There are backlogs, and there are theoretical backlogs. Those games you never bought, but heard about, thought about getting, and then never did for whatever reason. I’m finding this fallow period for big game releases an excellent opportunity to reach into that pile of potential purchases, and grab something I missed. Like, say, Maneater.
When Maneater was first revealed in 2019, I took it for a joke. The elevator pitch is hard to take too seriously: an RPG in which you play a shark who swims about and eats everything it sees. RPG? Sure, it looked funny, but then so did the trailers for Sharknado and Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus. They were not funny. At all. My brain immediately filed it under that category of god-awful Syfy movies starring 90s actors you could have sworn had died in the aughts.
It came out in May of 2020, a month precisely no one can accurately remember, too buried in the locked-in stench of too many weeks locked in. I completely missed its release, likely because I was shivering in a ball on my sofa, trying to decide if I was more scared of going outside or staying inside. I didn’t really think of it again until the announcement for its first DLC due this winter. So I took a look, and I’m so glad I did. It offers exactly what I didn’t realise I was after: completely stupid fun.
Maneater pulls a pretty familiar action game opener: you play as a giant, super-powerful shark-o-beast, with all the skills a grown up shark could ask for, before suddenly getting caught and slaughtered. But in the moment, horrid hunter Scaly Pete cuts a baby shark (doo doo doo doo doo doo) out of the adult’s belly, and scars it so he can kill it when it’s older. Man, Scaly Pete, you’re a dick. Fortunately the kid has the good sense to BITE OFF HIS FOREARM before fleeing, so at least there’s that. And then that’s you, a wee shark pup with all those skills yet to learn, off to eat her way through the ocean blue.
The more you play, the more you grow, which allows you access to areas blocked off when you’re too little. It also lets you fight bigger and badder enemies, be they sealife or heavily armed humans, with the former always a far greater challenge than the latter. As if paying respect to the ocean’s superiority over us bipedal weaklings, your shark can munch through a named enemy person in a blink, but taking out a mako is going to prove tricky times. Fish put up a much better fight than gun-toting rednecks, as is only proper. Let the NRA take on hyper-intelligent sharks is what I’m saying.
Glancing through reviews from last year, I can see why it got quite middling scores. It’s all about genre expectations:. Call yourself an RPG, have unlockable skills and multiple quests, be set in an ever-expanding open play area, and you’re supposed to be the same as everything else. Maneater is a game that’s so very obviously not setting out to be Far Cry But With A Shark, or Diablo: Carcharhinus Leucas, but rather something lighter, looser, sillier.
Coming into games like this based on their genre affiliations is like watching a dumb-arse summer action blockbuster movie based on the standards of The Godfather. I enjoyed Maneater the most when I approached it for exactly what it is: a really dumb, very funny game about being a shark that just eats stuff, gets bigger, and then eats more stuff.
I recognise my own hypocrisy here, to a degree. My hopes when watching those early trailers for that most peculiar rush of shark-themed TV movies was for comic joys. I was expecting Aeroplane: With Sharks, but I got… well, made-for-TV-budget shark effects out-acting cardboard cut-out people. However, rather importantly, I didn’t fail to recognise what they did achieve on the basis of what they weren’t, simply by dint of their not achieving anything, other than wasting an awful lot of people’s time and money. Maneater, meanwhile, is a really fun game! Sure, it’s bite-sized, but then that bite is out of a person’s leg.
I really like its premise of being a spoof of Discovery-type docusoaps like Deadliest Catch. I do wish it leaned into that a little harder, beyond very occasional cutscenes and gags on deaths. I’d love to hear more of the whingy personal lives of the crews before I eat them, and then have those attacks endlessly whinged about by others, before I eat them too. Deadliest Catch is amazing TV — if you can try to shake the thoughts of Mike Rowe rolling around in Big Oil money and MAGA hats as he narrates — but man there’s a lot of whinging. Imagine how much better it would be with regular shark attacks.
So yes, there is less to do in Maneater than in other open-world RPGs. Significantly less. Because it’s not about trying to be those games. It’s about trying to be a complete dick of a shark, flapping about on beaches to eat the sunbathers until you run out of breath, gobbling down a couple of innocent turtles, and then seeing how much damage you can do via an under-sea pipe network. And at this it’s glorious.
So damn you for not having told me about Maneater before now. I’m very glad to have (brace yourselves) fished it out of my backlog.