When Until Dawn released in 2015, it was touted as one of the best PlayStation 4 exclusives, with fans of the game clamouring for Supermassive Games to continue making horror-themed interactive dramas. After crafting a few VR titles over the last couple of years, Supermassive are finally returning to a game in the Until Dawn mould in the form of The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan, the first of five titles in what is planned to become a long-running horror game franchise. While The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan may be scaled down in length in and lack familiar actors in comparison to Until Dawn, it does manage to tell yet another interesting horror tale, where your choices determine whether or not each character lives or dies.
It’s time to go on an adventure!
Being an interactive drama where overall gameplay is minimal, you’d expect the narrative of Man of Medan to be strong, and thankfully it is. The narrative sees you playing as five young adults who set off on a diving trip in the South Pacific, hoping to track down a rumoured WWII wreck. In typical horror movie fashion, things go awry quite quickly, leading to the diving crew being held captive on a ghost ship by some morally corrupt fishermen. It becomes immediately evident that this ghost ship is indeed (who would’ve guessed it) haunted, with each character affected by different hallucinations throughout their time on the ship. I won’t go into any further details to avoid spoiling the plot, but the story does well in explaining why the ship is haunted, and it’s not in a way you’d expect. The narrative of Man of Medan is utterly enthralling throughout, with its almost hallucinogenic-inspired nature making sure scares and absurdity litter the halls of the derelict and gloomy ghost ship. It may not be the scariest horror game around, but Man of Medan’s atmosphere always seems to keep you on edge.
While I loved the overall story of Man of Medan, I couldn’t say that I really fell in love with any of the characters. This doesn’t mean I disliked them, they are all serviceable, I just felt the lack of character development led to me never having a character I wanted to survive above all else. Conrad, the confident and cocky rich kid was probably my favourite of the bunch if I had to pick in part due to his comic relief, but I didn’t really vibe at all with anyone. I feel Brad, Fliss and Alex would have benefited from further character development, whereas I don’t think anything could’ve made me enjoy Julia.
I didn’t vibe with Julia at all
Gameplay in The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan is rather simple. In the vein of narrative-based games like Life is Strange or any of the Telltale Games episodic series, most of your gameplay time is spent meandering through the environment interacting with everything you can. You can just walk to wherever you’re told to go to progress the narrative, however you do have the option to piece together what is going on through clues littered throughout the ship. Clues such as letters from the crew on the ship help you establish what the issue may have been onboard, while the picture frames that you encounter display visions of the future that aid in helping you avoid (or walk into) events that could see a character die. QTEs do feature throughout cutscenes, ensuring you always need to be on your toes, and while many people don’t love them, I don’t mind a quick button press. The QTE where you have to tap in time with your characters heartbeat in tense moments feels awesome, as your heart starts racing in the fear of making a mistake. You’re not going to be experiencing any new miraculous gameplay systems as you plough through Man of Medan, but that of course doesn’t matter at all, as the game succeeds in providing the solid yet simplistic gameplay you’d expect from what is essentially an interactive novel.
As opposed to Until Dawn, The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan does have a couple of cooperative modes. The first mode, Shared Story allows for you to play through the game online with a friend, with both players playing as each character interchangeably. What is unique to this mode however, is that when characters split up, you and your co-op partner also split up. For example, one player is on the boat playing a character, while the other is playing a character underwater on a dive, with the game playing both of these scenes in parallel. What’s also cool is the fact that when your characters are hallucinating and seeing things, your co-op partner won’t see what you’re seeing, leading to plenty of “did you see that!” moments. There’s also another mode called Movie Night, which is a mode in which 2-5 players can play the game locally. Each player picks a character and you take turns passing the controller around playing your set character. This mode is a fun time if you’ve got family or friends keen to play.
The gameplay is simple but serviceable
While I did have a great time with Man of Medan, I did encounter numerous frustrations throughout my playthrough. One of the biggest disappointments of The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan is the fact that the game ends abruptly with no real explanation as to what exactly has just happened. While I may not have seen every ending the game has to offer, the fact that some of the endings fail to tie up loose ends in the narrative ultimately muddies what is otherwise a great experience. Another problem I had in some cases with the narrative is that some characters when they die feel like they are forgotten completely, as it seems to slip from the character’s minds that one of their friends or family have been brutally murdered. For example, one of the characters in my playthrough was killed just minutes from the game’s ending, only for her brother not to react at all, and her fiance to utter something close to the most generic phrase one could say after a character death, “It should have been me.”
Unfortunately further issues with the game arise due to some shoddy performance. Occasional frame drops and out of sync audio occur a little too often, which squanders some of the atmosphere the game ardently strives to create. Other than these complaints, I can’t say that I didn’t have an excellent time with the Man of Medan, it’s just a shame that these shortcomings weigh down what is otherwise an epic first entry in The Dark Pictures Anthology.
Performance struggles let the game down
The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan is a thrilling 5-6 horror romp.The narrative is gripping, the horror atmosphere is perfectly executed and the co-op gameplay modes offer a unique and interesting way to experience the game’s brilliant story. The lack of character development does make it harder to find a character to root for in terms of their survival, and the abrupt and awkward ending (at least in one of my playthroughs) does feel like a hefty slap to the face. Technical issues are also a disappointment, but despite the minor frustrations I had with Man of Medan, I still found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and I’m keen to see what sort of tale The Dark Pictures Anthology has in store for us next.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher