“Maneater” is a moderately funny, environmentally-conscious, open-world shark game that puts players in control of a female bull shark whose task is to grow larger and more powerful by consuming as much as possible. Structured around a series of episodes, the game imitates the form of a wildlife TV show complete with a snarky unseen narrator and a couple of recurring characters, Scaly Pete and his son Kyle LeBlanc, who serve as the shark’s human antagonists.
Scaly Pete, a sort of low-rent Ahab, is a Cajun fisherman who develops a special enmity toward the female bull shark. She had, after all, bitten off his lower arm after being caught (he threw her back into the water for being a small fry.) Pete is an old salt through and through whose rough-and-tumble personality clashes with his son’s more reserved nature. A fateful run-in with the shark when she is older only increases his bitterness. “Maneater’s” narrative plays off the types of personality clashes and individual obsessions that are a hallmark of reality TV. Aside from Scaly Pete and his son there are ten other hunters for you to scrap with as your shark gains infamy for snacking on people. They, however, receive far less screen time as each is given only a very brief cutscene intro.
As with most open-world games, activities are divided among story, optional and scavenger missions. Primary missions ask you to engage in a bit of population control by feasting on species that dwell in specific locations, or to take revenge on humans for the sprawling landscape of refuse that mars your underwater habitat. (The narrator is fond of skewering people for their blithe attitudes toward the environment. His use of corporate jargon that pays lip service to things such as “environmental stewardship,” is a hoot.)
After completing most of the story missions in an area you get to take on that region’s apex predator before moving on to a new section of the map. Throughout the campaign you’ll be able to scrap with alligators, barracuda, orca and others. The creatures in “Maneater” are well animated and the fights aren’t overly difficult if your shark is properly leveled up before taking on an adversary.
Dotted across the map are grottoes that serve as fast travel points and places where you can evolve your shark using materials gained from consuming different critters. You can upgrade the bull shark’s anatomy from head to tail. A number of the modifications are either bone or bioelectric upgrades. Bone upgrades tend to make you stronger and more agile while bio-electrics envelop you in an electric current. I went all in on creating a mutant lighting shark with a head that can short-circuit boats after ramming them and fins that inflict lighting damage upon a successful evasion. The game explains such outlandish mutations with reference to the old Marvel comics’ trope. You know the one: exposure to radiation leads to superpowers a la The Incredible Hulk, etc.
I enjoyed “Maneater” as a light arcade-style experience. If the idea of zoning out and basking in the serenity of being an unstoppable predator sounds appealing, then consider this an inviting summertime snack.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.