Hands-on with Maneater

At E3 2018, at the PC Gaming Show, Tripwire Interactive took the stage to show off a new game that was just a little bit different than their past work. Known for FPS series such as Red Orchestra and Killing Floor, the studio decided they wanted to tackle a new genre: the open-world RPG. Or, as studio CEO John Gibson refers to it, a “Shark-PG.”

Maneater is an open-world title that puts you in the metaphorical shoes of a shark, exploring the open waters and doing what sharks do best: eating things. Last week, nearly two years after its announcement, Tripwire hosted an event for the first hands-on demo of the game in San Francisco.

While the game still remains about playing as a shark and doing shark-like things, Maneater also includes a full narrative. The game’s story is told through the window of a fictional reality show called “Maneaters,” a pastiche of shows like Deadliest Catch. This show follows a fleet of fishermen headed up by a man called Scaly Pete, whose entire reason for living seems to be hunting down and killing as many sharks as possible.

The demo, which offered up the first hour or so of the game, opened up with a cutscene establishing Pete and his crew before putting me in control of a shark that he is hunting. I’m lead through a tutorial sequence that explains the basics of being a shark: biting creatures and enemies, holding them in my mouth and thrashing them around, and whipping them with my tail. There’s also a combo move available called the “whipshot,” where I can grab an enemy in my mouth then whip ’em with my tail to launch them through the water…something I’m not sure sharks actually do.

Along those lines, between the demo and Gibson’s presentation, Maneater is definitely not striving for reality. Aside from the simple fact that areas that will be in the game include things like aquatic themeparks and polluted industrial zones, there’s also the RPG elements of the game.

As you explore the world and engage in combat, you can unlock various “evolutions” for your shark. These run the range from giving you an internal sonar to growing armor plating on your skin. Some video shown during the presentation revealed the apex of some of these evolutions: fully armor-plated sharks that can take down massive ships, and sharks infused with the power of electricity that can teleport around the ocean.

Back to the demo, the opening sequence goes for the “taste of power” trope, putting me in control of a fully-grown shark capable of jumping up on land to grab people and pull them back into the water, swimming at amazing speeds and leaping out of the water into the air with exquisite grace. The intro ended with my shark being captured by Pete, and the real game starting up with me in control of a “teenage” shark.

Once in the game proper, Maneater does have the feel of an open-world exploration-based RPG, just entirely underwater. There’s mission markers to follow and various hidden items and collectibles scattered around the world, as well as various highly-leveled enemies such as crocodiles floating around that I definitely had to avoid until I was leveled up enough to take them down.

Gibson described the game’s combat system as “like a swordfight.” Despite being, you know, a shark, going in against an enemy aggressively is liable to get you killed…something I learned fast when I attacked the aforementioned crocodile like an idiot early in the demo. You have to watch your enemy, keep an eye out for tells, dodge and parry when necessary, and attack when the opponent is open.

Or you can do what I did for the first twenty minutes, rushing headfirst at everything in sight and staying constantly on the verge of death…but I wouldn’t recommend that.

Gibson also mentioned that the game’s world would be made up of seven distinct areas, like the aforementioned aquatic themepark and industrial area. Regions open up as your shark grows and evolves, and there’s a mechanic where you can take “ownership” of them by killing a specific enemy in each one – the “apex predator.” These enemies can be summoned by discovering what their favorite prey in the area are and then proceeding to eat as much of it as you can. Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to experience a fight against one of these predators during my demo.

As for my overall impressions with the demo, I’m impressed that Tripwire managed to create a fully fleshed-out open-world game out of a concept that seemed more like a meme than anything. While the developers are definitely aware of this game’s weird premise, it also appears that they went to great lengths to get as much out of this concept as they could.

The only thing I’m worried about is the game’s mechanics wearing out over time. The demo did take place entirely in the early game, yes, but the core of my experience was still just swimming around and biting things without much variety to it. I didn’t have the chance to see how crazy the evolution system can get so, for all I know, gameplay may change and get more varied the further you progress into the game.

Maneater is set for release on May 22nd for PC, XBox One, and PS4, with a Switch release planned in the future.

Screenshots courtesy of Tripwire Interactive.