Gut Check: Maneater

Maneater is a genuinely fun game with an extremely unique concept that ultimately gets bogged down in repetition and monotony far sooner than you’d expect or want. One would think that a game about being a shark that’s hell-bent on consuming and destroying any and everything in its path would be more exciting to play, and while the moment to moment gameplay achieves that desired level of excitement, the objectives and grinding required of you become very tedious, very quickly.

When you begin Maneater, you’re thrust into the far more capable fins of an adult shark that’s fairly hearty and ferocious. You learn the basic controls of locomotion and eating, and shortly afterwards find yourself devouring placid beach-goers just trying to soak up the sun. After a few snacks of the human variety, a shark hunting party is deployed to your location where you summarily dispatch them through a combination of ramming their boats, hurling divers at their boats, leaping atop their boats, or just chomping away at them until there’s nothing left.

In classic “abilitease” fashion, your shark is captured by some big time shark hunter that’s being filmed for the reality TV show, unsurprisingly titled “Maneater.” This jerk kills the shark you were playing as, cuts a baby out of your stomach, and throws it back into the water, but only after this baby shark chomps off this dude’s arm. Thus you start your murder-shark career in earnest as this orphaned shark-child that’s definitely not out for revenge.

It’s during this first level of Maneater where I cultivated my “Gut Check” opinions, so I’m well aware that things can change as I progress further. The first level is your standard bayou that’s chock full of catfish, cattails, murky brown water and of course, gators. You spend most of this time trying to navigate towards your objective marker while chowing down on turtles and other tiny fish on your way. In this way Maneater feels a lot like a Feeding Frenzy type of game, where you eat enough smaller fish to level up and grow into a bigger shark that’s capable of taking on bigger foes. Except, even at higher levels and larger sizes I was still getting attacked by level one fish who no longer posed any sort of threat to me.

See, in Maneater you don’t just swim over a fish and eat it, you literally have to mash on the right trigger to chew your food. You’ll also need to wiggle the right analog stick if something caught in your maw tries to escape your grasp. If you’re feeling especially froggy, you can even grab some prey in your massive chompers, and then hurl them off into the distance at another target. Maneater clearly is taking its subject matter about as seriously as Sharknado did, and I love it for that. It’s one of the few games in recent memory that have made me laugh, not through a joke or a cut-scene, but through the sheer absurdity of what I was controlling.

Unfortunately, Maneater gets a little repetitive, even so early in the game. I progressed through a few objectives pretty quickly, but ultimately was greeted by a progress gate that required me to be level 4 before I could take on any additional missions. That meant I was just going to swim around and eat more turtles and groupers until I became a bit heartier. This took a while. Now this could just be an isolated incident, but the word on the street is that this repetitive structure only gets worse as you progress.

That’s a damn shame too because I genuinely think that Maneater is such a strong concept for a game. Unfortunately it shows its cards a little too early in the game, revealing that while the core gameplay loop is fun, it isn’t fun enough to outweigh Maneater‘s repetitious nature. That isn’t to say that repetition is the only issue that Maneater has, but it is the most predominant one, with a close second place going to the unwieldy camera.

Maneater does its best in trying to make a game about swimming actually feel good to play, and for the most part it succeeds. But the way the camera works, particularly when you’re in combat with something is infuriating. Combat usually devolves into you and your opponent circling one another, waiting for and then dodging their attack, and then retaliating with your own powerful chomps until they finally die. This would all be fine if the camera actually played along and locked-on to your enemy. Instead, you can click the right stick in to whip the camera around to face your enemy, but it doesn’t lock-on to them. It’s bewildering at best, and I sure hope that there’s either a setting in the menus I missed, or even some woefully misguided later upgrade I can unlock, because as it is fighting anything is a messy endeavor.

Maneater does have its highs though, primarily in how it presents the story to you. The show, “Maneater,” is portrayed to you in the style of a Discovery Channel show about wildlife, interspersed with reality TV show moments that follow the folks trying to hunt you. It’s all narrated by Chris Parnell as well, which is honestly a great choice because he does a fantastic job with the script he’s given, even if all of the jokes don’t land.

I’ve only played a small piece of Maneater, but I’m already starting to feel a little worn down by it. I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet, but I kind of already know that there’s a very little chance I end up seeing this thing through to the end. I’m just not a big fan of having to grind or complete repeated objectives in games, and it sounds like there’s a lot of that in Maneater.

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