Crafting a horror story can be quite a difficult task since people are afraid of different things and the genre itself can be flooded with certain types of horror and this is especially true when it comes to trying to craft a horror adventure game. Supermassive Games has already proven themselves capable of performing such a feat however as their 2015 release of Until Dawn delivered a great experience with numerous variables. Now the company has returned with what will be a series of games combined under The Dark Pictures anthology with the first one being Man of Medan.
The sea hides many mysteries beneath the waves and although many of these secrets may remain hidden to the world, young thrillseekers with a sense for adventure are more than willing to dive into the depths and root around. Such is the case with The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan where four twenty-somethings have chartered a boat in the South Pacific to do some deep sea diving. There is Alex, who is athletic, intelligent, and is Julia’s boyfriend while Julia herself is similarly intelligent and happens to be quite rich. Alongside this pair are Alex’s nerdy brother Brad and Julia’s jokester brother Conrad. Joining these four is the captain of their chartered vessel Fliss, a girl with a no-nonsense attitude that is willing to bend the rules a bit.
After diving into the wreckage of a never before found bomber from World War II the group finds coordinates pointing towards potential treasure but it doesn’t take long before local pirates decide that their vessel is a prime target and take the group hostage. Finding this same map, the pirates force the group to travel to the location only to find a massive freighter shipwrecked back after the war. Forced onto the dilapidated ship, it doesn’t take long before the group finds themselves fearing far worse than the knives and firearm in the pirates’ possession.
Now while we won’t go into too much detail about what that exact threat is, as it is up to the player to learn the truth, it makes for quite an interesting experience, especially since Man of Medan is meant to be played through at least a few times. This is primarily due to the fact that depending on your choices, as well as how good you are at quick time events, things can change drastically from session to session. There is very little illusion of choice when it comes to Man of Medan as mostly all of the bigger decisions in the game will play a role in how things play out for our five characters, Selecting one option may end up resulting in nothing happening or some slight damage to a character model while another may end with death for that character and any subsequent sections either having them missing, be missing entirely, or vary wildly due to their pivotal role.
Occasionally there will still be some developments that will happen outside of player control which is a bit disappointing, especially where keeping some information hidden can be vital only for it to be spewed out in a later scene when not controlling that character. Along those same lines the game does favor a few quick time events too heavily where one mistake led to a character death and the fate of the rest of the cast coming down to a series of prompts later on. Of course this level of seriousness does mean that players should be ready at all times for a quick time event to play a major role in the story even though some don’t feature any major consequences if failed.
As a whole though Man of Medan‘s story can feel a bit short, being around six hours for my first run through, but considering the high variability of the scenes, some of which are only accessible due to certain choices, and the deaths that can await your five characters, this shorter length isn’t much of an issue, especially since subsequent playthroughs don’t allow you to skip dialogue in any form. Thankfully though the story does come together quite nicely as the five characters are a bit tropey for the horror genre but fit together well with meaningful interactions happening between them and some sporting some very obvious flaws that help make them feel more human and realistic. This allows a more gripping narrative to be told and although some knowledge after your first playthrough will make some subsequent ones a bit more straightforward, actually knowing what you do helps reveal far more the second time around.
Those who have played Supermassive Games’ horror game Until Dawn will find themselves right at home with most of what The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan has to offer in terms of gameplay as very little has been modified though a few things have been added in. Players will still walk around various environments, usually small corridors that can be a bit repetitive due to the shipwreck setting, examining items that they find in the environment whether they be pieces of paper, corpses, books, or random items, partaking in quick time events, and making dialogue choices with the right analog stick. The exploration is simple enough though the slow walking speed, and only slightly faster speed when pressing the shoulder button, could use a bit of an increase and it is interesting to note that while most areas are linear, there are little secrets and some tidbits that may not occur if you don’t explore certain locations. Of course these have smaller consequences but having to deal with a new event suddenly where nothing previously occurred makes subsequent playthroughs interesting.
Quick time events make a hefty return here as players will need to complete numerous ones that range from simply pressing a series of buttons, or targeting a specific area quickly enough, to mashing (or holding if you choose) a button, or taking part in the newly refined “keep calm” mini-game. This system replaces the previous “don’t move” mechanic that would often be a problem in Until Dawn and requires the player to match their button presses with heart beat icons that scroll across the screen. This makes for a more intriguing and interactive sequence, especially when the character you are playing as starts to panic due to the threat growing closer to them. Dialogue remains similar in nature as players have two vocal choices and a new choice to simply say nothing at all. Some choices are presented with either a logical brain icon in the background while others feature a heart that focuses on guts, though actually relying on those icons doesn’t play too heavily of a role in the game.
These choices can often play a heavy role into the various branching paths that the story can progress down. As mentioned earlier, it is entirely possible to have characters die numerous times throughout a story and you never quite know when a failed prompt or bad choice may lead to one of the characters’ untimely demise. There are various collectibles located throughout the game in the form of pictures that either show a possible future or a possible death for a character in the game. These may give you a bit of a forewarning as to what may happen in the future and more than a few times these scenes may not even happen depending on the choices you’ve made so far.
In a rather interesting fashion, players will find that Man of Medan has more than a solo story mode to play through should they choose. There are also a pair of multiplayer modes to keep things feeling a bit fresh. One of these is local and allows for up to five people to pass the controller between each other and make various decisions for their selected characters. This “Movie Night” allows for some unique feeling moments as the fate of various characters as well as how their choices may affect the story are out of a single person’s hands while the other mode is Shared Story. This one happens to feel the best of the two as it sees the player joining a friend to play through the story together with different scenes happening at the same time or extended in some cases depending on what is going on. The game will still switch between characters as the story progresses and seeing how things play out makes for a fun and exciting mode, especially since players can see new scenes that aren’t always available in the single player mode.
That being said, Man of Medan isn’t without its flaws and most of these happen to come down to the game engine. For the most part the game runs smoothly enough but more than a few times throughout the game scenes would hitch and slow to a crawl, with the worst happening more than once just after finishing a mini-game only to have the scene after jutter so badly it barely played before changing scenes. Dialogue can also occasionally occur during loading screens or slip from the mouth flaps of the characters leading to them talking with no movement or talking with no sound.
Visuals & Audio
Supermassive Games has made sure that most of their presentation here is top notch. The character animations as well as the models are extremely well detailed with all of the characters having a unique feeling to them and a couple of them you may even recognize. This is especially true for the enigmatic Curator that appears from time to time in the story to check in on the player as his design and air of superiority comes across excellently here. It is a bit disappointing to say that the shipwreck itself makes for an unfortunately bland feeling area after a while though this is mostly due to the fact that it has to be a rusted out ship with very little room for variation.
The sound designs are perfectly handled for a horror game such as this and the voice work is similarly perfect here, though the characters may sound a bit dumb from time to time to fit in with standard horror tropes. The background music is great at creating a tension filled atmosphere and players will be delighted to hear that the developers have returned with a new cover of “A Conversation with Death” as the intro for the game.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan may not feature the most innovative horror story but it does deliver a solid and spooky enough story that makes the best of its camera angles to unnerve the player and provide plenty of scares all while building up the tension as to what may possibly happen next to our struggling survivors. Featuring extensive branching paths that can alter the story depending on your choices as well as who manages to stay alive makes Man of Medan a game rife with possibilities and numerous playthroughs. If only there were the ability to skip through dialogue a bit or speed things up a little to make subsequent run throughs a bit quicker and fewer issues with the game’s engine.