2015’s Until Dawn was a surprise hit. The game was a cinematic interactive horror title that saw players try to survive the deadly horrors of Blackwood Mountain. It proved popular enough that it spawned a PlayStation VR spinoff and prequel, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood and The Inpatient. Now, Supermassive Games are at it again with a new horror title, but this time they’ve laid the foundations for a series known as The Dark Pictures Anthology. The first game in the series, Man of Medan, is arguably a safe first entry but still remains an enjoyable experience.
Man of Medan begins by introducing players to a World War II naval ship that is carrying four locked coffins; a strange cargo to say the least. On a stormy night the coffins are struck by lightning which sets in motion a series of events where the sailors aboard begin to see ghosts and are mysteriously killed. Fast forward to the present day and a group of four friends hire a private charter boat (along with its captain) to take them to a dive site where they find a crashed plane.
During the dive the group discover the coordinates of a supposed treasure horde, but their plans to find it go awry when their boat is the target of a surprise pirate raid. The pirates soon learn of the treasure and take the five with them to where it is located. But of course, the coordinates lead to the very location of the World War II ship we were introduced to earlier. Now a rusting shadow of its former glory, it becomes apparent something went wrong, as there are decaying corpses everywhere and unexplained supernatural experiences which haunt the group. Players must ultimately guide the five individuals and escape not only the pirates, but also the ghostly entities that haunt the ship.
The story takes approximately five hours to complete. The plot is interesting and has a couple of neat twists, particularly as you reach the third act. Unlike Until Dawn, Man of Medan doesn’t have the same campy B-grade movie vibe going for it. It’s a more serious tale, but at times lacks comic relief and doesn’t quite have that extra bit of appeal going for it. This isn’t helped by the main set piece being the haunted ship itself – environments within the ship are rusted hallways and darkened rooms. Before long it all begins to look much the same. The pacing does pick up when the characters begin hallucinating, but due to the narrative’s length these moments are short lived. There are also a lot of jump scares – heads dropping to the floor, doors slamming shut, mysterious noises bellowing in the background and figures appearing just as the camera shifts to another scene. It adds tension but there are really only a handful of times where you’ll be on the edge of your seat, namely when a character is being chased by a poltergeist or when the pirates are on the offensive.
Conversations and decisions play a large part in dictating how the narritive progresses. Throughout the game you will take control of each of the five main characters and decide how best to react to the situation that’s playing out. This can be as simple as deciding if you’ll drink a beer or give advice on if another character should propose to their girlfriend. At other times there may be more serious decisions such as choosing to run off and leave another character behind or trying to sneak a distress signal when being held hostage. It’s possible for all characters to die or survive by the end of the game’s story, so it generally pays to be cautious when deciding how you should progress. You can even see how other characters react to your choices and how their bonds change through the course of the game.
One particular element that doesn’t quite work are the game’s quick time events. These normally occur during sequences where characters are running away or trying to navigate dangerous obstacles. You’re given prompts to press buttons but you usually have no forewarning and the timing needs to be precise. This can lead to the untimely demise of one of the cast, which makes it feel like a cheap consequence and spoils the narrative flow.
Taking inspiration from games such as Gone Home, players will solve the mystery of what happened to the ship’s original crew by interacting with the environment. Scattered throughout the ship are journals, reports and photos which slowly paint a larger picture of what happened and explains the supernatural phenomenon. To assist players the game highlights any relevant items with a sparkle and keeps track of what you have found. It encourages players to thoroughly search each room in hopes of finding that last piece to the puzzle. There are also pictures which will provide premonitions of the future, hinting at upcoming events and how players should react.
While Man of Medan can be played alone, it has predominantly been designed as a multiplayer experience. There are two multiplayer modes; Shared Story and Movie Night. Shared Story is an online mode for two players where each player will play as a separate characters simultaneously. Sometimes the players will interact during the same scene, while at other times the players will be playing through their own separate scenarios. Movie Night is a local multiplayer option for up to five players where everyone controls a different character. This mode is also played with one controller, so you will have to pass it around. What makes multiplayer interesting is everyone will make their own choices and change the outcome of the narrative. The relatively short length of the game also means you can easily finish it in one or two sittings, which is perfect for game nights with friends and family.
Man of Medan’s visuals are pleasing to the eyes. Environments and character models are detailed and cast performances are solid. There is, however, some occasional stuttering when switching from normal gameplay to cutscenes or when the game is calculating a significant choice you made that affects the narrative. This shouldn’t impact your enjoyment too much, but it’s disappointing this couldn’t be ironed out for launch.
Man of Medan is a safe first entry for The Dark Pictures Anthology. It has an enjoyable narrative, pleasing visuals and is a great multiplayer game. The game isn’t without its faults though, there are some performance issues, the ship can become a little too same-y after a while and the game relies a little too much on jump scares. Fans of Until Dawn should definitely check it out.
Rocket Chainsaw reviewed The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan on a PS4 base console. It is also available on Xbox One and PC formats.
- Enjoyable narrative - Pleasing visuals - Great game for multiplayer nights
- Some performance issues - Too many jump scares - Quick time events can lead to unfair deaths