FBT is unleashed.
For years, the best free-roaming shark RPG was Jaws Unleashed. It was also the only free-roaming shark RPG. It was also terrible. Like, Jaws The Revenge terrible. But now we finally have, as developer TripWire calls it, the “ShaRkPG” we deserve… That pun is Jaws Unleashed level bad. Please don’t let Maneater be Jaws Unleashed bad.
The film crew of “Maneaters vs. Sharkhunters”, one of those men v nature reality shows, is following famed Shark-racist “Scaly Pete” LeBlanc. After capturing a Bull shark and returning to the bayou to gut it, he discovers she was carrying a pup, which he scars and throws back - but the feisty whippersnapper takes his hand with it. Trapped in the toxic waste filled shallows, the shark grows and escapes into the tourist area where it terrorises the locals, decimates the local fish population and enters into a battle of wits with Scaly.
Let me get this out of the way. Yes, it’s very reminiscent of Jaws Unleashed. But whereas the shark in Jaws Unleashed seemed to have a complicated plan to expose corruption in Amity, this is actually a solid shark-sim. The shark doesn’t have a goal beyond looking for lunch; its natural sharky actions draw Scaly into epic battles instead. But, on-point shark behaviours aside, Maneater is insane. It’s a sly, in-jokey comedy game that’s beyond jawsome fun; it’s the most amount of free-roam fun I’ve had this year.
What really elevates it is the show commentary. The narrator, a parody of those excitable Discovery Channel presenters, comments on our behaviour, explains away some of our more out-there escapades, makes it seem less ridiculous. A little less. He’s voiced by Chris Parnell, but it could’ve been that ‘it was aliens’ guy from Ancient Aliens. He’s full of pithy commentary on humans’ general contempt for marine life, making you feel fine about eating people, in-between pointing out mistakes in the game world and questioning how realistic this is. He also acts as a sort-of mission guide and keeps things hilariously moving forward.
Marine Biologists might be annoyed playing this. You have a tail whip attack (even the narrator points out Bull sharks don’t do this, Threshers do) and you have ‘sonar’ which real sharks don’t have. All the incredible senses sharks possess – smelling blood, sensing electric charges, feeling vibrations? Nope, they go for bat sonar. But then, this isn’t a steather; you’re a Bull shark, the DGAF of the species; I mean, there’s some living in a golf course lake in Australia (where else).
You do get into the mindset of a shark, least as much as we learnt from Shark Week, masterfully gliding through the water like a boss – you feel shark-like as you prepare to charge someone on an inflatable or pick them off a boat. And just to really piss off the shark purists, you can upgrade to a bony exoskeleton or skin that generates electric shocks – you can change different body parts to evolve your shark, and while it makes your Bull a little less believable, you need it. You’re not the only unfriendly thing in the ocean.
Like a GTA game, the more people you chomp through the more alerts go up, attracting shark hunters who use laser-guided weapons that can penetrate water, dynamite, send divers to chase you. It becomes a feeding frenzy trying to survive; you can just take off and hide, but what kind of Bulls***k is that? If you manage to get to full alert, a local legend will join the hunt and besting them gets you a nifty upgrade. A nice touch is those legends aren’t any stronger than the others, sinking their boat or picking them off the deck is as easy as taking out any other – that is, mostly by luck.