Maneater review: Between a rock and a shark place
Bounty Hunters circle in their boats above the surface as I bide my time, waiting for the right moment to strike.
I’ve already eaten several waves of humans, who have been called to the Cove because of my beastly, man-eating ways.
I’ve only a few moments of rest-bite before I must lunge headlong back into the fray, smashing onto the boat decks to consume my foes.
This is the part of Maneater I like best, the chaotic combat that leads me to take on the ever-growing human threat.
But if Maneater were simply a Shark Simulator, allowing you to play the life of terrifying fish, things would get boring pretty quickly.
Lucky for us, Maneater is a Shark RPG, with its tale of revenge and levelling system that turns you from a normal pup, into a ravenous Mega Shark.
The story begins with you playing the role of a fearsome female Bull Shark, who ends being bested by a Bounty Hunter.
You quickly take the role of the vengeful daughter, who is looking to grow strong enough to take on your ultimate rival.
The levelling system allows you to grow as you consume and kill your aquatic rivals, while also giving you the chance to complete missions and side-quests.
This part of the game, the early stages, are probably the least entertaining, leaving you with just a few different ways to take down your prey.
And this might be one of Maneater’s biggest flaws; striking a balance between providing you with new abilities and giving you new enemies to fight.
The progression at the start feels very slow, and there’s a lot of fish that need to be eaten before you can progress from Pup to Teen, to Adult.
The balance can also feel off when you encounter Apex Predators later in the game when you have grown into an absolute unit yourself.
The best thing to do is to leave the starting area behind you as soon as you can and continue on your quest to become the most fearsome fish in the sea.
Most of the progress is made by chomping down on your opponents, and this is done through just a few skill sets – Biting and tail-slapping.
More advanced movesets are unlocked while you progress through the game, while you can also grab animals in your mouth and use them as projectiles.
It creates a basic system that can boil down to button bashing in the most chaotic pitched battles and puts a big emphasis on what skills you have unlocked.
Having reached a certain point in the game, you will gain access to new abilities through Mutagens.
These Mutagens can be unlocked through a number of different ways, but a lot of them are tied to eliminating bounty hunters.
And having reached the point where you can plough through the water evading your enemies while dealing electrical shocks, it’s easy to see how fun Maneater can be.
Upgrading your Shark’s teeth and fins, as well as its insides, will earn you access to colourful abilities, providing new ways to enjoy the game.
The gaps between levelling up and earning new abilities can sometimes feel too far apart, and it’s hard to say whether some gamers may grow bored of the gameplay loop.
Even though Maneater is a SharkPG, it’s still a game where you glide through the depths and hunt down your prey.
The rivalry storyline and side-quests will keep you busy, but if you don’t enjoy the idea of playing Jaws, this might not be for you.
The good news is that while your Shark doesn’t provide its own commentary, it does have a cracking narrator in Chris Parnell.
There is some great dialogue provided throughout the game that injects a layer of satire and tongue-in-cheek comments that keeps random encounters fun.
While Maneater might not offer the most in-depth storyline, it does look great on Xbox One X. The world of Maneater is alive with fish, garbage and boats, while the city beyond makes a perfect backdrop.
Beneath the surface looks just as good, with plenty of details and hidden sewer pipes to explore. The map you explore is huge, with eight different zones to unlock and ultimately create carnage in.
While most of the other aquatic life around you usually ends up just being a quick snack, there’s a lot of diversity and detail put into the differing ecosystems you glide through.
The only downside to this underwater world is that the other fish and mammals don’t appear to do much when you’re not chewing on them, unless they have an aggressive AI assigned.
I enjoyed the combat system after growing used to it but there is an element of randomness that can prove a little frustrating.
While duelling another predator can be fun, it can sometimes be hard to steer your shark while also trying to take a chunk out of your enemy.
Near the start, your shark can’t take too many hits, making your first encounters fraught with danger.
You can always retreat if your health bar gets too low, but it can sometimes feel like you are completely outgunned.
By the time you reach adulthood, you can hold your own against the biggest predators, while a whiff of danger still clings to the chaotic combat system.
Another great aesthetic part of the game is the shark itself, which changes every time you apply a new mutagen to your monster of the sea.
Your shark slowly turns into something truly terrifying, with extra scars and fins poking out of a glowing body.
Building up your shark means being able to take on stronger enemies and more deadly Bounty Hunters, who then unlock better abilities.
This can lead to chaotic encounters, with fleets of ships and their crews trying to blow you out of the water, while you lunge out of the water, smashing everything in your path.
You soon find yourself in a race to feed on enough Hunters so that you can continue to swim in and trigger the Boss battle you want.
Each wave of Bounty Hunters ends with a special Boss encounter, which can be won by either destroying their boat or munching them down like an old Twix.
Bounty Hunters are the main cannon fodder of the game, bringing out bigger and tougher boats, while hurling explosive charges and sending out deep-water divers with harpoons.
But while much of Maneater can leave you in tense encounters, it’s also a game you can sit back and enjoy.
Maneater offers a fun unlock system that slowly changes and racks up in difficulty, not unlike many other games.
It makes it easy to pick up and play and not get too frustrated if you fail in your mission.
Things are kept simple enough that you find yourself swimming about, enjoying the simple things in a monster shark’s life.
Maneater lives up to its name in a big way, allowing gamers to play as a monster of the sea.
Developers Tripwire interactive has accomplished its goals of providing a chomping-good time, albeit in bite-sized chunks.
There’s plenty of enjoyment to be had from what’s on offer, but gamers may struggle to find the hidden depths needed to keep them playing.
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