Supermassive Games is back with not just another narrative game, but rather the groundwork for an anthology. The Dark Pictures Anthology appears to be a series of smaller horror games, in the spirit of Until Dawn. I use the word “appears” as Man of Medan is the only title in the collection at this point, but the developer has already teased the next title, Little Hope. So, what is Man of Medan?
Five attractive people find themselves on a boat for a scuba diving trip. Things happen, which ultimately leads them to a ghost ship. Here the characters keep splitting the party, and (hopefully) avoid a grisly murder. I would like to avoid spoilers in this review, so I won’t discuss details of the plot any further.
The actual “gameplay” in Man of Medan involves walking around different ships, finding collectibles, and progressing the story. Every so often you’ll be presented with a choice, and the game remembers your choices, altering the story later on as a result. You can learn how your choices altered the course of the story from one of the in-game menus.
As you play through the game, your progress is automatically saved after making a choice. Sometimes those choices can result in the death of a character, which you just have to deal with since you can’t restart from the last checkpoint; the death IS the checkpoint. This isn’t a new mechanic by any means, as other narrative driven games adopt this approach. However, when given two options, knowing that one of those options can kill a character adds a sense of unease.
Every so often, you’ll have to play Quick Time Event. Regardless of your opinions on QTEs, they fit well into Man of Medan’s overall experience. Since the game likes to write down everything you do, presenting the player with a series of quick button presses provides the game with another thing to remember. Although it does seem like there is some wiggle room. I did find some cases where you can fail an event without it immediately resulting in character death. In the very least it’s somewhat forgiving.
Man of Medan embraces the ghost ship concept, and has fun with it. There are plenty of scenes where things will appear in the corner of the screen, just long enough for your brain to register something, but then there’s a quick camera change before you’re able to fully realize what you saw. Leaving you wondering if maybe your brain is playing tricks on you (spoilers: it isn’t). There was one such moment where this happened, and forced me to pause the game for a minute, as I needed a moment to recuperate.
The story was enjoyable for a horror story. Kids find boat. Boat has ghosts. Kids try to stay away from ghosts, and fail horribly. As with most horror movies, if you approach the story in Man of Medan with a “I want to have fun” mentality, you’ll get your fun. The pacing was handled well, as I always got a break to calm down, just so the action could rise up again in another scene.
The characters were fun, but part of that is because you get to shape who they are with different dialog options. The character Conrad, for example, is initially presented as an arrogant rich kid. In my play-through, he ended up being a reckless guy with a heart of gold, mostly because that’s how I told him to act. Admittedly, this could be one of the problems of the game, since I want to see all the characters make it to the finale, I usually picked dialog options that seemed to promote camaraderie, even though tension in the group makes for great drama. Regardless, I had fun with the characters.
The audio design in Man of Medan is fantastic, even down to the QTEs. In cases where the player has to make a decision under duress, there is an audible “ticking” sound, as a reminder that the game will simply choose an outcome for you if you don’t pick something. This small touch really adds pressure. One of the QTE variants is a rhythm mini-game where you press a button to the timing of a character’s heartbeat, which always had me on the edge of my seat. I found myself trying to fall into a rhythm with the beats, but the frequency that the beats occurred would change, so don’t do that.
Acquiring all of the achievements/trophies for this game will be somewhat tedious, largely due to the inability to skip dialog (at least, not that I could find at the time of this writing). You’ll have to play through familiar scenes over again if you’re trying to collect all of the achievements/trophies. Fortunately, there is a Chapter Select feature you can unlock after completing the game once, but you only get to pick the start of a chapter, so you’ll still have to play through the whole thing even when you only want to make a single small change at the end.
Again, like Until Dawn, movement felt clunky. The hallways would frequently trap the characters. This would lead to awkward moments where I have to figure out how to get the character to move again. Points of interest sparkle in the background, inviting you to walk towards them. But they only become active when the character is in a very particular position, and it’s easy to walk by that position accidentally. I recall multiple occasions where I had to walk the character around the room in a loop just to get these points to trigger properly.
Lastly, the game loves building the world with scattered notes. This is fine, but many of these notes had a handwritten response on the back, which is weird when you think about it. Imagine a scenario where you get some junk mail. Do you A) throw it away and never think about it again, or B) write about how annoyed you are with junk mail on the back of the same piece of mail?
Admittedly, I’m being a bit harsh with this last point. For whatever reason, it stood out to me.
If we’re still making comparisons, Man of Medan was noticeably shorter than Until Dawn. It only took me about 4-5 hours to complete. However, there appears to be a decent amount of replayability, especially if you’re trying to see everything. To compensate, the price of the game is roughly half of what a normal AAA game would cost.
The game did make use of jump scares, so if that’s not your thing, you’ll probably hate the experience. I wouldn’t say they used them to the point where the game suffered, but that’s a fairly subjective opinion. They never bothered me. Regardless, you’ve been warned.
Technically this should fall under “The Good” header of this review. I wanted to comment on the multiplayer independently of my other comments. The game provides two interesting options for multiplayer, which may seem like an odd inclusion in a narrative-driven game. However, they work well.
The couch co-op option is Movie Night mode, where 2-5 players take turns with a single controller. Each player picks a character (or picks more than one if there are fewer than five players). The game will call out turns at the start of each scene, prompting the last player to pass the controller. Since each scene generally follows a single character, this ends up working like a party game of sorts. All of the players have to deal with the decisions made by the last person to hold the controller.
Shared Story mode is an online co-op mode, where both players take control of a different character simultaneously. So while you’re exploring one part of the boat with Alex, the other player is controlling Fliss elsewhere. Decisions made by both players alter the story; yep, you can troll the other player in this mode.
This mode is interesting, in that it technically provides additional content. While one player is playing through the same scene you would see in the solo mode, player two can control one of the other characters, allowing them to see what was going on.
Overall, the multiplayer options are great. I’m looking forward to having a “movie night” with my friends.
Overall, it’s a similar experience to Until Dawn. The whole game is shorter by comparison, but it also costs less, so I’m not complaining. If anything, I’m excited by the idea of a series of smaller stories, and very much excited to see future entries in The Dark Pictures Anthology.