- Release Date (NA): May 22, 2020
- Release Date (EU): May 22, 2020
- Publisher: Tripwire
- Developer: Tripwire
- Genres: Open world
- Also For: PlayStation 4
Sharks have been knifing around for 455 million years, but somehow they have never really been the main protagonist in videogames. Man Eater is the shaRkPG we have all been waiting for. It's not Hungry Shark as much as "Retribution Shark;" it's not Jaws: Unleashed as much as "Megalodon on a rampage." You begin this epic as a fully grown Bull Shark invested in living your best life via a cunningly disguised tutorial section, until you are savagely captured and carved up by the game's antagonist, Pierre "Scaley Pete" LeBlank. It's at this moment Scaley pulls a live shark pup from your still tepid corpse, slashes it so he can identify it when it grows bigger and, in an act of minor justice, the premature pup bites his forearm clean off. All of this is shown from the perspective of an American reality TV show, filming the ongoings of shark hunters and trawlermen on their IP: Man Eater. You now assume the role of the pup and have to quickly get to grips with no longer being the biggest fish in the pond.
As a tiny little level one noobie, you have to evade, escape and eat to survive. Everything that swims in the oceans is edible, including you, which brings an element of frailty to the game. The main ethos here is that of survival, and revenge, with sprawling environments above and below the sea level. To some extent, the presentation of the bays and coves reminded me a lot of the Burnout series, with beautifully picturesque long sweeping shots of the sunny marinas emphasising the heavily populated golf courses and the overall modern thriving metropolis. The game plays a lot more like GTA meets Crazy Taxi, but without the time constraints meaning that you can quite literally go anywhere, jump anything, eat everything and completely rampage around like you just don't care. While there is a lot of typical gaming mechanics used here, it's a smart culmination that is punctuated by the wit and charm of the narrator's colourful monologue and the overall B-movie tone of the game.
Controlling your toothed-up weapon around Port Clovis is silky smooth as you use one stick to ascend and descend, and the other to look or twist. With most of these underwater "flight" control-style games, there is a tendency to roll or yaw into an odd dizzying orientation and become entirely at odds as to how to right yourself again. Thankfully Man Eater exhibited none of these common issues by keeping the controls simple and removing the ability to roll upside-down almost entirely. The triggers lunge with the left, bite with the right, and the bumpers allow you to tail whip with LB and make an evasive barrel roll with RB. The face buttons are also kept to a minimum with the B button performing a sonar burst, X descending your shark for both manoeuvring and evasion, A causes you to jump, and Y is reserved for your mad special skills which I will explain very shortly.
Diving into this game I wasn't sure how captivating it could possibly be, swimming around biting stuff, but incredibly, Man Eater takes the oceans and fills them with incredibly feature-packed details and organic-feeling atmospheres. You have a huge array of corals, fish, mammals and even vehicles trudging around the scenery at any one time, and exploring these and getting to know how they react or attack you is an amazing voyage of discovery. For example, as a pup it was obvious to me that I should avoid alligators and crocodiles if I wanted to get anywhere, as at the beginning you're level 1 and these beasts are level 8 and above. Later on, you discover seals and orcas and while seals demonstrated flagrant disregard for survival, even with a gnashing shark in their vicinity, orcas are a whole new ball game. I have to admit that I believe I have "Orcaphobia," which is the name I wholly made-up for my inexplicable fear of killer whales, but I mean it's surely not entirely irrational, as the clue is right there in their name! Cetaphobia, as it is actually known, is a strange one for me. I don't seem to fear the man-eating sharks nearly as much as these panda-coloured sea monsters. Anyway, I digress. They will grab you and shake you and take you down to the briny depths, dragging your helpless ragdoll corpse to the bottom of the planet without so much as a warning, they're level 30 minimum, and they know how to defend against a lowly shark.
As you progress through the game you level up from pup to teen at around level 5, adult around level 15 to an elder by level 23. Each stage sees you physically grow and bulk up, in an animation reserved only for your grotto visits, and offers you a chance to hone your physical attributes and skills via an upgrades menu. There are gated pipes around each level that requires you to be a certain stage of development to be able to smash through them, so remember where these are on your map and don't forget to revisit your old haunts to find new goodies. In order to unlock all upgrades, you need to hit certain levels by eating anything and everything around you to gain XP, and also acknowledging that each tasty morsel has different nutritional values that you can leverage. There are fats, mutagens, minerals and proteins that can be absorbed and spent against upgrading yourself. For example, green mutagens found in tasty albino variants of the collateral creatures can be absorbed to evolve your bioluminescence or how poisonous you are, whereas proteins and minerals can enhance how strong your teeth and bones are or grant you a powerful second skin should you have such enhancements unlocked. It's like an evolutionary car tune-up service, exchanging dietary level currency for perks and improvements. The perks you can unlock have to be done by beating some seriously B-movie style bosses in frantic aquatic battles or by unlocking all nutrient caches, completing tasks, discovering places of interest or showing other apex predators exactly who rules the roost.
Boss battles are triggered similar to how the police work in GTA games. You have a level of dangerousness which increases in tandem with your munching the citizens or trashing their vehicles. Once you trigger the hunters to prevent your onslaught killing, you can destroy them and more importantly their vessels to fill the infamy level bar to the top, which then invites a boss level bounty hunter into your general area for you to try to takedown. Though it may sound complicated, it really isn't and sadly, nor are the first seven or so boss battles. Each boss has an obvious quirk, an overpowered weapon in hand and has a characterful name such as "Bayou Willy," "Mama Maybelle," or "Butcher Boy Brady." However, for the first few, it's just a simple case of jumping out the water and snatching them off the deck of their boat while chomping them to pieces. The latter bosses come more heavily fortified, they use cages on the decks of their trawlers and speedboats, and they mean business with a much tougher battle to be had.
Apex predators range from nippy but deadly sports fish, super-powerful death-rolling killer crocodiles, and they even scale all the way up to sperm whales; yes, sperm whales are enemies. Locating these beasts involves being far more explorative than you need to be to draw in the human bosses. Once you have cleared the majority of tasks and found all the points of interest in any given location the apex reveals its position, and it's up to you to weigh up if you're ready for the fight. Apex predators are vastly overpowered versions of their common creature and depending on how far you have ventured cites what level these will be powered up too. The closer you are to the beginning "Fawtik Bayou" area, the lower the level, the further you are out at sea in "The Gulf," the more wildly strong the apexes become. Defeating the bosses and regional apex predators will afford you evolutions such as bone reinforced anatomy which makes you tougher to kill, stealthy shadow enhancements that speed you up as you explore the various locales, and even lightning-based electroluminescence to pack more of a punch when tail-whip-stunning foes.
The graphics in this game are suitably impressive. The way the environments and atmospheres are captured gives you a sense that you are in muddy, murky, thick, viscous swamp water, or that you are deep down on the seabed, effortlessly gliding over thermal vents. The developers use particle effects and clever tricks to capture the feeling of tranquillity of the underwater environments while suspending you in the drink superbly while surrounded by undulating surfaces, bubbles, litter, and environmentally unique vegetation. Cunningly giving you this picture-perfect environment concentrates the scare factor of jump scares by placing dangerous predators in unexpectedly beautiful nooks and crannies. The shark has a tremendous level or character to her form too. You begin with skin shiny and fresh, smoother than silk, but end up gnarled and scared beyond all recognition. Utilising perks also changes your shape from a bruiser-type, bone clad mountain of muscle to a stealthy sleek shadow-finned assassin, and even the purples and blues of your enhanced eyes and teeth really stylise and accent your character in such cool ways. While the gore is rife in this game, it isn't all that present in terms of pixels. Cleverly the developers saw fit to use bold cliché effects such as blood spatter on surfaces and undulating dispersing plumes of blood on the surface of the water, but they opted not to have the creatures or humans realistically fall to bits around you. Instead, you have mashed up versions of the creatures with fins or legs missing which gives you the feeling you have inflicted some severe damage on them without muddying up the pixel count, the only issue is that pixel count can skyrocket when you have a lot going on, and so the framerate plummets.
For example, I had five hunter boats after me, each packing between two and five hunters onboard, with guns and grenades, underwater hunters joined in with their scuba gear and harpoons, and around me on the coastline were buildings, trees and tiki bars with people milling around, boats mored up, fish and terrain below me and increasingly dense levels of blood coating the rippling surface. As I thrashed about and barrel rolled with the spikey bone gear on my fins to deliver a whirling, slashing blow to the hulls of their vessels even while defending, everything started looking decidedly grainy, a bit pixelated and the framerate definitely dipped on more than a few occasions. It's not game-breaking in any way shape or form, but perhaps the devs could minimise the extent of detail required when you're focussed in during the heat of battle, perhaps filter the backgrounds and remove unnecessary details until you break away from the action. Similarly, some of the creature animations seemed to be missing on a handful of them. Instead of the smooth animation of them spotting you, circling, and eventually attacking, I sometimes noticed masses of skipped frames resulting in a hammerhead, for example, turning 180 degrees in one frame, and darting clean past me in the second, with no interpolation shown. Something more definitely needs to be done in optimising after day one, even though I noticed the actual day one patch was the same size, give or take, as the initial install and it claimed to adjust cull distance on some assets throughout all regions, fix floating assets and sort out missing art assets. This could be due to the fact that I was playing on my old faithful OG Xbox One and not an X model, but it needs to be addressed in some way regardless of the console's power as it is my only real issue with this game.
I largely smashed through to level 30 after just four or five hours of play, which felt a lot longer if I am honest, as I did masses of exploring, a lot of tracking down hunted creatures and vied for 100% completion of each area before leaving for the next. During the cut scenes, you get a little deeper into the mentality of these shark hunters and you completely side with the glazed over, dead-eyed chomper. The overlaid hashtags used by the Man Eater show's in-game production crew include funny little quips that you would pick up on if you were watching a real show starring cajun characters. Gubment as a regional pronunciation of "Government" is just one humorous example, poking fun at these types of shows and characterizing the enemies perfectly. However, calling this game an RPG is a little bit of a push. I get it though, there is a defined narrative underpinning this saga, and you enjoyably get to progressively dismember Scaley Pete physically, and destroy his heinous morals through each encounter with him. The definitive theme of this game is a brilliantly arcade-like, stylised, open-world, action-adventure, survival game, in much the same way that Ecco the Dolphin on Dreamcast was categorised as within the "action-adventure" genre and never as an "RPG." Genre classification aside, there are heaps of collectables littering the locations, and amusingly for some of them, you have to use the "amphibious" perks to be able to survive on land long enough to reach these things. I found that the "5U5H1" licence plates scattered around amusing, and I was entirely compelled to figure out how to jump to almost Sharknado levels of ridiculous height. Pro tip: hammer jump and lunge at the same time followed by the bite button to lurch upwards of 50+ in-game meters from sea level to snag those really tough to reach varmints. Using the bite button on land also propels you forward much faster, strangely, than using purely the jump or lurch buttons. Even without the amphibious tweaks, I was able to fly across islands and rocks, up the jetty ramps and across buildings with ease this way.
The humour in this game permeates throughout, and its references to pop culture are omnipresent. Spanning every zone, from Golden Shores to Caviar Key, you will discover landmark signs that theme the area and open up more undiscovered question marks on your map. These signposts give you a small comedic cut-scene and they all have a tongue in cheek, glib remarking tone to them. References to abandoned places and human failures all but named Fyre Festival in one location, a collection of pigs heads on spikes in a plane crash alluded to Lord of the Flies, a pile of ice hockey sticks strewn on a golf course screamed Happy Gilmore, and ultimately a small gag based on Demolition Man's "Three Seashells" really got me chortling. Other things such as crashed UFOs, Atlantean structures, and tonnes and tonnes of skeletal remains doing ludicrous poses all remain uncharted and ready for you to find at your leisure.
The only thing missing from this title is the obligatory super-beast; the Megalodon. While it is hinted at with your final level of XP maxing out at a "Mega" and your shark's stature being rather large for a typically less than two and a half meter Bull shark, you don't hit the startling length proposed by scientists and palaeontologists at a staggering 19 meters of the Carcharodon Megalodon. You seem to grow around 9 meters in length, which is considerably formidable, but wouldn't it be great if the devs added this in at a later update, or perhaps DLC in a few months time. While I tried to scour every corner and complete as much as I could there are a few bits I didn't manage to do before writing this review up, and one of which was hitting the switches on gated areas of the map. Flipping these switches, which I found requires you to tailwhip an enemy into to actually activate, would simply open up a new avenue between the areas for you to use to navigate places quicker. Luckily with my shark jumping prowess, I could sail over these blocked off areas with ease, but it still baffles me why I couldn't flip the targetable switches regardless. Perhaps a slightly modified targeting system would help here, and maybe introducing a lock-on feature, in general, could help you line this up easier. It makes me wonder if there are other well-hidden treasures to be found in the murky depths should you 100% the game, and unlock all gates, and obtain every power-up. Who knows, but I will strive to 100% it and find any secrets in the coming days as I really have enjoyed this game throughout.
Man Eater entirely consumed me. I found myself playing it for hours on end in a quest to discover new areas and maximise my shark's attributes. The fact that it has superb presentation, brilliant locations, a wide variety of passive and aggressive creatures, and masses to collect gives this ShaRkPG legs. I could easily see myself coming back to this for a crazy hunter infested chomp-fest just to try jumping into a new area or discovering a new monolith, cave or trench on the map. I really hope the devs release more DLC for missions, creatures, and upgrades as this is a game that deserves longevity. I heartily recommend Man Eater to any open-world fan who can stomach the violence and cheesy B-movie flair, as you will not be disappointed with the depth of adventure this riotous role-playing blood orgy has to offer.
- An incredible and densely populated world to explore
- Plenty of upgrades and evolutions to unlock
- The "collectathon" mentality is brilliant for completionists
- Stuttery frame rate when it gets insane
- Glitchy animations sometimes