Out of all the games this year, Maneater has been close to the top of my list. It just sounds like a winner: you play a shark, looking for revenge on a bounty hunter who killed your shark mother and taking out your anger on humans along the way.
Unsurprisingly, flying through the air and snatching an unsuspecting tourist’s arm is pretty entertaining.
Local press and influencers were given a whirl with a build of the game during a roadshow with the game’s Australian distributor on Friday. The first hour of the game was accessible, including the prologue where you float around as a level 10 adult shark with abilities you’ll have to re-earn later.
Before that, you’re given a taste of Maneater’s shtick. Maneater is actually the name of a TV program, styled in the vein of Duck Dynasty and, potentially, the horrifically bad Shark Hunters. A cable-style announcer narrates the journey, joking about the hypodermic needles and used pregnancy tests floating through the waters of Trash Island.
The actual mechanics of Maneater are fairly straightforward. The right trigger bites nearby enemies within range, and smaller enemies can be slapped away or launched like a rocket with the left bumper. And mostly, that’s what you’ll be doing in between the main missions: nibbling on smaller finish, slowly gaining one of three resources until you’ve got the XP and materials needed to upgrade your stats and abilities. Eating smaller catfish refills your health as well, so there’s plenty of reasons to eat everything you see.
Oh, and if the speed and movement seems familiar, there’s a good reason. The creative lead is the same creative on Depth, the diver vs shark multiplayer game.
Along with the dodge – which has a fantastic animation if you’re swimming on the surface – sonar and sprint, the controls are pretty simple. The swimming and dodging is thankfully fast, since the early levels can be a bit of a grind as you chase your targets through the brown waters of the bayou.
After about half an hour, the game starts to open up properly and you’ll encounter more humans, hunters and their Need for Speed: Most Wanted-esque captains, the Apex Predators. Each predator will give you extra resources and a special trait, like bio-electric teeth with a potential to stun those nearby.
But generally, chomping everything that moves is the objective. It’s a bit like the original GTA games in that you’re just moving from one area to next, dominating everything in sight until the hunters (cops) appear, and you either carry on until you kill everything, get captured, or slink away.
It’s more mechanically interesting when the hunters get involved, because there’s more dodging involved. It helps that the animations, sound and visuals above water are infinitely nicer to look at. Humans are just more enjoyable to attack, too. The underwater predators often can’t be grabbed until they’re much weaker, so you have to go through this repetitive dance of swooping in, attacking once or twice, then dodging or double-backing like it’s an aerial dogfight.
Just casually making shark GIFs until the sickness passes. Maneater's good for that. pic.twitter.com/MrYQpJ14ZF
— alex (@dippizuka) February 29, 2020
Still, Maneater easily passes what I call the lunch test, which is whether you’d want to keep playing a game after the first hour. The movement, animations, and human vs shark action is good, dumb fun, and there’s enough elements in the environment that I’m keen to explore further. I’ll have to wait until May 22, however, when the game launches on PS4, Xbox One, and PC through the Epic Games Store. A Switch port is in the works, but there’s no release date on that just yet.