Date Posted: 5/06/20
Released in May 2020 Man-Eater has the players controlling a female bull shark and must evolve from a pup to a mega-shark in order to take revenge on the fisherman who killed its mother. The principal voice in the cast is Chris Parnell who’s most notable for voicing the character of Gerry Smith in Rick and Morty. The game is currently on PS4, Xbox One and PC with a Nintendo Switch port apparently on the way later in the year.
Going into this game you have to understand that this is in no way an accurate representation of true shark behaviour. Instead this game is based upon the concept that sharks are monstrous murder machines that spend their days and nights swimming around plotting to attack and devour human beings. Boats can be smashed and hunters eaten, plus your shark can flop onto land to chomp down on people who don’t have the self-preservation instinct to run away.
Plot wise the game is presented in the form of a cable TV show called Man-Eater vs. Shark hunters which is presented in a Deadliest Catch kind-of way. Film crews follow Pierre LeBlanc known as “Scaly Pete” and his son Kyle as they work as shark fishermen on the boat Cajun Queen. In the opening mission you play as a large female bull shark that goes on a killing spree and Scaly Pete captures the deadly fish. Pete realises that the bull shark is pregnant and cuts the baby from its mother, proceeding to cut it with his knife to the horror of the film crew, so he can identify it as it grows. The shark manages to get out of Pete’s grasp and bites off his hand before being flung into the murky bayou.
From this point on you play as the baby shark and must grow, evolve and finally avenge the death of your mother by taking on Scaly Pete. The narrator of the show follows you as you progress, commenting on what you do, your behaviours referring to the dangerous fish as “our” shark and so on which does suggest that the film crew is following you around too.
The map is set into different zones which are mini-sandboxes and as you grow the game expands allowing you to go wherever you want. Naturally you are not the only predator in your environment and must confront alligators, barracudas, other larger sharks and even whales. What I particularly liked was the fact that you begin having to swim away from alligators and other small predators for fear of getting munched, but by the end you are swallowing those enemies whole without any effort. It reminded me of being picked on when you were a child only to grow up and get bigger than your bully so you are able to deck them a few years later. By the end you are free to roam anywhere in the map you want returning to previous areas thanks to a couple of gates you can open.
Each zone also has its own grotto and this is your safe haven plus the only place you can equip your mutations. There is also a fast travel mechanic allowing you to jump quickly from grotto to grotto so if you want to return to a previous area you can do it without needing to swim there.
The different environments are varied and as a bull shark that can survive in both fresh and salt water you are free to swim around in lakes, rivers and the ocean. Each environment has different collectables to find that unlock various mutations that can be equipped to your shark giving you additional health or body-modifications. The sonar ability that you unlock almost immediately is very helpful for finding these collectables. The mutations can also be upgraded up to Tier 5 and once the sonar has reached that level then using it to scan your environment to find the collectables becomes much easier.
The landmarks are almost all references to different films which included Waterworld, Demolition Man, Pirates of the Caribbean, Finding Nemo, Point Break and IT to name just a few. Each one has a little back story which the narrator will inform you when you bite the marker.
Being a shark biting things is basically the only thing that you can do. Biting is used to collect floating licence plates, breaking open nutrient caches, hitting landmarks and naturally combat. The camera is decent enough and did not generally get stuck on the environment, but it was crying out for a lock-on mechanic. Lunging for a collectable and missing was a minor annoyance, trying to target a specific aquatic enemy that is attacking you, when they are moving in a 360 degree area around you makes underwater combat a bit of a mess. You can tap R3 to get the camera to look at your attacker, however, that only works for the instant that enemy is stationary because the second they move you lose them again. Although, if combat against other aquatic enemies is a bit of a mess then combat against boats and hunters is a massive cluster fuck. You are supposed to leap out of the water to snatch people from their boats but because you can’t lock on, your guess is as good as mine, as to where your shark is actually going to go. This gets especially aggravating late in the game when hunter boats have electrical nets that harm you when you get within their radius. The generators for these nets are underwater but because you cannot lock onto them trying to destroy them is an exercise in irritation. More often than not I was just spamming the evade button which causes your bony shark to do a barrel roll that can smash boats to splinters relatively easily. Hunter boats can be defeated, but this is one of those scenarios where they will just keep coming in wave after wave, until you die or decide you are bored of the endless hunters and simply swim away.
I do wonder if not having a lock on camera was an intentional choice because a lock on mechanic can have their own problems. Take Rocket League for example. If you lock onto the ball you know where it is at all times but have no idea which direction you are going in, alternatively, you can see where you are going but then aren’t much good to your team because you only have a rough idea where the ball is. If Man-Eater had a lock on option then it might be more trouble than it was worth. Locking it and unlocking it if you are being attacked from multiple enemies could have been the kind of thing that broke the game as you can see them but can’t see where you are going.
You can equip your shark with different body types and modifications. This is where the game reminded me of the genetically modified sharks in Deep Blue Sea which is one of the few references the game did not make. Initially I was focussing on upgrading the shadow form because it would poison enemies attacking you which helped in tougher fights against more powerful enemies. You get bonuses for equipping the entire body sets so that is what did. The bony body was perfectly suited for fighting boats as it is far tougher than the other variants, but as the main bosses in the game are Shark Hunters you are going to be fighting boats more than any other type of enemy. So it is the illusion of choice, yes you could use the shadow or electric form in those fights but you’d get your ass kicked if you did. I upgraded the electric form for no other reason than I thought that it might render the electric field that hunter boats were using useless. It didn’t. So my shark was able to use electricity against her enemies, yet would get shocked by the nets the hunters were using, and as I have said above, these nets are really difficult to disable because of the lack of a lock on. If you are fighting boats then equip all the bone mutations and as you battle other aquatic animals use the shadow form. I unlocked the electric mutations too late in the game to find any use of it having spent my previous time in shadow or bone form.
Some of the mutations were also redundant just because you unlock them too late. I only discovered basically at the end of the game when I had found all the collectables that you can de-equip the sonar from one of your three organ slots, but you can still use it. I spent basically the entire game using the same mutations simply because they were the ones I’d gotten used to and the ones that worked for my play style.
Loading screens were pretty fast and shark facts would appear along the base of the screen, plus it felt strange playing a game in which you don’t need to bolt to the surface for air every few seconds.
The game clocked in at just over fifteen hours having found everything and unlocked everything. I was a tad surprised when the pup bull shark landed in the bayou and the progress bar in the corner was clocking in at 20%. I assumed that the missions in the corner were going to be stage one, of a series of missions in which you go after different hunters working back up to Pete. This was not the case. The ten missions in the corner are your lot so this is one of those games that you need to savour as you are playing it. Fortunately getting the collectables and finding everything is fun because you unlock new mutations that help you get stronger.
By the end of the game Scaly Pete is going full Captain Ahab and there were times I actually started to feel sorry for the guy. Yes he killed our mother but to be fair she was in the middle of a bloody rampage in which she had leapt onto beaches to kill beachgoers and had sunk three hunter boats that came after her, so killing her was justified. Whereas Scaly Pete gets various limbs chomped off, his son is caught in the cross-fire, and by the end he is a scarred disfigured madman intent on killing the shark that took everything from him.
The simple fact was though that Man-Eater was a breath of fresh air that was just fun to swim around an open and richly detailed underwater world biting in half everything that looks at you funny, plus a few things that don’t. If there is a sequel then it would be nice to venture into deeper waters and potentially fight giant krakens or other deep sea monsters. My gripes were small that didn’t take anything away from the fun and the game only suffered a single crash during my playthrough. It was just fun and cathartic to play a game in which you get to be a badass fish that can go where it wants, do what it wants and can flop around on land snatching fleshy meat sacks.
I wish there had been more game but fifteen hours is not a bad run time because it meant I did not get bored of the somewhat samey missions, and the environments are rich enough giving you plenty of things to explore. I also liked role playing being a shark swimming under oblivious swimmers who are only allowed to live because I have decided so. I am giving the game a strong Thumbs Up because it was ridiculously fun but sadly now that I have 100% there is really no reason to go back to it. The replay value is non-existent as there is no +game mode so whilst I enjoyed the game whilst I was playing it, I doubt I’ll play it again anytime soon.
8/10 – Having a lock-on option would have made combat much easier and less of a button mashing mess. However, generally the game was great fun and I am sorry that there wasn’t more of it as the replay value is pretty low. I’m hoping a sequel comes out and expands on the enemies you fight, improves the game’s length, and gives you some mythical sea monsters to get your teeth into.