Also available on Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Windows
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 01/01/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
This right here, folks, is my game of the year. I don’t mean that I think it’s the best game I’ve played all year; it’s certainly not. What I mean is that this is my favorite game release of 2020. What you all don’t know is that I am OBSESSED with sharks. I have a shark onesie and a shark hat. I have two pairs of shark socks as well as a shark sticker on my car. I have two shark plushies including one designed by the amazing Tuesday Pope. I have a Shark Week Bluray (a week which is far holier to me than the actual Holy Week), a plaster cast of a shark jaw in one of my bathrooms, and I even have an embalmed shark in a little jar that my ex gave me, and considering that she broke my heart not once but twice, the fact that I still have that tells you how much I love sharks. When I saw that there was a legit action RPG that lets you play as a shark, holy crap, count me in. Best of all, it’s one of the free PS+ games for PS4 for January.
The premise of the game is that you play as a bull shark pup that was cut from its mother’s stomach by a Cajun shark hunter named Scaly Pete. There’s a shark fact for you – most sharks give live birth rather than laying eggs as is the norm for other fish. Anyway, the shark pup bites off Scaly Pete’s hand but not before he manages to give it some recognizable scars. From there, the game’s story consists of growing your shark in preparation for your inevitable showdown with Scaly Pete. There are a number of other aquatic wildlife for you to consume from the tame and passive grouper and turtles to the aggressive alligator and mako shark. It also includes a TON of awesome references and allusions. Also, Jerry from Rick and Morty is the narrator.
As you eat other creatures, you’ll gather four resources – fat, protein, minerals, and mutagen. Each of these resources is used to upgrade certain traits you’ll gain as you play through the game. You can customize your shark’s jaws, head, body, fins, and tail as well as giving it up to three additional traits which the game calls “organ” evolution. Each component can be upgraded five times, and maxing out everything will take a LOT of resources. Fortunately, there’s added incentive; not only do you need these resources to upgrade your shark, but that’s also how you level up. The more resources you gather from a kill, the more experience you get. The level cap is 30, and that will take you from Pup to Teen to Adult to Elder to Mega, each stage up making your shark bigger and bulkier in a fight. Granted, being a shark fanatic, I played the HELL out of this game and was at max level at about the halfway point in the game. I was also doing literally EVERYTHING in a region before moving on to the next of the seven regions in the game, so if you actually just play through the game at a normal pace, you probably would end up hitting max level right around the end.
To give the game some padding, rather than just moving from main mission to main mission, there’s a checklist of things you have to do to unlock the next story mission. Hit a certain level, do a certain number of each type of side mission, get that region’s completion level to a certain percent, get your Infamy to a certain rank, etc. Infamy is a mechanic that only comes into play when you eat humans. When you eat three or four people, shark hunters start to spawn. The more shark hunter boats you destroy, the higher your Infamy meter rises. When the meter is full, you hit the next Infamy level, and a boss spawns. Defeat that hunter boss, and you can start moving to the next Infamy rank. Obviously, each rank is more difficult than the last – you go from having bayou rednecks in airboats chase you to having US Coast Guard command ships chase you – but each of the ten bosses you defeat unlocks a new evolution, so there’s some incentive there. Eating people is also a great way to rack up protein.
Naturally, I have on the most rose-tinted of glasses when it comes to this game and could sing its praises endlessly, but I do want to address some of the negatives here because this game is far from perfect. For starters, it’s pretty buggy. Thankfully these are more Bethesda bugs with wonky AI movement and fish spawning inside the hull of a boat raised ten feet out of the water rather than Cyberpunk 2077 bugs where the game literally doesn’t work in places. Not once did I ever experience a bug that forced me to reload a previous save, and the only time it crashed the system was when I was switching from Maneater to YouTube, so I suspect that’s a PS5 issue more than a Maneater issue. The closest thing to a major bug I got was when an Infamy rank boss spawned in, and after the cut scene, my camera was bizarrely inside my shark’s mouth and was totally unresponsive. I could still move around and attack, but the camera was always facing the same direction, and I could only see what was in from of me if I faced the right way and opened my shark’s mouth. As soon as I died and respawned, everything was as it should be, and that was the only instance in nearly 20 hours’ worth of gameplay that anything like that happened. That’s really the only issue, though. Sure, it doesn’t look super impressive even on PS5 (the devs claim that ray tracing support is coming in a future update), but the MSRP is only $40, and doesn’t look bad by any means. The story isn’t the most enthralling, but you play as a shark; there’s only so much story that would really make sense, and I dig the “shark vs fishermen” vibe it’s got going. The biggest downside is the controls. The controls are definitely not bad, but they do take some getting used to. Controlling the shark feels a bit stiff at first, and there’s no functioning lock-on mechanic to have your camera follow a selected enemy. You can click a control stick to have your camera snap to an aggressive foe, but it’s just a snap-to function; it doesn’t actually lock the camera on. That can make it pretty tough to keep track of your enemies, especially when you’re facing multiple foes at once or a fast and nimble foe like a barracuda.
Maneater is a hard game for me to score. For me personally, it’s an easy 10 out of 10, Game of the Century, pack your bags and go home because Tripwire Interactive won video games. Objectively, though, it’s definitely a very good game, but it’s not a masterpiece, and it’s probably not going to knock anyone’s socks off. Except for mine. I think my socks ended up in the next county over. It’s got a lot of (thankfully all minor) bugs, the controls are a bit clunky and don’t feel great, the story isn’t going to win a Booker Prize. It is, however, an extremely creative game in which the developers clearly thought outside the box to provide an experience that breaks from the norm. It may not be a AAA Game of the Year contender, but I absolutely and wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone with a current or last-gen platform.