Maneater Review - The Mutant Shark Vendetta
Maneater Review - The Mutant Shark Vendetta
Codex Review - posted by Darth Roxor on Mon 7 February 2022, 17:06:53Tags: Maneater; Tripwire Interactive
[Review by Lukaszek]
It’s 2022. It’s time to finally move on from your obsession with dragons and trying to be one. Yes, after over twenty years, we finally have a worthy RPG on our hands. It’s time to become a shark in Maneater, an open world game from Tripwire Interactive. I know some of you won’t call this an RPG since it’s not made in Unity. Still, you should give Unreal Engine a chance.
The first new standard it sets is in storytelling. It’s not another “you meet in a tavern/prison” backstory that grows into saving the world, with a one-dimensional protagonist paired against a one-dimensional antagonist, potentially with some bored DM’s narration.
To set the stage, let’s start with one of the most brutal beginnings I’ve ever experienced. The game starts with a standard tutorial, without playing any extra videos.
You learn to swim around and feed on wildlife. A well fed shark is a happy shark, and there are four types of food to look for, represented by different basic colors. The UI is conveniently displayed over the fish you swim by. Everything is nicely narrated, Animal Planet documentary style, with some weird references and commercials potentially hinting at a setting in a not-too-far-away future with more pollution and toxic waste than normal.
As you learn to surface, you spot some poor humans in a floaty, so obviously you help them reach the beach line. It turns out your actions were misunderstood, and shark hunters show up to get rid of you.
As you learn to fight them, their boss (Scaly Pete) shows up with a small crew of two: his son and the narrator DM doing the documentary. You are quickly apprehended and left dangling on the deck.
And that’s when the real story begins.
Turns out the shark you’ve been playing all this time isn’t you, but your mother. As Pete starts to carve up her flesh (an act of torture, not fileting) he pulls out a small cub – you. Before releasing you, he leaves unique marks all over your body, but during your thrashing around you manage to bite his hand off.
Thus the prologue ends and sets the stage for three characters: the shark, Pete and the documentarist, to start interacting with each other. Without spoiling much:
Your role is to survive in a hostile environment and grow up. Since your first meal ever was human flesh, and given the tragic backstory, some revenge in the future is to be expected. To help fuel it, it turns out that the first two areas have plenty of toxic waste to go around, and even a submerged nuclear power plant. Eating weird, mutated albino fish does put weird ideas in your head.
Will you carry out your revenge? Will you lose or keep your humanity sharkanity? Sharkness? Is there a good and a bad shark in all of us, constantly whispering to our gills?
Scaly Pete doesn’t get over the loss of his hand. In a number of interviews that follow, we learn of his relationship with his son, and its far-from-perfect dynamics. Pete is a burly man, much like his father before him (also a shark hunter and one-armed; your mother appears to have had some history with him), while his son is a frail marine life student joining his dad for summer, hoping to bond with him. Will Pete try to break the cycle of animal cruelty? Will he find common ground with his son or lose him forever now that he is also on the path of vengeance?
The DM is like glue bringing both the parts together, even though we never see his face. His camera bots follow the shark around while he keeps his physical presence on Pete’s boat. But he isn’t just a bystander. His persona also develops, from a neutral documentary journalist whose sponsors include the military doing animal mutation experiments, chemical companies dumping safely disposing of waste, etc. - he slowly develops a conscience. Eventually he becomes more and more involved in conspiracy theories and starts seeking the truth. While providing facts about aquatic wildlife, he also shares some info on the local setting, politics and so on.
Mutations aka character development & inventory management
The only customization provided by the game is through mutations, which are more like equipment that you can swap freely in your cave.
There are four generic mutations that don’t influence your shark’s appearance, and five body parts that can be assembled in four sets. While having more set pieces slotted in provides some bonuses, it’s nothing crucial and you can just go hybrid with whatever suits your agenda.
Here is the bone set that features high armor and extra damage against boats. Its most important part are the fins, which change you into a sharknado with razors – you can spin around when dodging and damage everything in a small radius. It’s quite a broken ability, as it can be used to kill crew members while randomly thrashing around a boat and staying nearly invulnerable.
Next is the electric set. It allows you to stun enemies and teleport around. It performs well against wildlife.
The dark set is all about speed and poison, and it’s quite effective against everything.
DLC adds an irradiated Godzilla set. It features gamma explosions and a cannon that can be charged in your mouth and used to blast boats or helicopters.
If you want to look more standard, here are the vanilla sets with no significant bonuses:
While body parts are mainly about combat, generic mutations can be adjusted more to your needs. Abilities include a sonar (sixth sense for finding objects), regeneration, land walking and so on. Each mutation can be upgraded up to five times using nutrients.
I found the number of mutations to be quite lacking. In the beginning, I hoped that you’d start by mutating into other real sharks – like the hammerhead or the great white, with sci-fi options appearing a bit later. Sadly, that’s not the case. The biggest issue for me was the lack of laser eyes that would let me larp Doctor Evil’s pet and turn into a mecha shark.
Steady as she goes
Movement is very intuitive even though you have to navigate in all three dimensions. I had little trouble with the kbm setup and didn’t even consider switching to the pad. The only scenario I can think of where this might be the case would be certain underwater battles against other predators, where decoupling the movement and camera panning could come in handy. It’s still doable with the mouse but it can be awkward. Nevertheless, it was no reason for me to switch.
The game systems work quite well to guide you. The regular attack is not just closing your jaws. The UI autolocks on nearby things that you can chomp on, and pressing the left mouse button makes your shark align itself quickly and take a bite.
Breaching water, jumping on to land, submerging – it all comes to you naturally within the first few minutes of playing.
The only clunkiness can be experienced with the secondary tail whip attacks. Normally it’s done in melee, which is fine, but some mutations give it additional range, and it’s a challenge to aim that properly.
But other ranged attacks are easy – you can grab objects with your jaws and use your tail to toss them both in the air and underwater. I’ll get into the detail of those shortly.
Sometimes, the game would randomly freeze for a fraction of a second when there were many objects around. When that happens, the direction you’re facing seems to reset in a random position. Since the game is all about 3D movement, this can result in a lot of confusion, especially if you are being chased.
Your focus early on is to grow up. You gain XP by consuming nutrients, and there are four types of those, denoted by basic colors. The first three types (protein, minerals, fat) are common, and each animal usually provides one of them. For some reason, humans give all three, and it quickly becomes obvious that going on Hollywood-style rampages is the best way to stock up on them (and gain XP, since it’s a coupled system). As you level up, you reach certain thresholds where you grow to the next stage, all the way to an adult and then an elder shark. With it comes better speed, damage dealt, higher jumping over water, more oxygen capacity for fun on land and access to new moves. At first you can only bite, but you will soon learn how to use the tail whip and launch objects with it like a catapult.
The fourth nutrition type is mutagen. It can be found in assorted caches underwater or by eating mutated/albino fish.
Those four types are used to upgrade the mutations earned as you progress through the game. Don’t worry, there’s no grinding necessary to eventually max out everything.
While our munching protagonist is silent, the DM’s voice is there to fill the void. He may not be Krystyna Czubówna, but he still does a great job at teaching the player about sharks and marine life. If you choose to listen, you’ll learn what type of fish inhabit specific areas, what do they eat and why they might be so nutritious for a shark on his way to adulthood.
The open world is divided into a few areas of various difficulty.
Finishing everything with the DLC took me 13 hours. As you can see, it wasn’t a completionist run - just the story + unlocking and upgrading all the mutations and having quite a lot of fun with shark hunters. Most of the areas on this map can be accessed at any time, however there is little reason to do so. Safe havens (that are also the only means of fast travel) are unlocked only when the story takes you there. There will also be some obstacles you can’t destroy until you reach a certain stage of growth. If the game allowed you to access new caves at will, then it could be considered to have a proper open world. As it stands, it’s more about unlocking new hubs where you are free to do as you please.
Besides being unique and wonderful for just swimming around and sightseeing, each hub provides the following activities:
- Story missions
- Exploration markers
- Treasure chest hunts
- Collecting various objects
- Killing miniboss fish
- Terrorizing humans
- Racing against time (DLC)
- Eating tinfoil humans (DLC)
The bolded ones I consider mandatory, the rest is optional and up to you.
Let’s start with the exploration markers. While not actually mandatory to progress the story, they give you access to one mutation set. Since there are only three of those, you may want to unlock it even if just to diversify your fun.
This activity is all about finding secret locations and destroying road signs to trigger short cutscenes. These are basically memes/easter eggs and are a reward of their own. The narrator usually shares some history about the given location as well.
Story missions usually involve becoming the apex predator in the area. You eat local fish, eventually challenge the current apex predator (for example, in a swamp area it’ll be a crocodile), destroy some boats and eat a few humans. Eventually you’ll check on Scaly Pete’s boat and move on to the next location. Rinse and repeat. Completing these missions rewards you with the Bone set mutations. Those are geared towards ship combat, which makes little sense, considering that you fight wildlife to obtain them.
There are eight different locations, which is also the number of the in-person interactions you’ll be having with Pete. The first two are part of the tutorial and, based on the intro to this review, you can say that they start with a bang. Then things slow down a little as the focus shifts to spying and getting to know your enemy. Those are mainly cutscenes involving the DM’s nosy interviews prying into Pete’s life. Eventually you’ll grow enough to try to settle the score. While the attempt won’t be successful, it’ll offer another ‘bang’ after which nothing will be the same again. The whole trio: the shark, Pete and the DM, will part ways, waiting for the final resolution of their struggle. Yet certain locations will wear the scars of their encounters forever.
Besides keeping people away from unsafe waters and controlling the wildlife population, you help humanity by partaking in garbage disposal. While swimming around, you’ll find chests and license plates. It’s fine to eat them as you pass by since they give you some nutrients, but a few of those objects are deep in underwater tunnels/sewers where navigation can get challenging. Also, the rewards are minuscule compared to how much you can eat on your way while looking for them. And ultimately, there is little reason to go out of your way to find them, as you should be well fed at all times anyway. In fact, I was over-leveled and over-fed until I hit the level cap, and it’s worth considering that some of the growth stages were gated behind story points as well.
Terrorizing communities appears to be mandatory to some degree as certain story objectives will fail to show up otherwise. It starts with eating your quota of humans in a given beach area, which is easy since at first they’ll be in the water. As you progress, however, you’ll be eating boats and those who thought they were safe on land.
While you can’t get far on land early on, as the game goes on, you’ll pay little attention to the oxygen meter. Eventually you’ll be able to sustain yourself by chomping on humans, which replenishes your health a bit and nullifies the damage caused by suffocating.
Once you terrorize the local community enough, you’ll be treated not by the DM, but rather by Pete, as he shares some stories pertaining to the place in question, all taken from his troubled youth. Those range from romantic encounters to being kicked out from somewhere while intoxicated.
Activities provided by the DLC are quite boring: eat humans who wear tinfoil hats (that’s all there is to it) and race to reach checkpoints in time.
As you can see, the races happen on both water and land. There is little point in doing them, just like with garbage disposal. Completing them isn’t easy, as I’ve never learnt how to properly execute really high jumps – as you advance to the next stage of growth you earn extra jumps, up to three. I usually have trouble executing a full chain of those that go up, which results in a lot of random thrashing around.
Whenever you’re up for something different, you can always find the local fish boss. I liked to take a break from time to time and seek those out. Once you reach the third area, they stop being challenging or unique, but the wildlife combat is quite different from boat smashing, so it provides a nice change of pace. The DLC ups this challenge by adding new bosses with mutations like yours.
Just following the story provides you with a diverse set of activities and gives the game the proper pace. Too bad that wildlife isn’t a faction of its own, so you won’t witness any FNV-style all-out combat. You can be fighting both shark hunters and divers, while multiple hammerheads swim around in the water, but nothing will be interacting with each other. Also there appears to be no friendly fire from explosives.
At some point you’ll hit the level cap and notice that certain underwater enemies – orcas and sperm whales – are even tougher. In this world, stronger enemies can grab those weaker than them in their jaws and thrash around dealing considerable amounts of damage while the other party can’t move. This means that you’ll always be vulnerable to such attacks. You must be careful not to fight multiple enemies of this type as they can pass your immobile body from mouth to mouth.
Wildlife is quite aggressive towards you. In each location there are at least two different predators and they won’t hunt each other either. What’s especially annoying is how they always target you even if you outlevel them by a fair bit. In order to avoid being disturbed by weaklings, you’ll need to slot in a mutation that you receive almost at the very end.
The last unfairness I’ve noticed is that, apparently, they don’t need to breathe – you can grab a weaker enemy and toss it far on land without it ever suffocating. While this lets you pursue such immobile prey to chomp on it safely, there’s little reason to go to such lengths, since you can execute that maneuver only against weaklings.
The final activity not limited to a single area is fighting shark hunters. It starts simple, with small motorboats and few divers, but the difficulty ramps up quickly. Without further ado, let’s proceed to the best part of the game: the police chases boat combat.
There's always a bigger fish
In general, randomly stumbling upon shark hunters out in the wild is a rare occurrence. But try attacking humans, and a bounty will quickly appear on your head – that’s the moment when boats will begin spawning on the horizon and start heading your way. You fill up the bounty meter by destroying the boats. Eventually, this will spawn a boss. Once he’s killed, you’re awarded a piece of the electric mutation set – it’s fish combat oriented, so it’s really the bone set that should be gained here. Once the boss is knocked out, you go up a danger level, with ten levels and ten bosses in total. There are an additional five in the DLC. If you progress through the story and the danger meter at the same time, the craft you face will sort of match the areas you visit – you’ll start off with airboats in the swamps/toxic waste area and eventually encounter fancy motorboats. But it’s possible to just stay in the swamp and have all that pretty tech come your way regardless.
Boss encounters begin with a short intro, though these aren’t as interesting as the rest of the cinematic experience in this game. The bosses usually bring a new type of boat to the fight, which will become common after they’re disposed of. While named, they aren’t that different from regular hunters too. You can grab some of them with your jaws without damaging the boat or killing other crew members.
Attacking boats is fun. They aren’t just HP sponges that eventually begin to sink. Like cars in GTA, they display damage visually, and the bruises are centered on the spots you bash.
For example, one of the boats below features a cage on top, protecting the crew members against your direct attacks. It can still be destroyed, though, allowing you to snatch them one by one.
See this yellow canister by the bow? It’s explosive and you can grab that too.
You have several approaches to dealing with vessels, which will likely depend on your mutations and the enemy type. You should be able to reenact all your favorite shark movies.
In the beginning, it’s the easiest to just jump over boats and eat the crew members one by one. At first you won’t be facing any closed boats, so you can even grab bosses this way. It’s extremely effective to grab one hunter and toss him at another.
If you are fully submerged, unless there are divers around, you count as in hiding and hunters will be actively searching for you. You can use this to set up another ambush or just run away. It’s important to note that you won’t have to worry about filling up the danger meter from scratch. To put it in GTA terms: if you got all stars and called the army to the streets, even if you clear the bounty to remove them – the next time you commit a crime, it’s army-on-the-streets in an instant. Waves of enemies during an encounter are timed, so you can clear one wave and just swim away without waiting for the next one to arrive – it does require great efficiency on your part though.
As difficulty progresses, vessels become harder to deal with. They start being closed, so you can’t grab ‘n bite enemies off of them anymore. At least initially, that is – as noted before, nothing stops you from just destroying a cage.
Once a cage is removed (or if it never existed in the first place), a boat can even be boarded. It makes snacking much easier. The crew will try to melee you to push you back in the water.
Eventually you’ll be dealing with explosives. They start with dynamite, then progress into some sort of proximity explosive devices and eventually end in torpedoes. All of those can be grabbed in your jaws, delaying the explosion a bit. This leads to my favorite playstyle of grabbing random objects and tail-catapulting them at my targets.
Once you grab anything, you can toss it both underwater and in the air if you jump upward. Time slows down a bit to help you with targeting.
There are objects that can only be destroyed this way, while for others it will be the preferred way. Torpedoes are endgame weapons, so in the early game I was often grabbing turtles to toss them at deadly alligators. In a single jump over a boat, you can snatch one crew member and toss him at another, killing both.
Each crew member has a specific role to fill on the vessel. If you take out those in charge of harpoons – there will be no more danger for you. You can even take out the helmsman to stop a motorboat in place.
Eventually you will start seeing more high-tech enemies. Here’s a boat featuring an electric field:
You take damage while inside. Early on, it’s very deadly, and the best way to destroy it is by grabbing explosives and tossing them in the boat’s direction. The electric generator is a separate boat part that can be destroyed as well. If you lack explosives, you can try grabbing a nearby diver and tossing him at the device in the hope of destroying it. In general, it’s not that easy to target it from afar. But once you become stronger, you can just quickly take it out in few bites while suffering a bit of damage.
Another generic option is just ramming the boat. Depending on your mass and the vessel’s, you might shake some crew members off of it too. Most of them are harmless in water – a vessel without them poses less danger as well.
It becomes more ridiculous with the DLC, as you can take combat to the skies (also, you can turn yourself into Godzilla).
Besides more vessels featuring torpedo-spam, you’ll also be facing helicopters.
Their physics are interesting. They can fly both high and low, so in some cases you can jump over them, while in others they’ll be out of reach. Touch the chopper’s spinning blades, and you’ll suffer great damage. You can also time your breach right and slam directly into it.
In the above picture, you can witness a bunch of green explosions that are there thanks to one of the mutations.
An easier way of dealing with aircraft, however, is tossing explosives. It’s possible to down a helicopter with a single bomb if you manage to throw it through the open door and hit the pilot.
DLC - Truth Quest
The DLC, titled Truth Quest, is close to being another race/class DLC. It provides one mutation set, helicopters and activities for about two hours of playtime. Also, its 15 USD price tag is bonkers, and is the primary reason why it received mixed reviews on steam. Still, since community member sser was kind enough to gift me the base game, I’ve gotten it anyway.
Having said the above, the DLC is quite enjoyable. With Pete out of the way, it focuses on you and the narrator. Your shark mutates into Godzilla to fight irradiated monsters, while the narrator fully indulges in conspiracy theories and directs you towards reptilian overlords. Basically, it’s like playing shark-themed Rampage while someone reads the Codex political forum out loud in the background.
One thing I don’t understand is why it’s not just another region on the map – thus being connected to the fast travel network. Instead, you need to enter and leave it through a specific exit on the map. It’s especially annoying since the story makes you travel between both. Crime is separate here too: you can unlock military helicopters in the DLC, but you won’t be facing them in the base game, which is a shame.
Gameplay? Amazing! It’s the GTA-like game you never knew you needed in your life. If certain battles required more/actual preparations, I’d even call it better than The Witcher. You don’t even need an amphibious mutation to traverse land for extended periods of time.
As I kept emphasizing, the story is the game’s strongest suit. Choices and consequences are sadly not a thing, so you won’t be presented with any cliché redemption/walk away choice that any self-respecting C&C-advertised revenge-focused title will always pack. Have you ever noticed how in other RPGs the protagonist keeps being an annoyance to the villain, without leaving him furious enough to make him drop his Armageddon plans and squash the pest? For example, I never liked how in Baldur’s Gate 2 Irenicus continues with his plan after you kill Bohdi. In Maneater, things get serious and personal, you could run out of eyebrows to raise as you stare at the consequences of your actions in the world. At times I had to make hard decisions between having fun on the beaches vs watching what’s going on with Pete and the DM. This chemistry between the protagonist, antagonist and narrator, along with their development, is of high standard, and I’ll be holding other games to it from now on.
Character development is indeed lacking in all the dimensions in which you would usually dissect it. Too few options, no real challenges to overcome/prepare for, and no need to weigh your choices, as it’s possible to unlock everything. The main reason for you to interact with it at all is the flavor punch it brings. Otherwise, it would be like in the titles where you skip half of the level-ups and just finish the game.
With the deterministic hitboxes that Maneater brings to the table, you should definitely consider having this title in your library. Just skip the DLC, unless it’s available at a deep discount.