When Supermassive Games announced Until Dawn way back in 2012, it was met with a certain amount of disdain. Initially, it was intended for PlayStation 3 and was to be played using the Move controllers, which was seen as somewhat of a gimmick.
It was delayed, released for PS4 and playable with an ordinary controller. It turned out to be a surprisingly great teen horror adventure – so much so that there has been a sequel and a spin-off.
Given this success, Supermassive has doubled down on interactive horror. The Dark Pictures is a new Anthology series, and Man of Medan is the first title to be released under this new brand.
With titles in the anthology expected to be released every six months or so, how does Man of Medan fare in comparison to the original hit?
Man of Medan Review
Man of Medan plays much like Until Dawn. Players control one of a group of young adults, a different one depending on the progression of the story. At certain points in the narrative, players are provided with a choice between one of two responses or outcomes.
This determines the progression of the storyline. Making a bad decision can result in the death of one of the protagonists.
In The Dark Pictures series, however, there is an addition – the Curator. At select points in the narrative, the Curator will appear to discuss how well you may or may not be doing, as well as provide players with tips, should you choose to.
While this does break up the action, it also provides some in-world narrative or explanation towards replayability. Rather than experiencing a set story, you are effectively playing through a “choose your own adventure,” and this time, Supermassive owns this comparison.
Where Until Dawn played out in a cliche “cabin in the woods,” Man of Medan plays out on the ocean. Beginning with a prologue set in the 1940s, players are introduced to a strange outbreak that occurs on the Ouran Medan – translated as “Man of Medan” – a freighter ship that has come across some… interesting cargo.
Soon, the game cuts to the present day, with a group of young adults planning a trip out to investigate some sunken ruins. Shenanigans ensue, and they find themselves aboard the Man of Medan with several antagonists; both real and supernatural.
The story itself is fun; thrilling and tense at times, with some clear branches to entice multiple playthroughs. Hidden throughout the multiple environments are clues towards the fate of the Man of Medan, which play out as collectibles.
In addition, players can track down hanging pictures, which provide minor epiphanies; flashes into a potential future outcome. Considering some of those that I found never came to pass during my initial playthrough, there are several directions that the story can take, and finding all collectibles will likely require more than one playthrough.
Interestingly, Supermassive has also added a co-op component to the game. This can be played locally (with a “pass the controller” method) or simultaneously online. As we played the game prior to release, we were not able to test this mode, but given most of the time there are two characters involved in any interaction, it is expected that the game will play out much the same.
However, I’d be interested to know if this results in multiple decisions and thus further permutations…
In terms of playability, it depends on what you may expect to get out of such a game. This is not the type of game to play if you are looking for an action-adventure along the lines of Tomb Raider. That said, it is definitely more interactive than similar story-based titles by Telltale Games – it sits somewhere in between.
However, it’s certainly engaging, and feels very much like a movie, mostly due to the camera positioning and sound.
Control is… not perfect.
While the camera angles are effective for tension and immersion, it often gets in the way of movement. Moving is clunky and unnatural as it is, but moving between scenes can change positioning significantly, requiring players to switch direction between screens. Thankfully there are no running sections that require twitch movement, but it is still frustrating.
Further, the Quick-Time Events used for certain actions are occasionally poorly timed and unintuitive. Some can be easily missed, and other times it can be tricky to understand whether you need to press once or press multiple times.
It also seems like failing these have little effect on the narrative – apart from slowing things down. Still, these QTEs may be part of the branching narrative, and not so much result in character deaths, which I felt was a better way to approach this style of gameplay.
Overall, I felt as though Man of Medan was a shorter experience compared to Until Dawn, but given the price point, this is understandable. I personally didn’t enjoy the setting as much as Until Dawn, but I feel that is more of a subjective comparison, as the writing itself was of a similar pedigree.
Given the tension that the setting provides, the multiple game modes, and the inherent replayability, I’d say Supermassive has improved on an already solid formula for interactive horror storytelling.
While I personally didn’t gel with the setting as much as its predecessor, the shorter narrative and anthology presentation suits the title better than a standalone full-priced title, and I am very much looking forward to more titles in the series.
The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan was reviewed on PS4 using a digital code provided by Bandai Namco.
Game Title: The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan