Our review of Maneater, developed by Tripwire Interactive. Released on May 22, 2020 for PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, and Nintendo Switch.
WHAT IS IT?
IS IT GOOD?
WHO SHOULD PLAY IT?
Dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun.
FAREWELL AND ADIEU
Peter Benchley, who wrote the novel Jaws, famously devoted the latter part of his career to shark conservation. Benchley, with a big assist from Steven Spielberg, had done too good a job of scaring people: Jaws made it okay to engage in mass culls under the guise of “protection”, and made it harder to raise awareness and sympathy for the world’s vulnerable shark populations. After all, if a shark ever got the chance, he’d eat you and everyone you cared about. It was a lie sold to the masses for the sake of some terrific entertainment, but a lie nonetheless.
The ensuing four decades have done much to rehabilitate the shark’s reputation. We now understand what scientists and Benchley already knew: that sharks are an integral part of the marine ecosystems they inhabit; that sharks are neither vengeful nor particularly interested in the taste of human flesh; that they are beautiful and elegant creatures, the culmination of some 400 million years of evolution.
Yes, sharks are scary, and there’s something primevally unsettling about a great underwater lion (for that’s the best comparison) lurking in the unseen depths. It’s what makes Jaws such a great movie – perhaps the scariest movie ever made – but it’s also why Benchley later devoted so much effort to showing us that, like lions, sharks are to be loved, not feared.
OH YOU FAIR SPANISH LADIES
I love the title shark in Maneater, Tripwire Interactive’s terrific new Jaws simulator. In fact, I am that shark. I skirt along the ocean floor, seeking out fish and turtles to chow down on and keep my energy going. I rise to the surface, poking my dorsal fin out of the water as warning to those swimmers paying attention. Finally, I lunge, taking a bite out of a rubber raft and somebody’s poor uncle who just wanted a quiet day at the beach.
And let me be very clear about this: I did not mistake uncle for a seal, or a school of fish. I ate him because he looked delicious.
I am Maneater, a hilariously unscientific virtual depiction of the world’s most beautiful apex predator. I am a hodgepodge of bad science, outdated stereotypes, and pure video game logic. I should be ashamed at how regressive I am.
But I’m having too much fun to care.
FAREWELL AND ADIEU
Maneater is an Action-RPG, or shARkPG, as the terrible/amazing ad copy informs me. The mechanics are simple enough: you’re a shark, viewed from a third-person perspective; you swim and bite and breach (breaching is always impressive); and you explore seven interconnected areas – a lagoon, a beachside, and so on – as you eat, grow bigger, and take on increasingly dangerous foes. When you start the game, even a lowly barracuda can be intimidating. By the end, you’re a nigh-unstoppable killing machine, tearing giant alligators in half, capsizing boats, and snacking on family reunions.
The shark in Maneater resembles the shark in Jaws, which is to say it’s less real world shark, more horror movie fever dream. This shark carries a grudge, against the sport fisher that murdered its mother. This shark dines on humans by the dozens, if not hundreds. It has electric teeth and uses echolocation even though sharks don’t make sounds. It also has an impressive and ridiculous habit of breaching right onto land, flopping about like a rag doll while picking off beachgoers, then diving back into the water just before its “air metre” depletes.
This shark also has a name: Becca. Not because the game told me so – in the story, the shark is never named – but because, in leaving the shark nameless, Maneater encourages the player to develop their own relationship with their shark as they watch it grow and evolve. And Becca is a great name for a shark.
OH YOU LADIES OF SPAIN
For what it is, Maneater is perfect. True, the graphics can be a bit murky, the camera unwieldy, and the game could desperately use a lock-on system. It can also be a tad repetitive: swim, bite, repeat.
But Maneater never overstays its welcome. There’s always a new and tantalizing menu item (human or aquatic) to hunt down. New beach parties to terrorize and sailboats to pulverize. New apex predators – crocodiles, other sharks – to unseat from their apex thrones.
Because it’s an open world game – call it GTA: Ocean – you’re also free to ignore all in-game objectives and shark to your heart’s content. One of my favourite things to do is scare the living hell out of swimmers without actually eating any of them. I’ll let them know I’m coming (a thing real sharks never do), stick out my dorsal fin, maybe bump a few off their rafts. But then I’ll allow everyone to swim to safety.
Let that be a warning, I’ll say. You knew there was a shark in these waters and yet your mayor didn’t close the beaches?
SMILE YOU SON OF A
Maneater never apologizes for what it is: it’s a shark game, you eat people, it’s awesome. At the same time, Maneater is keenly aware of its own fiction, of the weight of post-Jaws history that bears upon it. When you go toe-to-toe, er, fin-to-fin with another shark, it’s supposed to be ridiculous. The game is constantly winking at the player, even as it throws in the occasional (and welcome) environmental message. It’s as if to say: this is all in the name of fun, but we promise sharks aren’t actually like this.
In its own way, Maneater succeeds at carrying on both of Peter Benchley’s legacies: that of sheer unmitigated terror, and that of an abiding love and respect for these formidable creatures.
Do go in the water, Maneater says with a grin: I promise I won’t bite.
Visit the official page for Maneater here.