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Maneater is great fun, but open-world structure lets it down

Maneater
(Image credit: Tripwire Interactive/Deep Silver)

I first experienced Maneater at E3 2019 in the form of a hands-off demo. I liked the game for the same reasons I like it now - fun visual design, imaginative use of its theme in defining a set of mechanics, and a great sense of humor, thanks to its locations, characters and the dry narration of Chris Parnell (Cyril from Archer, and Jerry from Rick and Morty).

Playing the game when it launched last week, I found that picking up the controller for myself feels just as good. Combat feels suitably scrappy and gory for a game about fighting fish, exploration is finely balanced thanks to an accurate waypoint system, and customising your bull shark to look cool and become more effective in-game is strangely enjoyable. But the longer I played, the more I noticed that the actual gameplay wasn't really holding my attention.

Maneater

(Image credit: Tripwire Interactive/Deep Silver)
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It's a well established problem in open-world games like Maneater: In making the world large and explorable, you have to offer a more modular set of missions, even if you then unlock these sets slowly over time. Taking a formula that's been around for years and swapping gangsters for barracudas is possibly the most imaginative thing that has been done with the genre in a while, but it isn't enough to fix the inherent problems.

(Image credit: Tripwire Interactive/Deep Silver)

I do understand the reason why open-world games remain popular. If you have only a short amount of time to play every day, it's nice to have a game offer many small goals you can each complete in a short amount of time. Maneater certainly offers a lot to do if you're looking for maximum content with the smallest possible time investment. But I think for the average player, or at least players with tastes similar to mine, playing Maneater can get tedious. The longer you play, the more and more obvious it becomes how little variety there is.

Maneater is able to avoid this tedium sometimes. The different areas of the map are quite diverse, from a golf resort to a bayou. Still, the routine for each one remains the same when you enter it: Find the grotto (your base of operations), then complete a handful of missions across three types: Eat one big animal, eat several small animals, or eat some human enemies near dry land while avoiding their weapons. Human missions are probably the most interesting of the three. You also get some novelty from hunting for collectibles, many of which are challenging to reach.

(Image credit: Tripwire Interactive/Deep Silver)

The more common aquatic enemies vary in size and combat technique, and become more difficult at a manageable pace. There's some enjoyment to be had learning their moves and watching as you finally take one down with a grisly finishing move. But once these are done, you've got more busywork to take care of before you can open the next area. Even the end-of-area bosses are only marginally different from the standard enemies you've fought before, making the end of each area fall flat instead of feeling like you've properly triumphed over the local apex predator.

I intend to finish Maneater, and I really want to recommend it to my gaming friends. The shark theme, wrapped up in a trashy reality show framing device, packs enough snide remarks about the modern world to rival even GTA. The humor and light social commentary will appeal to a lot of people. But it's a game to snack on, not to swallow whole, like some poor grouper caught in the maw of your player shark. Otherwise, you might end up losing interest.