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Review: Maneater Is a Campy Action RPG Sunk by Repetition

The game’s campiness doesn’t extend to the shark combat, which flounders as a result of it mostly hinging on button-mashing.

Photo: Tripwire Interactive

Tripwire Interactive’s Maneater is told through the lens of a reality television show, Sharkhunters vs. Maneaters, whose obsessive host, Scaly Pete, hunts your bull shark character. That framework is a perfectly trashy choice—that is, for bringing just the right amount of reality to the game, and without standing in the way of your pure enjoyment. After all, the game is less of a true-to-life shark sim than it is an action RPG, one that lets you equip your shark with taser-like teeth, a glowing purple-streaked “shadow” body that emits toxins, and boat-breaking bony protrusions for fins. Once you gain the Amphibious organ evolution, your shark can flop its way across various beaches and boardwalks, gobbling up helpless, rubbernecking humans. Think of the game, then, as Grand Theft Shark.

Your shark’s actions may occasionally defy physics, but the environments against and through which you wreak bloody havoc rarely do. The game offers up environments that are well designed and varied, from the yellowish shallows of the Fawtick Bayou region to the pristine blues of Prosperity Bay and the darkened depths of the Gulf. Swim through narrow caves and sewer tunnels and you’ll find colorful phytoplankton, and you can interact with—that is, eat—a variety of realistically depicted sea creatures, from turtles to marlins, even sperm whales.

If only the game’s missions evolved alongside your shark as it grows from a baby-sized biter to a mega-sized masticator over the course of the campaign. There are seven main regions (and a tutorial area) and the progression through each is the same: Find the grotto so that you can fast travel, hunt a specific creature, perform “population control” by feeding on a certain species, and get “revenge” by killing a set quota of humans. Once you’ve done this, you’ll face off against that area’s apex animal—usually a higher-level version of basic predators like crocodiles, makos, and hammerheads—and then watch a clip from Scaly Pete’s reality show. All that changes are the wildlife and the biomes, like the polluted superfund site Dead Horse Lake and the golf-course islands found throughout Golden Shores.

The repetition of the mission structure extends to the actual gameplay. With the exception of the final boss fight, which forces players to make use of the tailwhip to hurl torpedoes back at your rival, pretty much every encounter is just a matter of hammering the bite button, especially if you’ve equipped the right evolutions for the task at hand. And there isn’t much to the exploration either. There are license plates, landmarks, and nutrient caches hidden throughout each area, but your overpowered sonar makes them simple to locate, and if there’s any challenge in collecting them, it comes from trying to get the camera to cooperate when you’re breaching toward an object hovering high above the water.

That exploring every nook and cranny of Maneater is still enjoyable comes down almost entirely to the spot-on casting of Chris Parnell as the narrator of the show within the game. His style of wounded snark colors both casual observations (“Catfish are monogamous, which means someone’s special somebody won’t be coming home tonight!”) and pop-cultural zingers, which arise every time you discover a submerged landmark. “Even a shark can’t help but marvel at this consumerist Babylon,” he notes, and, indeed, players will gobble up the nods to everything from Arrested Development’s frozen banana stand to SpongeBob’s pineapple home, to say nothing of the references to kaijus, Cthulhu, and Pennywise. Would that such specificity had been given to, say, the bounty hunters who wordlessly show up in progressively more advanced boats each time your shark gains a new infamy level.

Manhunter knows exactly what it is: an action-RPG so campy that the publicity material keeps trying to make “shARkPG” happen. That playful sense of camp shows up even in the game’s darkest moments, as in the spectacle of Scaly Pete losing limb after limb in his dogged pursuit of you. It even has a satirical bent, given the fact that the majority of your interactions with humanity’s accomplishments come in the form of either witnessing how they’ve sunk to the bottom of the ocean (or sending them there yourself), little more than bleached bones and rusted metal in the end. Sadly, that camp doesn’t extend to the shark combat, which flounders as a result of it mostly hinging on button-mashing. Ultimately, Maneater is too much like the “Baby Shark” song: catchy but repetitive.

This game was reviewed using a press key provided by ONE PR Studio.

Developer: Tripwire Interactive Publisher: Tripwire Interactive Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: May 22, 2020 ESRB: M ESRB Descriptions: Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Mature Humor, Mild Language Buy: Game

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