Science tells us that, contrary to popular opinion, we're far more likely to be killed by an angry cow than a hungry shark, who aren't so much of a threat to humans as we are to them. Of course, these basic facts are no use for building great aquatic horror, with everything from Jaws to Sharknado emphasising the awesome might and toothy terror of the black eyed beast of the sea.
As for video games, shark run-ins are all too common, and usually don't end too well for the player, but Maneater is turning that conflict on its head, transporting us into the mindset of the ocean's greatest predator for a subverted take on the Man vs. Shark dynamic. Maneater is described by developer and publisher Tripwire Interactive as "GTA if you were a shark", and – watching a fifteen minute demo of the game in action at E3 2019 – that somewhat reductive synopsis fits the bill pretty accurately.
As our playable fish chows down on seafood, nutrients, and human prey across the large open world (complete with its own day and night cycle that affects activity both below and above the water), the trail of blood left in its wake is a good approximation of what would happen if Trevor Phillips had been reincarnated as a fish. There's even a GTA-style Wanted Level mechanic, in which the more havoc you cause, the harder and faster the game's human Bounty Hunters will hunt you down from their comically armed boats.
Down where it's wetter
There's also a touch of Goat Simulator to Tripwire's title, too, which frames its story through the satirical lens of a 'shark hunters' reality show (complete with sardonic narration from Rick & Morty's Chris Parnell) but don't be fooled; this is a far deeper and more polished experience than your standard 'joke' game, despite owing its sense of humour to the kind of slapstick physics titles that have been proliferating in recent years.
Our titular maneater, for example, is hardly a static entity, but capable of growing organically from a deceptively adorable baby into a megalodon-sized giant, capable of chowing down on watercraft as though it were a light snack. That progression is intrinsically tied to the flow of Maneater's campaign, too.
You won't be able to take on any of the open world's apex predators, for example, until you're at least their size, if not bigger, and Tripwire's bestiary of leviathan sea life includes sewer dwelling alligators, deep sea giant squid, and a killer whale that's fearsome to behold even from the eyes of a fully grown great white. Humans, too, come in all shapes and sizes, with Maneater's 'final boss' being a hardy fisherman by the name of Scaly Pete. Given that this was the man who killed your mother and scarred you as a child, taking Pete down represents the overriding goal/plot point of the game itself.
Luckily, our shark is plenty experienced in the art of aquatic warfare. Like some sort of toothy grinned ballerina, this fish is capable of siloing out of the water and gracefully skirting the air, launching onto boats and coastlines for on-land fatalities, and even evolving elemental mutations such as hardened armour or electrical fins to maintain an edge over its hunters. Watching it dance in and out of the water during combat is both awe inspiring and hilarious, but when the action ramps up, you'll be too focused on surviving the often tough-as-nails conflict to giggle at the absurdity of it all.
Maneater is releasing sometime in 2020 for PC, and our demo revealed a few rough edges around the game's physics engine and graphical fidelity that Tripwire has time to iron out before launch. Even so, it's hard to imagine this game not succeeding as an instant internet favourite primed for streaming virality. Better yet, Maneater's appeal runs far deeper than the shallow waters of its high concept joke set up, as a game that's not skimping out on the role-playing aspect of its 'SharkPG' label.
Be sure to check out our roundup of all of the E3 2019 games revealed so far, or watch the video below for a guide to everything else out this year.