Title: The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan
Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Genre: Horror, Adventure
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 30/08/19
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is Supermassive’s second attempt at the winning formula they created with Until Dawn back in 2015. Their style of horror game emulates playing a horror film more than any other game in the genre with their deliberate scene framing and ever-advancing story. But is this second attempt twice as good as the first, or is it lost at sea? Read on to find out.
Our story begins in the South Pacific with our 5 protagonists ready for a little bit of sun, scuba diving, and relaxation. Specifically, they are looking for the wreckage of a WWII era bomber that went missing during a rescue mission that has never been located. You’re quickly introduced to each of the characters without much time to get a real understanding of their relationships. For starters, you have the geeky and awkward Brad, accompanied by his more confident older brother Alex. You’re quickly joined by Alex’s girlfriend, Julia, and her obnoxious brother, Conrad, Connie for short. Rounding out the group is the captain of the expedition, Fliss. As you can expect from a horror game, things turn sour, and the group finds themselves in a struggle to survive that you’ll guide them through while uncovering a long-lost mystery.
The gameplay has not changed much at all from Until Dawn, for better or worse. Things feel a little stiffer this time around and much more linear due to the confined setting. You’ll explore the various areas you visit, finding documents and items that will open new conversations and give new options for combat and overcoming obstacles. Some of these items will provide vital information that could mean life or death for a member of your crew. Choices you make will impact a character’s personality and relationship with others. If a character is too bold, they may make dangerous decisions that could have disastrous side effects when you’re not in control. But someone dying doesn’t mean you replay a segment, it means the story moves on without that character who met an unfortunate end. That’s the genius of Super Massive’s approach to the horror genre. The feeling that your characters could die at any moment and that the story will press onwards, no matter who is alive.
Fail states in Man of Medan don’t send you back to a checkpoint, which is a godsend in horror games where replaying sections can be detrimental to the feeling of dread that should permeate each encounter. Then again, not every fail state means death either. A poorly executed quick-time event or poor choice could merely wound that character, leaving them vulnerable later, or put them in a dangerous predicament that they can later escape, or be saved from.
One addition that Supermassive made that stemmed from the way many people played Until Dawn is a multiplayer mode. You have two options; movie night lets you tell the game how many people are playing with you and input their names. As you progress through the story and change characters, the game will prompt you to hand the controller off to someone else. The other is a two-player mode where you play with the other person online on your platform of choice. While I played the game alone (on the Rapid Reviews Twitch channel, give it a follow), many people enjoyed playing Until Dawn with friends, and I predict this will be a much-beloved feature in Man of Medan and the rest of The Dark Pictures Anthology.
Playing on PC, the frame rate was never a problem, which is nice for a cinematic game, but as long as you can maintain a steady 30 frames per second, things will be fine. I have heard that console versions may have less consistent performance, at least on the base models. This may or may not be fixed in a patch by the time you read this. While there are occasional quick-time events, most of your time is spent exploring and is not drastically impacted by decreases in frame rate. The main five characters look good, although there seemed to be occasional instances of lip-syncing not matching up and characters spawning in full view of the camera. The environments are spooky, and the framing of each shot allows Supermassive to set up plenty of scary moments. However, things do become kind of bland and nondescript in the latter half of the game after you’ve spent a few hours inside the ship. There is also an over-reliance on jump scares instead of earned terror.
With Man of Medan, Supermassive continues to play with horror tropes and find ways to subvert and manipulate your expectations. Things may not be exactly what they appear on the surface but dive a little deeper, and you’ll uncover a vast amount of lore and history that serve to flavour the game. There are a lot of clues to uncover, and it’s unlikely you’ll discover the full story on your first playthrough.
But, wait! There’s more…
The game features a “Curator’s cut,” with the Curator being a figure not dissimilar to the psychologist in Until Dawn. He will pop up occasionally throughout the story to comment on your actions and drop hints about how things are going. The Curator’s cut has you play through the story again, seeing alternate perspectives on the events of the game. You’ll give up direct control in some instances, with the personality you’ve cultivated instead taking over. Perhaps you were a little too bold and the AI makes a series of dangerous decisions with disastrous consequences. In the Curator’s cut, you play the entirety of the game a second time but armed with knowledge previously unavailable to you. This can help you keep characters out of danger or explore new, more adventurous paths.
The flip side to the Curators Cut, however, is it exposes some of the limitations of the experience. There are only so many areas of the ship to explore, and they’re very linear. You can investigate side rooms, but many of them have little to offer and are easy to disregard on a second playthrough. Once you have completed a playthrough, you can use scene selection to go back to a specific moment in the game and replay it, which is nice if you make a poor decision late in the game that you regret. Overall, the game would have been better served by allowing the player to choose which character they wanted to follow in a given scene, though this could disrupt the flow of multiplayer with more than two or three people.
Unfortunately, Man of Medan starts too quickly and ends abruptly. We don’t have time to get to know the characters before things begin to break bad, and the climax and conclusion of the game happen far too rapidly and have far too many plot holes. Dialogue is often so over the top that it distracts from the tension and attempts to frighten. The conversations between Brad and Alex have some of the most egregious lines, oversaturated with “bro this” and “bro that.” At times it felt like watching the “dude” scene from Baseketball.
On my first play through all the protagonists survived, but I didn’t get the “best ending.” That alone is a neat result; however, the outcome that I got seemed hastily and shoddily cut together with scenes appearing seemingly out of sequence and featured a nonsensical rescue operation. I left the Theatrical cut feeling frustrated and disappointed. The Curator’s cut did little to alleviate those frustrations because, while I did make different choices, I did not feel that my outcome was any more satisfying or that I gained any truly new information which shed new light on the story.
The Dark Picture’s Anthology: Man of Medan is a continuation of Until Dawn but not an evolution. Numerous moments had me scratching my head, not because of narrative elements, but because of the ways they were presented or executed. The game feels unpolished, and like it was rushed out the door. It would have been nice if they were able to wait another month to release the game to fix some of these issues. But, despite its flaws, I enjoyed my time with it and look forward to the next entry in the series, Little Hope, due next year. If you loved Until Dawn, you’ll be satisfied with what Man of Medan offers. However, if you’ve never played Until Dawn, you may be best served by playing that instead, for a more polished experience.