Saturday, 30 May 2020

Asylum Reviews: Maneater [Xbox One].

Growing up, one game that I would always inevitably return to on whatever crappy PC or phone I had at the time was Feeding Frenzy. If you don’t know Feeding Frenzy, the basic premise was that you play as a fish that has to eat other – smaller – fish,in order to grow in size and be able to eat everything. From there, we got Hungry Shark World, released in 2018, which was clearly inspired by the style of Feeding Frenzy and had a very similar – albeit expanded and improved – feel. But still, something felt missing.

A new challenger approaches…

Enter Maneater. Developed and published by Tripwire Interactive, Maneater is the evolution of games like Feeding Frenzy, in that not only is the gameplay massively better, but there’s a decent level of story to get you invested, too. You play as a female bull shark looking for revenge against a shark hunter, known as Scaly Pete, for killing your mother. Similarly, he's on the hunt for you for chomping his hand off on that very same day. It's a full open-world munch-fest and it is glorious.

The game starts out with a documentary-style intro, which continues throughout the story. Characters shown in these clips have an almost Borderlands look to them, with bright colours and exaggerated outlines. Hashtags appear in the bottom right corner, along with the “show” logo and time that it airs, further emphasising the documentary theme. It follows Scaly Pete on his quest to hunt for the shark that took his hand and gives a look into the life of Shark Hunters like him. Narration is provided by the fantastic Chris Parnell, who delivers every line with absolute hilarity.

The art style is really well done, with plenty of detail in everything around you. From the moment the game starts, you can see how stunning everything looks. The world is surprisingly large, and the differences from being under or above water are immediately obvious. Below water, visibility is often impacted allowing you only to see a certain distance in front of you. Above water, your visibility goes right across the map to all of the glorious sights: towering hotels with bright neon lights of the nearby resort, motorway bridges extending over the water and gorgeous golf courses with tonnes of unsuspecting holidaymakers in and out of the water. Sound design is done fantastically also, with a clear difference between underwater sounds and those above sea level. And of course you’ll be well entertained by the narrator giving funny quips about what's going on. I really enjoyed just swimming around and taking in the view. It's not often we can delve into the ocean in games and fully see it as its own world.

One thing I would have really liked to see is more natural interaction to make this feel like a truly living, breathing world. Creatures don't attack each other, and human characters have a tendency to act very awkward when you go near them. In the water, they'll swim away but upon reaching land, they mostly just stop and panic on the spot. This results in it being very easy to get the human kills necessary for side quests, and it would have been interesting to have some require a more stealthy approach so as to not spook everyone away; currently you can just munch while most of them stand in a group.

As you grow, you’ll unlock mutations that can be applied to give you an edge against your opponents. These can include additional organ mutations, such as improved Sonar, Health, and eventually mutations to enable you to be out of the water for longer (helpful for collectibles). Similarly, you can also get physical mutations for different body parts: head, fins, tail, etc. and these alter appearance (such as to give a Bone-covered look) as well as give buffs to damage against boats or other aquatic creatures.

One of the mutations I kept on for the majority of my playtime was Sonar. Using sonar allows you to see a bit further underwater - albeit temporarily - but gives off a very eerie vibe as you see all of the hills and junk of the underwater landscape flash into view before slowly fading out again. Thankfully, the sonar can be upgraded to have a wider reach as this is a life-saver for finding all of the collectibles dotted around the map. You’ll have to hunt down License Plates, Nutrient Caches and Landmarks, some of which are hidden surprisingly well and will require some thorough exploration of the sewers to locate. License Plates and Nutrient Caches are fairly standard collectibles, but the Landmarks are the ones that really shine. These are denoted by a small signpost, and many of these landmarks are brilliant pop culture references. Some of my favourites were the Pennywise and Arrested Development gags, although there were plenty more that gave me a chuckle whilst hunting them down.

As you collect items and eat everything you can, from humans to Sperm Whales and everything in between, you continue to grow. Whilst it can feel a little grindy at first trying to grow, you’ll quickly find yourself being fairly OP and can easily wipe out most things with little effort. Some people may be annoyed by this, but I found it to really make things enjoyable as it became a challenge to just take on more and more hunters at once and laugh maniacally as I blow up boat after boat and devour every human in sight… maybe I have a problem? Having large numbers of hunters on your tail does cause a slight lag in framerate, but not enough to put me off.

I couldn't put the game down, even abandoning Animal Crossing entirely during my time playing. Making sure I gathered everything was priority, and to see the full map completed was just *chef kiss* Allan has been a bit slower than me playing through, and came across an odd glitch earlier today in that after a certain cutscene late on in the game, when he reappeared back in the Grotto, a hunter had been transported there too before getting stuck in his shark's mouth. This kinda broke things a little bit, as he had to reload the game in order to get rid of the stuck hunter (since he couldn't bite anything because of it), and in the process had his save rolled back several XP levels and prior to completed story missions that he'd gotten achievements for. Thankfully this just meant he had to re-do quite a bit, but at least his save was safe! I don't know if this is an isolated issue, as it came up with a savefile error whilst he was playing, and I got through the entire game with no issues, but just a word of warning in case anyone else comes across this issue.

In the end, we decided to give Maneater the Collecting Asylum rating of 9/10. Aside from Allan's glitch earlier, occasional framerate drops, and a couple of ideas I'd have liked to have seen implemented, I don't really have anything negative to say here. I thoroughly enjoyed this game, and am excited to see what Tripwire has in store for the future.

Have you played Maneater yet? What did you think of it?
Let us know in the comments below!

- V x

Thank you to Koch Media for the Maneater Xbox One review code!

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