Let me say this up front. I can’t recommend buying Maneater. I got it as a Playstation Plus game of the month for PS5. Normally, if I finish a game that’s enough for me to at least recommend it to someone. In this case, it just means the game is short. It’s short, but there still manages to be several sections you have to slog through. Even then the payoff isn’t worth it. There are plenty of parts that shine enough to show this was a labor of love for some of the devs. The whole just never comes together.
Maneater is an open world (open ocean?) shark simulator. After an intro tutorial level, you start as a baby shark making your way in the shallows. Fortunately, that song never makes an appearance. There’s a framing device of some sort of ‘shark week’ documentary following both sharks and those that hunt them. This lets the narrator comment on all sorts of things. He might just be the best part of the game. The story is largely forgettable, but some of the one liners land. My wife even laughed at some when she was just walking by as I was playing. If you’re thinking that jokes and narration shouldn’t be the best part of a shark game, you’re right.
Let’s start with the obvious. Sharks just swim and eat. That’s probably not enough for a compelling game. That’s true here. Yes, technically, you can jump and tail whip and activate your super shark power, but the whole game is swimming and eating. At least with such a limited move set, they must have nailed the controls, right? Yes and no. Most time you feel like you have an amazing amount of control of your shark. You can zip through tight spaces, turn and attack quickly, jump out of the water and hit someone on a boat. Other times it feels like you’re constantly fighting the controls. Maybe it’s in the shallows or trying to jump across land (that happens way more than you’d expect in a shark game, but sorry Land Shark fans, no doorbell ringing) but usually in the heat of combat the game fights you to control the shark. Maybe you want to eat that fish to restore some health but the game decides you want to attack that enemy that’s out of range instead or vice versa. I honestly can’t tell if they’re horrible controls that the devs managed to contain most of the time or good controls that sometimes go haywire. I didn’t much like the ‘thrashing’ controls either, but that almost seems niggling compared to the game’s real issues.
There’s no real balance either. You’ll waver back and forth between being too squishy and too tough. It’s rare that the challenge feels just right. Even when it’s close, such as during some of the shark patrol fights, you’ll take someone out bumping up the alert level unbalancing it again. I suppose the ocean is unfair too, but it’s not supposed to be a game.
As for the graphics, it’s ok. Some parts look pretty good. Close ups of your shark look nice. The lighting is fairly nicely done. It’s not a graphical showcase. There’s nothing next gen about the looks. Even some pretty obvious things like bite marks aren’t there. Sharks are scary because they take big chunks out of their prey at a time. Here you just sort of ram into things until their health bar is gone, and they explode into cloud of blood and chunks. There’s usually a spray of blood each time your shark lands a hit, but that’s not the same as seeing the damage you do to an enemy with parts missing after each bite. It felt like another missed opportunity.
Really, the whole game feels like a missed opportunity. That’s probably unfair though. There was only so much fun that could be found in playing as a shark. That made too short a game. That’s how you get Maneater. It’s still a short game but with everything wrung out too much. If you get it free, enjoy the intro tutorial and then uninstall the game. You’ll be happier for it. Not Recommended.