When I saw the footage of aquatic murder sim Maneater from E3 last year, I had two responses. The first was that it looked really thrilling to play. The second was that it had the potential to be obscenely stupid. I wrote all about this in my preview, and tbh it's worth a read before you carry on, so I don't need to repeat myself too much. But was I right about Maneater? Yeah, I was.
The core simulation here is a perfect encapsulation of how it feels to be a fool's idea of a shark. It's acrobatic, intuitive, and drivingly vicious, like Ecco The Dolphin after a long spell in prison. But what could have been great in a game that was nasty, brutish and short has been stretched into an open world plodder weighed down with lacklustre mission design, endless repetition, and a confused, blundering disaster of a message. Maneater has moments of brilliance, but they're islands in a lagoon of bollocks-infested water, and it gets increasingly tiring to swim between them.
You play, as you've probably gathered, as a shark. And you'll absolutely need to play with a controller, as you're zooming around in three dimensions, flipping from the water and jackknifing in order to do murders or avoid them. Apart from anything else, you'd be missing out without the gritty haptic rumble through your hands as your shark GASHUNKK-GASHUNKK-GASHUNKKs its way through fish, turtles, humans and the hulls of boats. You can lunge, leap, roll, thrash, and do this completely mental thing where you use your tail to welly things in your mouth fifty feet into the air.
The control scheme is well-thought out and swiftly grafts itself to muscle memory, but it can be a bit hit and miss - your shark has an irritating tendency to stick to the surface like glue, shrouding everything beneath it from the suddenly-elevated camera, and it can be too easy to mix up diving and jumping, resulting in some momentum-killing belly flops. Also, at least until you up your stats a fair way, it feels like you can never quite wring enough speed out of the fish while swimming underwater, and end up frustratedly mashing the lunge and bite buttons to speed up your stately progress with little surges of motion.
When you get into long fights, such as early struggles with alligators or confrontations with human bounty hunters, it's really hard on your hands - you're constantly wrenching yourself through neckbreaking turns while hammering multiple buttons, and I started blistering in the course of a single day's play. But that's a complement as much as it is a complaint. Overall, the thing this game is built around is a well-executed, simple pleasure - as I said in the preview, it brings to mind that thing you probably did as a kid, where on long car journeys you imagined a shark zooming alongside the vehicle you were in, swooping and leaping and eating cars like metal crisps.
It's properly gruesome, too, with blood-clouded water, flesh chunks and all. Real hashtag-fat-blood stuff (a little RPS podcast joke for you there). There's constant roaring, even though sharks cannot roar, and it evokes the sort of feelings that leave review writers struggling to find alternatives to the word "visceral". There is a predictably sadistic pleasure to be taken in mauling defenceless human swimmers, of course. They scream and flail and flop, and the game encourages you to inflict the most primal horrors imaginable on them. Apart from anything else, after umpteen infuriating dogfights with alligators, there's a lot of catharsis to be had in letting it all out on something that can't fight back.