Hands-On: Maneater

Hands-On: Maneater

by February 28, 2020

There’s something lurking in the water…and it’s an RPG where you play as a shark! Games with sharks as the protagonist are fairly rare, and the bigger standouts in this genre probably don’t conjure up good memories – Jaws Unleashed, anyone? There’s ample opportunity for a polished, high-quality title to really stand out from the crowd, and with any luck, Maneater is that game. Let’s figure out why that is.

Maneater‘s PAX East demo gives the player a lengthy tutorial and an introduction to its surprisingly hard-hitting story. Playing as an aggressive bull shark, your learning the ropes is cleverly narrated, nature documentary-style, by a man who provides observations and insight as you maul everything in sight. In a very funny twist, he even comments on how your hyper-aggressive, targeted behavior is unusual for a shark. You get a handle on the basic controls and attacks before the game lets you loose in a lovely beachside paradise, and it’s here where you can really start to raise hell.

Throughout the tutorial, you learn your shark’s surprisingly deep move set, which goes far beyond simply swimming and chomping on fish. Of course, you can boost to swim quickly, eat enemies, and chew to kill them faster, but you can also thrash about to subdue certain animals and foes that tend to fight back. Some fish, like groupers, won’t pose any challenge, but later foes like alligators will prove much tougher. At times, hunters and patrol boats will attempt to take you down; you can execute quick dodges to break the lock-on of their guns’ lasers, and you can destroy their boats, sending everyone on-board tumbling into the water. You can jump into the air to attack flying foes, or to get a better angle of attack on an annoying enemy. There’s a surprising amount of flexibility in how you can dispatch everything around you, and this freedom encourages experimentation.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And then there’s the humans. One of the tutorial’s objectives is to take out a certain number of the fleshy meatbags, and you have so many ways to do this. Your shark can leap out of the water and jump about on land, hunting down unsuspecting beachgoers and mauling them senseless. Naturally, you can’t stay beached forever; the game will warn you as you start to suffocate and encourage you to return to the murky depths. Sometimes, multiple people will be perched on a huge inflatable raft, which you can naturally destroy. Killing swimming humans on the surface of the water results in a pretty triumphant animation where your shark will leap to the skies in a final act of definitive destruction.

As the demo ends, your shark is captured, and you’re treated to a critical story cutscene, which is admittedly shocking and pretty impactful. Players are introduced to Scaly Pete, the game’s main villain, a loathsome hunter who believes man must assert its dominance over sharks – and violently. It is revealed that you were playing as the main shark protagonist’s mother, who is pregnant with you. Scaly Pete literally cuts you out of the womb, stabs you, and tosses you overboard, but not before you get a good bite out of him in return. It’s gruesome stuff and not for the feint of heart. This sets the game up as a revenge tale, where you grow stronger and prepare to get back at Scaly Pete for murdering your mom, scarring you, and leaving you for dead. The cutscene comes out of nowhere, and it really caught me off-guard. This concept easily could have fallen into camp or parody territory, but Maneater plays it completely straight. It’s a bold choice, and I think I’m more intrigued as a result.

And that’s the thing about the game taking the serious approach: it’s fun, but it’s bloody, violent, and very unapologetic about it. Some will inevitably find it over-the-top, but if this doesn’t deter you, then there’s something interesting to be found here. The game promises an in-depth single-player RPG experience, including a day-night cycle, skill trees, and diverse upgrades. When was the last time you heard of a skill tree for your shark protagonist? Exactly. It’s always great to find original, unique experiences on the show floor, and Maneater definitely falls into that category. If you’re looking for a fun twist on traditional RPGs that doesn’t hold back, this might be one to put on your list – and you won’t have long to wait.

Maneater terrorizes the population on May 22nd for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.