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Maneater lets you level up a shark to fight Killer Whales

It didn’t take much to sell me on Maneater, the “sharkPG” from Tripwire Interactive. A game where you eat fish, eat humans, attack boats, breach the surface and do backflips, and fill your maw with upgrades like metallic teeth? As someone who’s never outgrown their childhood obsession with the living dinosaurs, after seeing a hands-off demo at E3, all I have to say is this: Sign. Me. Up. 

The premise is simple: Grand Theft Auto, but as a shark. Rather than taking a dour or cynical approach, however, Tripwire is going for a campy, over-the-top reality show vibe. Chris Parnell (30 Rock, Archer, Rick and Morty) narrates the onscreen action and quips along in the way that only he can. It’s way more along the lines of The Meg or Deep Blue Sea than it is 47 Meters Down or Jaws.

Cause enough chaos in a given body of water and a few things will happen. If you can’t quite stop yourself from zooming up from below a swimmer with a breach attack and launching into the air with them still in your mouth, be prepared for the coast guard to notice and come after you. You can evade and the game will go back to normal, but where’s the fun in that?

Go fish

In the demo, they started by shooting rifles at the shark, but as the bodycount rose, they began dropping depth charges. Good thing you can grab those with your mouth and whip them back on to the boats from whence they came. Keep that up long enough and you’ll eventually deplete the area’s finite coast guard corp. From there the area will be more or less quarantined, and swimmers will be less likely to head into the water. 

Everything you eat makes you a little bigger. Chow down on enough turtles and groupers, and you’ll grow from a baby shark to a megalodon by game’s end. You aren’t the only predator though.

If the aquatic food supply starts dwindling, someone will take notice that you’re encroaching on their territory. In this case, it’s a gigantic alligator. Even as an adult shark, it’s still far bigger than you are and is basically the boss of the area. Eat enough fish and humans, finish enough goals, and eventually you’ll be able to have a somewhat fair fight. There are seven of these 'Apex Predators' in the game. At the outset you’ll be up against a barracuda, and eventually you’ll even take on a killer whale—one of the great white’s few real-world predators. 

Eventually, you’ll be out in the open ocean—the end-game section—megalodon-sized and going up against a massive sperm whale hellbent on taking you to the bottom with it. Tripwire said that even as the full-size megalodon, the sperm whale will still be a considerable challenge. Sure, you might’ve come a long way since you were a pup, but you’re not invulnerable.

The game looks killer running with RTX, but what stood out most was how well the shark animated. I wasn’t holding the gamepad, but it definitely seemed that the shark had a tangible sense of weight to it, and wasn’t just flopping around like a baitfish. The developers said they studied a lot of shark footage to nail the animation and to make sure everything looked appropriate. Exaggerated, sure, but not unrealistic. After all, there really isn’t any reference material for an airborne shark spitting out a victim only to slap it into a concrete pylon with its tail, is there?

It sounds like there will be an awful lot to do in terms of progression and customizing your shark, adding “mutations” like face bones that give you an edge when going up against enemy boats. But, if the paths to earning those upgrades don’t offer much variety—I was shown only a few scenarios and they all led to the shark eating things or fighting boats. I worry that eventually the game’s humor will wear thin and earning upgrades will feel like a chore. I’m hopeful though, and more so than I have been with any other game with a shark in the lead role. 

Tripwire promises Maneater will be out sometime before the next PC Gaming show at E3.