I heard there was an action-RPG at PAX East called Maneater where you play as a shark, and I kind of laughed it off. I assumed it was another meme game like Goat Simulator (not that there’s anything wrong with a well-made meme game).
I decided to make an appointment with developer Tripwire Interactive out of pure curiosity. I assumed I would be showing up to see a car wreck of a game that would at least make me laugh.
I literally couldn’t have been more wrong. My mind has been thoroughly blown by what Maneater brings to the table.
Forget any notions about this being a joke game, because it’s actually a deep game with RPG mechanics, involved combat, and detailed visuals. You can see for yourself in the trailer below, but you really won’t “get” the game until you actually put your hands on a controller and experience it for yourself.
As mentioned, Maneater is a shark action-RPG, which the developers have cleverly shortened to shARkPG. That means that you’ll be leveling up your shark with new skills and abilities that’ll help make it stronger and better able to rip humans, fish, and other sea creatures to shreds.
We spent about 30 minutes playing the game at PAX East 2020, and I really didn’t want to stop playing when the time was up. It took the strength of two sharks to pull me away.
The demo kicked off with a tutorial where you play as an adult shark with all of its abilities. You meet the main antagonist, who seems likable at first and quickly becomes a despicable, hatable character who you can’t wait to eat.
Eventually, he catches the giant bull shark you’re playing as, and you end up playing as that shark’s offspring for the remainder of the demo.
Since you’re young, you lose most of your abilities and skills. That’s where the Evolve mechanics come into play (that’s what they call leveling up). I didn’t get to dig too far into the different unlockable skills, but there are quite a few available.
As far as the actual gameplay is concerned, this is where I was really blown away. Tripwire absolutely nailed the feel of swimming around in a variety of water environments. You can jump out of the water, dive, lunge, dodge, and generally swim around as you’d expect from a badass bull shark.
All of the kills feel incredibly satisfying, whether you’re gobbling up smaller fish or jumping onto the beach and devouring a human. There’s plenty of blood and gore, which adds another layer to the brutality of playing as a killer shark.
Maneater hasn’t received a final rating yet, but the company expects to be rated “Mature,” which definitely seems right based on what I played.
Not all enemies just sit there and let you eat them, though. When you meet an enemy who doesn’t want to go down without a fight, you enter into the game’s shockingly deep combat system. Enemies will have tells that they’re about to attack, and a skillfully timed dodge will allow you to land a devastating counter-attack.
What makes the combat feel so different from most games is that you’re underwater. That means you’ll be frantically looking above, below, and behind for your attacker. It adds another layer of intensity and tension to the fights, as you can lose track of your enemy for a second, leaving yourself open to attack.
I asked about a lock-on feature and I was told that it’s something that is being considered, but the build I played had it disabled. Personally, I think locking on to the enemy would detract from the experience of frantically searching for your enemy underwater, but we’ll see how it feels if it’s implemented into the final game.
Visually, the game is stunning. All the humans and creates in the game appear to be crafted with a great deal of care. And while the graphics have a certain amount of realism, there’s also a bit of artistic flair with the style of the game that avoids any sort of uncanny valley.
The ocean and swamp environment I was able to explore are had plenty of differences between them, and they really felt like completely different places.
When I showed up to PAX East, I’d only heard of Maneater in passing, and honestly it wasn’t even on my radar. After playing it, I can say that it has quickly become one of my most anticipated games of 2020. It was by far the best game I played at PAX, and I played a lot—a lot—of games.
Tripwire plans to launch Maneater on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC (via the Epic Games Store) on May 22, 2020. The game will also come out on the Nintendo Switch, though the developer didn’t have a final release date for that platform.