you spend the most time below the water’s surface. However, Maneater goes above and beyond to give you crazy shore scenarios where you can scoop up a sunbather, or flop around on the deck of a boat.
It makes me wish for a mode where I’m able to play as a sharkhunter rather than a maneater solely for the opportunity to walk along a beach soaking up some sun. Well, before a shark comes along and then it’s game over man. Game over.
Just Keep Swimming
As much as I enjoy the blood and gore that comes with ripping people to pieces as a shark, some of my favorite moments in Maneater are when it gets quiet. There’s something relaxing about swimming around as a shark, especially at the end when you reach your Mega evolution.
You have nothing left to fear, and nothing restricting you from simply existing as a shark.
I admit I spent quite a bit of time just swimming around doing nothing at all while basking in the serene underwater atmosphere of areas like Crawfish Bay. The shark’s movement is done so well in Maneater, it feels so natural.
Maneater lives up to its “GTA, but with sharks” not only because of its violence, but because once you unlock an area, nothing holds you back. If you want to spend an hour in Crawfish Bay doing nothing but swim around, you can do that. If you’d rather focus on the campaign and only the campaign, that’s fine as well considering you’re always free to return to the game after you beat it.
If I could request future modes outside of a multiplayer option, I’d ask for a Zen Mode. And maybe a Photo Mode. The game is so gorgeous and so much time and detail has been put into every facet of it that it’s easy to immerse yourself in. It also offers a different perspective on the shark beyond mindlessly killing and eating that was nice to see.
I could sit here and go on and on about every little thing I loved about Maneater, but if I did that, it’d turn into a full-length novel. Maneater is a great game whether you want to rip, shred, tear, and bite, or you want to swim around and live life as a shark for a little while. I got what I expected from Maneater as a “GTA, but with sharks” kind of game, there’s no doubt about that.
It’s hard to not chuckle at Maneater’s almost cartoonish violence of a shark leaping out of the water and destroying an inflatable unicorn along with all of its occupants. I also got more than I expected in that Maneater also does justice to the concept of an underwater explorative adventure.
It’s a game you want to escape from the real world to live in – as the shark, of course.
Whether you’re chowing down on sailors or floating past shipwrecks, Maneater has no trouble establishing itself as one of the best indies of 2020.
Tl;dr: Maneater is amazing and worth every penny of its $39.99 purchase price. Also, bull sharks are scarier than great whites and I really don’t want to encounter one of these bad boys (girls) in the wild.