You're going to need a bigger shark. When you start out in Maneater, the open-world bull shark adventure that's all about wreaking bloody vengeance, you're just a pup. You're able to crunch through a few catfish and turtles but still at risk from barracuda and shark hunters. Progress in this game is marked by furious, joyous binge eating of everything in sight, allowing your shark to gain body mass, age up, and take on bigger and bigger prey. Like its hero, the game is a single-minded machine of delightful destruction, and a piece of undeniable, over the top entertainment.
Release date: May 22, 2020
Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One (and Nintendo Switch at a later date)
Developer / Publisher: Tripwire Interactive
Baby shark do dooo
The game guides you through this progression with missions. Spoiler, all the missions involve killing and eating things, and not much else. You'll have to eat a certain number of humans hanging out on a beach, or take down a particular boat, or kill a quota of seals, grouper, or hammerhead sharks. Every area also has an Apex Predator, a gnarly looking barracuda or orca say, that will provide a challenge. The game also fills the world with collectibles - nutrient caches to help you bulk up, landmarks to seek out, license plates to collect - that you can hunt down at your leisure. It might sound repetitive, and it can be, but it's so much fun to launch your shark into a gang of screaming ravers or to savage an inflatable unicorn and its passengers that the urge to put the pad down just never quite seems to hit. It's helped by the genius addition of a wildlife documentary-style narration provided by Chris Parnell - Jerry Smith from Rick and Morty, Dr. Leo Spaceman on 30 Rock - that talks you through every landmark, story beat and discovery. I dread to think how many lines Parnell had to record, because while I'm sure I heard some clips more than once, it was never enough to feel irritating. His voice cheekily highlights some of the more tongue-in-cheek areas of the map nicely too - the clown from It in an underground tunnel, a crashed UFO, a carcass of a Titanic recreation cruise.
As you munch through people or attack boats, your Infamy level will rise, attracting more and more hunters. They have divers, lasers and later explosives, and provide a decent challenge when they come at you en masse. It's easy to swim down to the depths and avoid their attention until they lose interest, but Maneater makes the battles worthwhile with big rewards. As you hit each Infamy rank a celebrity hunter will come to find you. Deal with them and you'll get a new Evolution like a Bio-Electric tail or a Bone Jaw, which will make you much more dangerous and, if we're being honest, look like quite the badass. Each new Evolution can be upgraded - making your sonar more effective, or making your shark able to survive longer on land - with the nutrients you get from different prey. It makes stopping for a snack worthwhile throughout the game, and will have you rushing at sperm whales like they're Big Macs with nary a thought for the ecological consequences.
The Shaw-shark Redemption
The story of the game revolves around Scaly Pete, the redneck hunter who killed your mother and, for good measure, scarred you, and you'll be sent to check on him at regular intervals during the mayhem. It gives your actions some structure, even if the plot could have been scribbled, in pretty big handwriting, on the back of a napkin, but it's probably the least satisfying part of the game. The final fight with Scaly Pete is more arduous than anarchic, even if you've managed to progress your shark to its ultimate form - mega shark - and I found myself swimming away from the quest marker to focus on the more mindlessly fun murders.
This is no worthy exploration of man's cruelty to the natural world, and I suspect marine biologists would have something to say about much of the science, but it's the perfect distraction from a world gone mad, and weirdly therapeutic. When you're not filling the water with blood or launching an innocent human into the air with a flick of your tail, the waters are a pretty playground, and there's always mischief to be made in the resorts, water parks, and marinas. Just don't dob me into the killer whale I sponsored when I was 12.
Maneater was reviewed on a PS4 Pro.