For a game in which you can tear a baby seal in half before guzzling its gizzards and transform a human into a crippled sack of flesh and bone with a whip of your tail, Maneater, at its core, tells a surprisingly tender tale of family and the fight for survival. In balancing its absurdity and humour with moments of poignancy, Maneater is more than the sum of its parts, delivering not only on the gore-soaked power fantasy it promises but equally offering an unexpectedly meditative experience that overflows with charm and heart.
Following a tragic encounter with infamous shark hunter Scaley Pete, you, a mere pup, are left alone in the world to fend for yourself. Motherless and vengeful, you begin to feed and grow in preparation for your next encounter with equally vindictive Pete. This Ahabian feud between man and beast acts as Maneater’s narrative crux, fuelling your journey from snaggletoothed adolescent to a ship-shallowing colossus. While simple in structure, this story encounters some tumultuous twists while providing context to both Maneater’s gameplay loop and its consistently hilarious narration.
Framed as a reality TV show of the same name, the exploits of your maneater are narrated by the velvety-voiced Chris Parnell. The inclusion of Parnell is an inspired touch that really works to elevate the minute-to-minute experience, successfully bringing life to the game’s witty writing with his charismatic delivery. Whether spouting sarcastic quips or wistfully reflecting on man’s impact on the natural world, his presence remains a source of both amusement and comfort throughout your adventure, despite some repetitious dialogue.
Unfortunately, repetition will likely be one of Maneater’s biggest points of contention. Based around milestones of maturity and an ever-expanding set of evolutions, every creature you consume, collectable you gather, and objective you complete rewards you with experience points and minerals which feed your growth towards becoming the ocean’s fiercest predator. Each of the open-world’s seven regions plays out in a similar way as you complete the same handful of objectives. These have you thinning the population of sea life and humans alike, or pit you against mini-bosses before having you take on both that region’s apex predator and resident bounty hunter in a bid for supremacy. While this rinse and repeat formula offers little in the way of variety, I never tired of it thanks to a compelling progression loop and a set of mechanics that consistently yield moments of exhilarating emergent gameplay.
Due to a lack of vocal cords, your agency as a shark primarily consists of biting, flailing and swimming really, really fast. Thankfully, this seems to resolve most issues, translating into a combat and traversal system that is easy to learn yet hard to master. Bites and tail whips are your main means of offence, which, once combined, allow you to tailwhip any unfortunate soul trapped in your jaws, sending them careening into whatever or whoever you aim them at. Providing your defence, dodge rolls allow you to evade attacks, while lunges let you swiftly reposition, ram into boat hulls, or breach the water’s surface to lollop around on land for a limited time. Combined, this set of moves truly make you feel like a feral, fearsome beast, lending a chaotic and often hilarious unwieldiness to your actions.
As a juvenile, most encounters require you to make full use of these manoeuvres as you seek out windows of opportunity before retreating, restoring your health with a few mouthfuls of catfish, and heading back into the fray. As you evolve into adulthood, then onto your elder and ultimate “mega” forms, survival becomes incrementally easier. In the latter half of the roughly ten-hour campaign, the tables turn as you prowl the waters as a hulking, overpowered killing machine. While this does dispel some of the challenge found in the tension-tinged early hours it replaces it with an equally rewarding power fantasy that feels earned by way of your prior struggles.
Allowing you to dictate exactly what kind of terrifying, genetically-mutated beast you want to be are evolutions, a comprehensive set of passive buffs, active abilities and physical modifications. Bone, Bio-Electric and Shadow sets let you customise your maneater, whether reinforcing your hide with an exoskeleton, adding an electric shock to your bite, or allowing you to secrete poison. This unique take on a gear system works well, rewarding you with new evolutions as a steady rate to ensure there’s always something new to experiment with. Additionally, each upgrade tweaks your appearance, reinforcing your growing physical prowess with some suitably gnarly visual design.
Aesthetically, what Maneater lacks in fidelity, it makes up for in its artistic style, environmental design and lighting. Aside from some low detail character models and the occasional muddy texture, this polluted dystopia of hillbillies and holiday homes bursts with personality and life. From the tangled shallows of Fawtick Bayou to the vivid, sun-soaked shores of Caviar Key, each region feels distinct while the world at large feels cohesive despite this variety. Equally diverse is the game’s audio which accompanies each bite and strike with satisfying crunches and thuds. Accompanying this is a score that ranges from banjo-picking bluegrass and adrenaline-pumping electronica to John Williams-inspired orchestral arrangements that drift between serenity and tension.
Beyond its well-paced story, a wealth of collectables and optional objectives add longevity to the post-game. While most of these simply provide additional resources to further grow your power, landmarks, collectable signpost strewn throughout the world, offer some smart easter eggs which nod to pop culture while providing Parnell with some of his sharpest material. Aside from this completionist-appeasing set of activities, Maneater’s world is simply a joy to inhabit and I already feel enticed to return, if only to glide pensively through its open waters.
The fact Maneater exists at all on this generation of consoles seems like an anomaly but I’m so glad it does. While it’s gameplay structure may prove too repetitive for some, for me this loop sits at a sweet spot between comfortable familiarity and refreshing novelty. Thanks to compelling storytelling and a consistently rewarding sense of progression Maneater delivers on the power fantasy of its unique premise with a perfect blend of poignancy, absurdity and humour.
Maneater PS4 Review
Overall - Fantastic - 8/10
Maneater fulfils the power fantasy of its unique premise, taking you from budding pup to fearsome apex predator. While its consistently rewarding gameplay loop may prove too repetitive for some, mainly due to a lack of varied objectives, its compelling storytelling, charming humour and chaotic, gory action make it a relentlessly joyful experience.
- An unexpectedly poignant story of family, vengeance and man’s impact of the natural world.
- Its charming, vibrant world is brought to life thanks to excellent visual design, witty writing, and Chris Parnell’s charismatic narration.
- A compelling, consistently rewarding progression loop.
- Fulfils the power fantasy of being a bloody big shark!
- A repetitive gameplay structure with little variety to its objectives.
- Inconsistent presentation.
- Its unruly controls can be a little frustrating.
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Reviewed using PS4 Pro.