People are often looking to find the Citizen Kane of games…a title whose impact is so deep that it can cement a genre as high art. Sadly this game isn’t it, but what I can say is this game is the Moby Dick of games, a title of man’s folly as he seeks to control nature, much to his own detriment and great loss. Wrapped in the impeccably written parody of a basic cable nature show, this game is a tale of nature vs man…as well as man vs nature.
You’re cast in the role of a nameless female bull shark, one who was prematurely cut out of her mother’s womb, scarred and cast into the swamps of Port Clovis, a fictional Gulf Coast town. Starting as a pup, you consume and consume until you can consume larger things and move on to other areas, all the while keeping tabs on the man who killed your mother.
Port Clovis is an extremely realized space. The 8 regions have very distinct personalities such as a Cajun swamp, a superfund site, a derelict aquatic park and even the ocean depths which is teeming with sights and secrets. Even though it is ill explored, the developers even took care to design the surface with unique architecture and beautiful skylines. Each region consists of seven activity types. Population Control has you devouring an abundant species to gain evolutionary materials and experience. Hunts and Apex Predator missions task you to take on predatory species of the area. Revenge has you menacing the local human population…usually by consuming them. Optional events that help increase your viability in this cruel world are collecting license plates, visiting local landmarks, and opening nutrient caches will help you garner nutrients and experience that will further hone you into an aquatic killing machine.
Combat is a pretty straightforward affair, bite your prey until they die or explode. There is a tail whip and you can fling objects at enemies…but those never feel as effective as a good old fashion chomp. Players can run in gums blazing, chomping in every direction or they can take a methodical approach and wait for the enemy to make their move, creating an opening, allowing you to lunge in and thrash them. Shark v human combat for me consisted of twirling to avoid physically impossible gunfire (how is gunfire still effective when the bullet has to travel through 50+ feet of water?) and then breaching hoping I return to the water with a human in my maw. Given you are a high level predator, the game doesn’t necessarily make you feel like you’re in danger too often as you can always back off from your fight and consume prey to heal up so you can head back into the fight.
Movement is generally easy, although I found myself experiencing vertigo in enclosed environments. As my time with the shark increased and she grew from Pup to Mega, I felt her abilities increased as I noticed my ability to swim faster, jump higher and last longer outside of water. The game also augments these base abilities with skills such as sonar to detect points of interest and location of prey, passive skills that increase the accumulation of evolutionary nutrients and enhancements to basic stats. The game takes it to the next (absurd) level by allowing your shark to emit electric pulses to stun enemies, emit poisonous clouds to sap enemy life and grow armor plating to increase her defensive capabilities. Fully upgrading these abilities will tip the scales heavily in your favor.
The thing that seals this package up is the writing of this game. You would think a game about a shark would be light on story content, but the writing is amazingly smart and almost poignant. It’s set up as a fictional “Shark Week”-ish show, somewhat following the captain of a shark hunting vessel. Pierre “Scaly Pete” Leblanc is framed as a heartless plunderer of nature’s bounty, arrogant and indifferent to the opinion of others. Working with his estranged son whom he seems to be extremely disappointed in, his primary goal is to eliminate waterbound predators. As the story slowly unfurls…you learn more about Pete and might find he’s more nuanced than he is originally portrayed. Pete aside…the flavor text of the world is bitingly sharp, and will alternate between snarky, and educational. It also helps that the narrator, SNL alum Chris Parnell does an amazing job voicing your disembodied guide. I made sure not to swim off too quickly for fear I would miss a hilarious quip played by the game.
It took me about 15 hours to fully complete the game. I upgraded every evolutionary option, collected every floating license plate, found every local landmark and dominated every sector of Port Clovis and while this title will not receive the universal praise that a hardware manufacturer’s first party studio will put out. The ending actually left my jaw agape…pondering who was the real monster. Much like no one ever sees a shark attack coming, Maneater is a gem hidden in an ocean of offerings and those who find it will be in for a precious and fun experience.