Man of Medan is to be the first in a series of games called ‘The Dark Pictures Anthology’. A run of short games of which the developers claim will be released bi annually. Personally I love the sound of this, as a busy adult it’s sometimes difficult to find time for those long 40 plus hour games so this is a nice change of pace. Plus I often find that horror stories work better in short bursts. So how does Man of Medan hold up as a maiden voyage?
It’s very noticeable that Man of Medan comes from the same developer who brought us Until Dawn – Supermassive Games. There’s a very distinctive style to both the visuals and gameplay that makes this a very similar experience to Until Dawn, just on a smaller scale, in fact an average playthrough will only take around five hours. It’s also a lot more grounded than it’s predecessor, that’s not to say this game doesn’t have it’s fair share of cheese but compared to Until Dawn’s amount teen horror tropes, Man of Medan tones things down a lot. The game will start by asking the player whether you want to play alone or with others. At the time of writing we only have one copy of the game so unfortunately I will only be able to review the single player story and the couch co-op. Though once we do attain a second copy, make sure to keep an eye on our YouTube channel for a live stream and an online co-op review.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with my first Man of Medan playthrough though it wasn’t without it’s issues. First off the visuals are stunning. As mentioned earlier, this has a very similar look to Until Dawn but certain aspects have undoubtedly been improved. For one, facial animations look incredible! When a character is telling a story or involved in a heavy dose of dialogue I would often forget I was playing a game, feeling more like I was part of a movie. This was helped by the gorgeous looking locations, admittedly there aren’t too many of them and the ones we do have often look very similar but that doesn’t stop them looking spectacular. Camera angles were a real highlight as well. I would often stop moving when entering a new room as the awesome camera angle would lead me to think a cut scene was about to start, this would sometimes make navigating your character quite difficult but given the slow pacing of the game, I’m more than happy to let that slide in favour of these brilliant movie-like visuals.
For a game like Man of Medan, I think it’s fair to say that the game lives and dies on the strength of it’s story. What we have here though is quite a mixed bag. I won’t be diving into anything that I’d consider as a spoiler but if you want to stay on the safe side then maybe move on to the next paragraph. Still with me? Cool. The story begins with a prologue set just after World War 2 and we are treated to a bit of back story on the giant warship in which most the game takes place on. This prologue was a nice touch but by the time you know the story and want to experiment with a third, fourth or fifth playthrough, this opening can become tiresome very quickly. The story then skips forward to present day where you’re quickly introduced to the five main characters that you will be controlling. The pace really picks up by the time events lead you to the abandoned war ship and it’s at this point the game begins to really shine – The horror aspects work really well, there were plenty of times where I nearly dropped my dualshock in pure fright and I’d say that I’m usually quite numb to jump scares.
Due to the fantastic use of camera angles and cinematography mentioned above, it was the more subtle background movements that would get my heart racing. The excellent mix of this along with an unnerving sountrack makes for a genuinely terrifying experience that often had me on edge. For the actual story… It’s hit and miss. Those who just experience one playthrough will probably strongly dislike the story as you’ll be left with plot holes and a half finished back story which depending on how many clues you found, may or may not add up. But Man of Medan is designed with multiple playthroughs in mind and the more you experiment and explore, the more you’ll get out of the story. It’s just a pain that these multiple playthroughs begin to feel like a chore with the games slow opening. At the time of writing I still haven’t found every clue but I believe I’ve found enough in my first two playthroughs to have a good enough understanding of the finished story. Although I was hooked through most the early stages of the game, the finished story does feel a little silly and hollow, it seemed to have more in common with a wacky action adventure game than a dark and gloomy horror one.
Right, end of potential spoilers!
Let’s talk about the five main protagonists you take control of. Four of them are friends/siblings/lovers and the fifth (Fliss) is the captain of the small boat that the group want to take out in search of old war wreckages. You spend a good hour or so just getting to know the characters, each one will have certain traits that you then have the opportunity to either lean into or change up how you like. This is a cool touch and makes me want to play through again and again just to see how drastically I’m able to change each character. No particular character is more entertaining or boring than the other due to this ability to shape them how you like. Sure Fliss is always going to be more serious and Brad is always going to be a bit nerdy but aside from that they’re yours to control. I have seen some strange interactions from these characters that feel really out of place due to how I’ve shaped them, especially towards the end of the game but given the scope of what Supermassive Games is trying to achieve, a lot of this can be forgiven. The voice acting for the most part is really good with Shawn Ashmore as Conrad being the real stand out, though expect a few lines of dialogue that will undoubtedly make you cringe. I think the most pleasant surprise though was a character simply named ‘The Curator’…
The Curator works in a similar way to which the therapist – Dr Hill – did in Until Dawn. Though this time The Curator seems to break the fourth wall a lot more than Dr Hill did and will often criticise you for letting a character die or may even ask you if you did it on purpose. He will offer up tips and/or spoilers to help you along your journey and I couldn’t help but look forward to these little sessions to find out how I was doing. I hope that he is a staple throughout the entire series of The Dark Pictures Anthology as he’s a eccentric character who I’d love to see more of and could easily be used as the glue to keep this whole Anthology together.
I won’t say much about the gameplay because as is usually the case with Supermassive Games, there’s not a lot to go off. Your actions are limited to walking around, interacting with the environment, picking from three responses in a conversation (one of which is always ‘Say Nothing’) and successfully hitting quick time events. The QTE’s are pretty easy to hit and I would only ever get caught out when not concentrating but one new feature I enjoyed was the heartbeat counter. Basically if you’re in hiding then you’d need to time a button press with your quickening heartbeat to remain undetected, I found this a lot more difficult than the QTE’s and is often where I would fail the most. Though overall it’s nothing special, the gameplay isn’t the reason you should be picking up Man of Medan.
I was able to spend a short amount of time on the couch co-op version of the story. Unlike the online co-op which promises different takes from different characters perspectives, the couch co-op is pretty much exactly the same as the solo story with the only difference being you can assign up to five players to each of the five main characters. Once that players character has a part in the game, you pass the controller. It’s simple and nothing ground breaking, however I can see it having the potential for some fun moments as certain mistakes could lead to another characters death meaning you may have to explain your actions to the person next to you or maybe the entire room if you manage to course a chain reaction that kills off every character.
Before I finish up, I want to quickly touch on some performance issues that I’ve seen reported in other various reviews. I’ve read reports of serious lagging, texture pop-in and outright game crashes. I just want to point out that although I’ve had a little bit of stuttering here and there when loading a new scene, it’s not been anything too noticeable and was far from a game breaking experience. Though that may have something to do with the fact I’ve been playing on a PS4 Pro and I didn’t play the game until post launch but who knows, either way there were no such issues for me.
All in all I had a lot of fun with Man of Medan. The visuals are massively impressive and the characters are enjoyable enough that it never felt like a chore spending time with them. The short story kept me completely engaged throughout even if it hit a few road blocks along the way. The horror is very effective and although the story will feel full of plot holes after an initial playthrough, you will be rewarded with with more of a back story if you’re willing to go back and find all the collectables… Even if that back story left me feeling a little hollow. Man of Medan has gotten The Dark Pictures Anthology off to a decent start and I’m left with a lot more than a Little Hope for Supermassive Games’ next outing in 2020.
I give The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan: