Jaws Unleashed

FBT plays gaming’s Plan Nine from Outer Space

Jaws T. Shark stops off at Amity’s coastline for a light snack - unfortunately, he chomps the son of a local industrialist, who is funding the mayor's revitalisation of Amity. Captured by Brody Jnr and placed in Amity’s new Seaworld, Jaws promptly escapes to further terrorise Amity, expose the industrialist’s corrupt plans and evade a grizzled shark hunter called Shaw aboard the Orca II. Wut?

JU seems like one of those ideas that’s so batshit crazy it might just work; I am so on-board and over-board for this despite the universally bad reviews; I’m a giant shark? JU has to be extraordinarily bad for me to hate it - but I can’t hate it if I can’t play it.

3rd person action-camera view can be frustrating, but JU actually made me seasick. The restless, swirling camera is no Spielberg, but the direction keys add to the nausea by spinning Jaws on his axis unless you’re pressing a fifth ‘swim’ button. It’s disorientating and up-chuck inducing trying to direct Jaws about. There is a 1st person view but that’s even more Vom-triggering. We are not some fearsome leviathan rising, the miracle of evolution Matt Hooper espoused; it’s more like a kid lobing a toy shark around a bathtub.

Also, we’re an apex predator; I’ve watched enough Shark Week to know sharks have a pecking order, and I’m on the Megalodon scale. No titchy Mako in its right mind would risk a nip, yet here they are, forcing you to risk an epileptic fit trying to turn Jaws around and chase it off. They’re worse than Cliff Racers, constantly on you.

It’s not just other sharks. Every little nibbler in the sea tries to take a bite and there’s sheriffs in boats who fire shotguns with deadly efficiency through ten feet of water, divers with insanely accurate spear guns, security guards with AK-47s, and even autonomous mini-subs that inexplicably fire rockets and chase you. You don’t get a moment’s peace; and for an eating machine, eating people isn’t easy.

Making kills and destroying things needs energy, but using it for the big moves requires some major-league key combos - it doesn't feel natural and terrifying, and they’re easier to fail than pull off; it’s actually quicker to swat them with your tail then go back for a chomp, and you need to constantly eat to keep your energy and health up. I doubt I’ll feature on a Discovery Channel documentary other than as ‘Fail Shark’.

And then there’s the logic of it; how can the mayor argue Brody's dad was wrong about sharks? And, one did just kill someone then mount an escape from Seaworld. And as the shark, we’re given very specific missions - by who? And doesn't it seem odd the Shark has a clear motive to stop the industrialist? How does Jaws have intimate knowledge of the Industrialist’s properties and their weak spots?! At one point we enter a semi-submerged factory full of mashers - where a Colossal Squid lives.

Okay, but the madness isn’t confined to just the set-pieces or the weird narrative, it's the shark’s problem-solving abilities; Jaws has Mensa-level intellect that you can’t anticipate. An early Jaws-faithful mission is attacking a beach party at night, but first Jaws must get past an electric fence. I kept ramming it and getting shocked until I spotted a plug and pulled it - the shark is literally smarter than I am.

In the game’s most infamous moment (it’s early on but most reviewers didn’t get much further), we escape from Seaworld by observing a scientist using a keycard; so we grab him and hold him up to scan to open a door - Jaws puts Velociraptors to shame. Then we crash an observation tunnel, let it flood then swim through it and follow the exit signs, evading Piranha and then into the Orca show which has the only exit. How the hell did the shark know to do all that? And how did the Piranha survive, they’re fresh water fish. Cool though...

While some aspects are more Deep Blue Sea than Jaws, the franchise has pushed the limits of believability; the novelisation of Jaws the Revenge implies that shark was the offspring of the Jaws 2 shark which gave birth as it was electrocuted, imbuing Jnr with intelligence, hence it’s revenge against the Brody family for killing Mum before it joined forces with a ‘Voodoo witch doctor’ who Brody had slighted; and that seems more believable than Jaws Unleashed. I wondered if the devs, Appaloosa, had ever seen a shark but they were best known for the Ecco The Dolphin series, where a dolphin travelled through time, explored Atlantis and defeated aliens - a shark using torpedoes to sink an oil refinery doesn’t seem so odd now.

JU has bitten off more than it can chew - crap controls, samey missions, idiotic plot, basic cutscenes, bad AI, empty world, low-level graphics, cringey dialogue and every NPC has the same two lines of dialogue; even when they’re completely safe they’re yelling ‘where is it/I don’t want to die!’ - it’s a cheap game, but until Maneater hits the sales, it’s the only time I’m gonna freeroam as a shark, and Maneater isn't Jaws; being Bruce goes a long way. And nothing beats hearing the Jaws theme and realising it’s meant for you. I’ll take what I can get.

Who doesn’t want to be a shark chomping bathers, leaping onto boats, settling the shark vs orca debate? Just free roaming is beyond fun once you semi-nail the controls. The main mission is so surreal you kinda get into it, like some Nature’s Revenge film from the ‘70s like 'Grizzy!', but completing missions unlocks more ocean and side quests which are great little ‘opportunity kills’ like grab all the divers before they reach their boat; the free-roaming is where JU really works - we’re just an eating machine as Benchley intended. We even take down a helicopter near cable junction.

JU is rightfully known as one of the worst games of all time. And I loved it. There are some really nice touches, like your eyes roll over white when attacking, and it’s taken the time to homage the movies including nods to the cast and crew behind them. It’s as insane as it is unplayable, but I’m a goddamn shark FFS, stop complaining. Just pack your Dramamine.