Playing Tripwire Interactive’s Maneater feels like one of those social media experiments where you’re asked to combine the last 2 games you played in to one. In this case, it’s Hungry Shark and Far Cry 3.
The comparisons go deeper still, your world is split into a series of areas, each containing a grotto which acts as your base when you unlock it and you can fast travel between these. Various landmarks and chemical or drug catchments are there in each area to be found and collecting them all will unlock a ‘shadow set’ of abilities that lets you travel faster, leach energy when you bite enemies and emit a deadly chemical.
Initially, though, you’ll feel like a small fish in a big pond because you literally are (well, aside from the pond being a swamp). Small fish and turtles provide easy pickings but anything bigger is liable to bite back and tangling with the many crocodiles often ends up with your body floating to the sea bed. Thankfully, every creature you consume and every catchment of odd oozing chemical you find will add to your ability to grow and to gain more powers in order to even the odds a little.
‘Upgrading’ comes in several flavours, your body will grow to give you more strength, speed and power, then you have your enhanced body parts; head, body, fins, tail and teeth can all be given one of 3 different upgrades. Bone upgrades generally give you strength, Shadow ones give you stealth and poison and Bio Electric give you the ability to use electricity. On top of this there are 3 smaller upgrade slots that can increase health, sonar range, ability to get more elements from eating fish and humans and other powers. The key to unlocking these comes from defeating the various hunters, all with their own unique personalities, getting 100% of the landmarks and secrets in the area or defeating apex predators, one in each area.
Maneater is presented as a documentary, with voice over artist
Chris Parnell brought in to provide the humour and keep the story going, popping up with little fish facts every so often in addition to feeding small story elements whenever Scaly Pete pops up. The other voice cast members do a less memorable job with the exception of Scaly Pete. There are too many repetitive soundbites that start to grate by the end of the game.
The game guides you gently towards new areas when you’ve unlocked enough in the first but once opened you can travel back to these in whichever order you like, either by swimming there or fast travel via the grottos. Access to some areas requires a little thought and sometimes a bigger body. Grates are one way that provides a faster link to 2 areas but can only be opened when you reach a certain size so initially many are left until you come back to the area after you’ve grown. It also does a good job of feeding you predators that feel a little overwhelming until you grow, keeping that sense of being part of a larger food chain until you outgrow the current threats. Just when you think you’ve got things licked about three quarters of the way through the game, it throws the huge Gulf area at you with humpback whales, Orcas and a bunch of smaller killers that can all gang up on you if you run into the wrong area.
Humans are probably the most fun to eat as they scream and run away. Hunters in boats, though, can be a right pain at times and between these and the apex predators you’ll have your work cut out for you. That said, ignore some of the collectables and you’ll be done with the story in 8-10 hours if you can get the hang of successfully facing the larger apex killers nearer the end of the game.
Playing on PS4 Pro the game felt fairly smooth but a few bugs kept cropping up that threw me back to the menu. Some slight slowdown during scenes with larger creatures or lots of humans is sadly present but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the game. A few rough edges are masked by the whole game feeling like a budget documentary anyway.
While it has bugs and does get a little repetitive later in the game (there are only so many times you can see a task to ‘eat 10 fish’ without sighing) the developers are careful enough to drip feed the bigger enemies in order to keep you on your toes and the story element is well written. For a game about the deep ocean, it’s perhaps a little on the shallow side but it’s still very good fun for anyone who ever wanted to be a shark.