Far Cry’s formula may be feeling a little shallow these days, but Maneater breathes new sealife into the open world collectathon concept by setting its action underwater – and putting you in control of a bloodthirsty shark. This moreish aquatic action RPG is a modern incarnation of PlayStation 2 cult classic Jaws Unleashed, and it’s a budget title with real bite.
The game’s set in the fictional oceans of Port Clovis, and it adopts a fly-on-the-wall documentary format to convey its paper-thin plot. The opening exchanges see your Mummy Shark (do-do-do-dododo) murdered by a bearded baddie named Scaly Pete, and you embark on a quest for revenge against all of mankind.
But you’re a Baby Shark (do-do-do-dododo) to begin with, and you’ll need to grow. Gobbling up sealife equips you with different nutrients, which not only contributes to your overall growth, but can also be invested into upgrades. Over the course of the game, you’ll unlock mutations (or gear) which augment you with power-ups such as electrified teeth and poisonous fins.
The first few chapters are hard, as alligators rule the oceans and your abilities are limited. This means you’ll spend three or four hours feeling frustratingly underpowered; death comes quick, and the only way to avoid it is to swim away from danger like a holidaymaker when it spies a rogue condom floating in the hotel pool. Persevere, though, and you’ll eventually find yourself destroying boats with a bunt of your boney skull.
The map, while open world, constrains you at first – but it opens up as you work your way through the lifespan of your shark. Progressing from a teen to an adult to an elder improves both your size and statistics, allowing you to make mincemeat of those crocodiles that kept killing you early on. It also enables you to reach places you couldn’t previously.
Part of the fun, then, is simply navigating the map ticking off collectibles. There are nutrient caches for you to chomp, license plates for you to locate, and – our personal favourites – landmarks for you to find. The latter are accompanied by cheeky quips from the narrator, whose repetitive lines can grate but are brilliantly delivered and laugh out loud funny at times.
Combat sees you pulling the R2 trigger to gnash your teeth, which can be a serious test for your DualShock 4’s durability. We’d have preferred an option to switch the bite command to one of the face buttons, as carpal tunnel syndrome sufferers are likely to prefer a shark bite to a two-hour session with this toothy title.
It’s satisfying scranning seafood like you’re at an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet, though, and once you add special moves to your roster of abilities – well, hammering away at a hammerhead is a sight to behold. A lack of lock-on means the underwater combat can be disorientating, and this problem also applies to the rudimentary platforming, which is largely imprecise.
The campaign is divided into a series of episodes, which effectively see you completing a selection of samey activities in different sectors of the map. You’ll swim from the surroundings of a hotel complex to an industrial area and a golf course – each differentiated by unique seabeds and surroundings. The quests do get far too familiar, but the fun comes from cleaning up the map.
The game’s world is sized just right, so it feels like you’re discovering something every few seconds, and that makes it moreish to 100 per cent. A sonar alerts you to different points of interest, and it’s easy to lose yourself in the not-so serene seas of Port Clovis. Killing humans raises your threat meter, and a Grand Theft Auto-esque system will eventually see you hunted down.
As you become more and more infamous, star hunters will attempt to skin you, and these represent the most challenging fights in the game. If you spec your shark correctly, however, you can button mash your way through these combat encounters – and it’s undeniably entertaining watching oil barges combust as you thrash your humongous body through them.
The title does struggle from a technical perspective at times, with the framerate tanking like a tugboat when there’s too much happening on-screen. However, the bold colours and varied sealife employed make this a bright and breezy release, and each part of the map feels surprisingly unique – despite the bulk of your time being spent underwater.
You may be tired of open world collectathons, but Maneater bites back with more than enough novelty to make the format feel as fresh as Port Clovis’ well-populated oceans. A moreish gameplay loop with a well-designed sandbox mean there’s some-fin special here, and while it makome as a surprise, not even control and performance issues will deter you from flashing your teeth.