To this day I and many others have a fear of the ocean. That uncertainty about what could be lurking below you when you’re out there beyond the shallows. A helplessness born of being out of our element. The knowledge that there are things down there that might just graze a foot, but might also take a nibble at it.
This fear is probably more widespread than it should be because of that Summer of 1975 when a young punk named Steven Spielberg brought the terror of Jaws to cinemas and forever tarnished the rep of Great White Sharks and idiotic Mayors everywhere.
Bruce’s Digital History
Despite arriving at the infancy of video games, Jaws found itself in a digital form very quickly, albeit unofficially.
Atari had sought to license a shark-avoiding arcade game as a tie-in to the movie, but Universal Pictures did not accept. This did not stop Atari, who retitled it Shark JAWS (with the word ‘Shark’ deliberately made almost unreadable in the title) and published what is now believed to be the first ever movie tie-in video game (again, in a rather unofficial sense).
It would be another 12 years before we’d see ol’ Brucey in video game form, showing up on the NES in a loose tie-in based on the risible Jaws: The Revenge. It featured a snippet of John Williams score and focused on fighting not only the titular toothy one, but other angry sea creatures as well.
All adaptations followed one clear rule. It was the player vs the shark. It would be a staggering 19 years after the Nintendo Jaws title (and 31 years after the first Shark JAWS) before we had somebody turn around and say ‘Yeah, but what if you could be the shark?’
And lo, Jaws Unleashed was born, and the world was given a silly, over the top slice of shark power fantasy nonsense.
A Legend Unleashed
The developer to do it? Appaloosa Interactive, a developer founded in Hungary during the early 80’s and swimming in moderate success ever since on over 150 titles.
Appaloosa had experience not only with handling licensed game projects (The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Crossroads of Time, and South Park among them), but also with ocean-based action as it was responsible for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive Ecco the Dolphin games, perhaps the developer’s most notable work.
Jaws Unleashed, in a reverse of Shark JAWS, started life as an unlicensed shark game known as Sole Predator before gaining the Jaws license. The game was to be treated as a sequel to the original film, set 30 years after Brody blew Bruce into so many chunks. If Jaws: The Revenge had seemed like a daft idea for a story, then Appaloosa was going all out to make it seem somewhat sensible when the absurdity of Jaws Unleashed’s plot was detailed.
Amity Island is now thriving, the population is higher than it has ever been and corporations such as Environplus are boosting the local economy. What a perfect time to be a shark. And guess what? You. Are. Jaws! Which one I don’t know. Must be the shark equivalent of ‘John Smith’ as far as names go.
Jaws (you) rocks up at Amity Island and promptly eats the son of Environplus CEO Steven Shaw. Naturally, Shaw is a bit miffed about this and employs a shark hunter to eliminate you. Thankfully (for Jaws, not the many, many people he’ll end up chomping on) Michael Brody (yeah, keeping it in the family) manages to capture Jaws (not until after a few passes at the seaside buffet have been made by the hulking shark) and thanks to his research as a marine biologist, he discovers that it’s because of the sonic emissions coming off Environplus’ submarines that are making sharks a bit grumpy.
In a homage to the original film/lack of creative thought towards the plot, Brody tries to convince the Mayor of the problem. Of course, the Mayor ignores the warning because what could be more Jaws than that? His Royal Chompyness naturally escapes (getting his chomp on with a captive Orca along the way) and the game opens up. You’re now a shark in an open world with a fast n’ loose remit for destruction and bloodbaths, the potential is giddying.
Dead in the Water
The reality was unfortunately not quite so. Jaws Unleashed was born a glitch-ridden monster, with conventional mission structure often shoehorned in where it shouldn’t be applicable (human tasks clumsily-applied to a sodding Great White Shark). It also suffered from being needlessly pedestrian far too often for a game about eating things as a giant shark.
Yet when Jaws Unleashed embraced its sheer absurdity, it rose above its failings admirably. What was absurd about Jaws Unleashed exactly? Well, you could upgrade Jaws. Not with +7 armor and a sword of Smileyasonofabitch, but with abilities. The toothsome one could learn how to do moves like the ‘Body Bomb’ where Jaws would fling himself into the air at a ludicrous height and bomb back down on a target. You had to keep eating to prevent your health from diminishing (on top of regular damage).
During the hours you spend with Jaws Unleashed, you’ll see a shark catch and throw an explosive barrel at an oil pipeline on purpose. The result of which is the complete destruction of an Environplus refinery. Jaws also obliterates an undersea facility, eats the Mayor and Shaw, and to top it off, survives having a bomb dropped on him, having already been in close proximity to several explosions beforehand.
The game is utter nonsense and a technical garbage fire, but there’s a strange charm to its shonky daftness that sort of holds up to this day (albeit for ten minutes at best). It’s a procession of admirably stupid moments. Moments such as seeing a shark flip and twist in the air like it was in SSX Tricky. Or having to work out how to use key cards (solution: eat the guy with the key card). Or simply causing insane amounts premeditated carnage despite being a supposedly regular shark. The battles with other sea creatures are of interest, at least in fleeting terms. Jaws gets to battle other sharks, an orca, a blue whale and a giant squid along the way.
Critics weren’t particularly enamored with Jaws Unleashed at launch. The average score on PlayStation 2 was an underwhelming 52/100 (pretty much awful in the strange world of video game scoring). That didn’t stop it performing well commercially. Jaws Unleashed closed in on half a million sales over three platforms.
Jaws Unleashed is also sadly the final resting place for its developer. After 24 years in the business, Appaloosa Interactive ceased operations shortly after the release of Jaws Unleashed in 2006. For a developer best known for the elegant undersea adventures of Ecco the Dolphin, bowing out with a crude, over the top tale of a vengeance-driven shark feels somewhat ungracious.