GTA + Vampire Survivors = Great


When I was younger, my friends and I would play Grand Theft Auto III differently than how the developers intended. Instead of completing missions and side activities, we would use cheat codes to give ourselves all the guns, a good car, and then save the game in that state. We would then each take turns loading up that save and trying to outlast the cops for as long as we could. I know plenty of other people who played GTA like this—as a weird, roguelike round-robin game of carjacking and mayhem—and now, someone has built an entire game recreating that classic experience.

Maniac, out now on Steam, is a new game the publisher pitched to me in an email as the “lovechild” of Grand Theft Auto and Vampire Survivors. At first, I wasn’t sure what that actually meant. But after playing a few hours of Maniac I realized that this fun, wacky, and over-the-top crime extravaganza is actually just recreating that previously mentioned, classic GTA experience of seeing how long you can survive while the cops, FBI, and military chase you around town.

Transhuman Design / Skystone Games

The basic gameplay loop of Maniac is this: You spawn into a randomly generated city filled with civilians, police, guns, and other things you’d expect in a GTA game. Then you cause a bunch of mayhem, collect money, and try to survive for 20 minutes. At that point, the city is nuked. But making it to that point is tricky, as law enforcement is very aggressive and willing to kill dozens of people to take you out. So you’ll need to steal random vehicles and pick up new guns and randomly spawned upgrades to even have a chance at winning

Once you die (and you will die), you are then able to use your ill-gotten cash to upgrade various abilities between runs. For example, you can make your character harder to kill or faster. You can also make them deadlier or better at stealing cars. You can even get an upgrade that convinces random NPCs in the city to join your cause and start killing random cops and civilians, too.

Maniac is silly, and thankfully not realistic

One concern I had when booting up Maniac was if mowing down and running over random people could still be fun in 2024. It’s a problem GTA hit as its games became more and more hyper-realistic. Suddenly, it wasn’t much fun to go on a shooting spree in GTA V. Thankfully, Maniac sidesteps this problem by using a top-down camera like the old GTA games, so everything feels at a distance and hard to parse.

Was that a woman? A kid? A fire hydrant? No idea, but I ran it over going 100 MPH in an ice cream truck, so I have other things to worry about.

Maniac also uses a cartoonish art style and doesn’t try to be realistic at all. This is a world where random mafia guys walk around in packs and baby carriages spit out cash when run over. The first character you get in Maniac, before unlocking other “heroes,” is a drunk-out-of-his-mind man dressed as Santa Claus.

A screenshot of Maniac shows Santa Claus killing everyone.

Screenshot: Skystone Games

So yeah, the game understands that the only way to make this work is to have fun with it and make sure all the gory, criminal action is very zany and super silly.

Like Vampire Survivors or Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor, Maniac is hard to put down. By design, each run lasts no more than 20 minutes and you get a bit better with each crime spree, as you learn the game and get better upgrades. The random map and chaos also help, making no run identical. I found myself often going “Wait, one more run. I bet now with these new upgrades I can get a nuke!” And then suddenly I’d been playing for two hours.

If you loved causing chaos in older GTA games, and miss the era when the franchise was less real and more zany, Maniac is a perfect return to that classic top-down criminal action, but now with roguelike random elements and upgrades. Get some friends together, hook up a controller, and pass it around to see who can last the longest against the police like it’s 2002 all over again.

Maniac is out now on PC via Steam and costs $5.

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By asm3a