No matter if it’s “Jaws,” “The Meg” or “Deep Blue Sea,” we secretly root for the sharks. Sure, the humans are the heroes who eventually slay the primal creatures, but it’s the monsters of the deep — all teeth and muscle, their fins knifing through the water — that grab our attention.
“Maneater” takes that attraction and lets players live out a power fantasy as the predator.
In this open-world shaRkPG (that’s publisher Tripwire Interactive’s reference, not mine) players take on the role of a female bull shark. A hunter named Scaly Pete scars the young shark and kills her mother. In retaliation, the shark pup bites off Pete’s hand and escapes into the bayou.
From there, players control the fish as she survives in the wild. The bull shark has to constantly eat. Her initial prey are catfish, grouper and box turtles, which fuel the shark’s growth. From there, she can attack bigger animals such as alligators.
The whole process makes “Maneater” feel like fishy answer to “Pac-Man.”
Players need to level up their shark into adulthood before she can destroy grates and other obstacles to explore the wider city of Port Clovis. The shark’s goals are twofold. First, she wants to be the ultimate apex predator of the sea. That means growing into a megashark that is feared by sperm whales and orcas in the gulf. The other driving factor is revenge. The bull shark has one target in mind — Scaly Pete, the larger-than-life fisherman who gutted her mother.
Despite its intriguing premise, “Maneater” will have problem keeping players’ interest beyond the novel first hours. It’s fun to be a shark but the mission design is pedestrian and monotonous. In addition, players will come across collectibles such as license plates, nutrient caches or landmark signs. Side quests give the bull shark such essential evolutions as shadow fins and bone tails that act like armor and weaponry.
Controlling the shark is cumbersome, but “Maneater’s” flaws are smoothed by comedian Chris Parnell, who chimes in with Discovery Channel-type narration filled with nautical facts and biting critiques on humanity’s relationship with nature.