Review: Maneater (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • Nintendo Switch
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Maneater
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (12.5 GB)
Release Date: May 22, 2020
Publisher: Tripwire Interactive
Developer: Tripwire Interactive/Deep Silver
Original MSRP: $39.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: M
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Maneater takes the traditional action-RPG formula and tosses it out into the ocean, allowing you to sink your teeth into the role of one of the most fearsome underwater predators. As a bull shark, you must chomp your way through foes, explore vast waterways, and evolve into a beast of mythic proportions. The hook of Maneater is enticing on its own, but once it reels you in there is so much more to explore beneath the surface.

Gameplay:
The entire game is framed within a reality show, narrated by former Saturday Night Live cast member Chris Parnell. You are introduced to the show’s star, shark hunter Pierre “Scaly Pete” LeBlanc, and his son Kyle as they set out on a hunt. The hunt turns out to be the beginning of your origin story as you take control of your bull shark’s mother during a playable tutorial. After learning the basics of swimming and terrorizing anything brave enough to cross your path, you engage in battle with Scaly Pete’s boat. Pete comes out on top and you are forced to leave your mother behind and set out on your own as a shark pup.

As a pup you are confined to the first of the seven expansive, Gulf Shore regions where you take on your first quests and learn the basic mechanics of the game. There are several quests in each region, including mandatory story quests and optional sidequests. The quests all vary in location, type, and quantity of prey, but almost always end in a feeding of some kind. There are also three types of collectibles to hunt down in each region’s optional Landmark Quests. Once you progress far enough through the main quests, you fight the region’s Apex Predator. Defeating this foe opens up the next region and also unlocks an evolution for your shark.


Maneater may give off the first impression of being a campy joyride, but in actuality it has an impressive level of depth that reveals itself patiently from beginning to end in the ten to twenty-hour campaign. The evolutions unlocked from defeating Apex Predators can be upgraded through five tiers and provide new active and passive abilities that increase your mass, health, defense, damage, and speed ratings. There are four different nutrients required to upgrade evolutions and to increase your level. These nutrients can be obtained by eating wildlife or humans, destroying boats, and completing quests.

Evolutions can also be unlocked by completing Landmark Quests and by taking out bounty hunters. Any time that you attack humans you fill up a Threat meter, and once the meter is full you will be chased down by bounty hunter boats. If you kill enough bounty hunters their leader will emerge. Each time you defeat one of ten over-the-top Hunter Leaders you unlock an evolution and also increase your Infamy Rank. Maneater has a sense of humor about itself and the ridiculous introduction videos for each Hunter Leader never get old.

Mauling your way through the game’s quests increases your experience, and as you level up you hit growth milestones from Pup all the way to Mega. Each milestone provides boosts to core abilities that sharpen your shark’s hunting technique. You also grow and adapt physically, even changing the way that you move through the environment. Leveling up and experimenting with different evolutions has dramatic effects on your overall appearance and playstyle. There is a lot of strategy that can go into choosing evolutions. For instance, equipping evolutions that are better suited for boat battles will boost your effectiveness in an extremely gratifying way. The more evolutions you equip of a set, the greater your perks will be.

Maneater absolutely nails the feeling of traversing the game’s diverse aquatic environments as a massive, aggressive beast of a shark. You can feel the power behind each thrust of the monster’s tail as you zero in on your next meal. In fact, the game is not for the faint of heart. It can be unsettling at first as you lurk in the shadowy depths below unsuspecting beach-goers, then heave towards the surface and snap them up into your jaws where they meet their violent, bloody demise. Maneater does not shy away from violence, it embraces it. Once you settle into the rhythm of the game this actually helps remove the atrocious acts you commit from reality in a B-movie kind of way.


Encounters with different wildlife and humans alike vary dramatically and they ramp up throughout the game in a very satisfying way. In the early moments of the game you may encounter a predator larger and more intimidating than you. Sometimes your best bet is actually to turn tail and run, seeking out smaller fish along the way to regain health after your brush with death. Once you progress further in the game, though, you can return to these early bullies and toss them around like playthings, literally. There is a thrash mechanic where you can grab prey smaller than you and jerk them back and forth in your jaws, dealing a huge amount of damage. That cycle of progression and dominance over increasingly daunting enemies is incredibly well-paced and one of the more satisfying aspects of Maneater.

The game is not without its drawbacks. During the gameplay for this review there were several persistent performance issues. The most common was severe framerate drops during boat battles. The animations are a beautiful sight to behold, especially once you equip elemental evolutions, but these animations seem to hinder gameplay to an unacceptable extent. It really is a shame when it happens because it interrupts the flow of otherwise spectacular gameplay. The fan in the PlayStation 4 Pro used for this review hummed louder and louder throughout extended play sessions and there were even two hard crashes. Hopefully these issues can be resolved with future patches because they are some of the few, though glaring, problems with the game.

There is also a small issue with the game’s controls. During some battles you can find yourself surfacing and leveling out when you are trying to stay agile and entirely submerged. This can be a slight frustration as you have to press a different button to dive down again, or at worst can leave you open to an enemy’s attack. This accidental surfacing is more present in shallow waters, particularly the swampy region you start out in, but as you progress into deeper waters it becomes less of an issue.

Exploring the enormous environments of Maneater’s Gulf Shore setting is a unique joy. Each region is heavily themed and that theme dictates its physical layout, from the murky shallows of a swamp to the crystal clear plunging depths of a vacation shoreline. The attention to detail in the above-water environment is evident and you can even explore dry land with your shark for a limited time before you begin to suffocate. Below sea-level there are lush patches of vegetation, dramatic rock formations, sunken man-made relics, and an endless network of tunnels. The tunnels are often gated by progression, giving you a reason to return to previous regions long after you have moved on.

Visuals:
Maneater is an impressive graphical achievement. The overall visual fidelity is by no means top-tier, but then most games are not set almost exclusively underwater. Human character models and some collectibles are somewhat cartoonish but the overall art direction is colorful and fun.

There are moments where you may be taken aback by the beauty of some of the game’s environments and how the varying light plays off of the intricate seascape. The day-night cycle can make one location look and feel dramatically different in a way that prevents each region from overstaying its welcome.


The previously mentioned performance issues aside, the game pours all of its graphical muscle into boat battles. The animations are wildly surreal as you break through the surface of the water and launch yourself directly at a hunter aiming a shotgun or hurling dynamite at you. Boats crack and splinter until eventually exploding into shrapnel, tossing their inhabitants overboard for you to gobble up.

Whenever you near anything you can eat or otherwise interact with, there is an indicator that appears and that object is also highlighted. Though this can be helpful, it definitely detracts from the game aesthetically and gives it a busy appearance. The HUD is fairly minimal but it would be nice to have the option to turn it off altogether to better take in the sights as you explore.

Evolutions can take your shark’s appearance from a realistically intimidating predator to an insane monster of mythic proportions. Whether you modify your shark with electrically-charged fins or a powerful exoskeleton, the outcome will be substantial. The appearance of evolutions even changes as you gain nutrients and level them up through their five tiers. Evolutions can also lead to new animations that add a fantasy flair to combat.


Audio:
Much of Maneater’s audio consists of the dulled sounds of underwater traversal, punctuated with the gruesome chomping of prey. If that prey is human, there are also screams of anger followed by terror as they find themselves locked in your jaws. The subdued nature of the soundscape as you explore deep waters can be a welcome respite after prolonged hunts.

There is not a lot of music in Maneater but it is used effectively to create tension or a sense of heightened action during battles. There is even a heavy metal guitar riff, a la Call of Duty, streak that plays when you trigger certain active abilities. The game is self-aware enough that these moments are fun additions to its more raucous action.

Chris Parnell’s narration is fantastic. His deadpan delivery is unfaltering, whether he is sharing a fact about how humans are impacting the world’s shark populations, or breaking the fourth wall to question why his reality show is chronicling your reign of terror.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single-player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
Maneater is a force of nature. For all of the cheap thrills promised by its concept, it is an incredibly balanced, unique, and flat-out fun game to play. The RPG mechanics are not just a marketing ploy, there is a sense of achievement as you progress and grow your shark into a living urban legend. The performance issues are significant and unfortunate, detracting from an otherwise complete package. Maneater is a great experience that should beckon you to dive right in.

Score:

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Brock Arnett

Gamer since the NES days, Boilermaker, Colts and Pacers fan. I can’t wait until my two boys are old enough to play games with me.

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