Title: The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan
Developer: Supermassive Games
Release Date: August 30, 2019
Reviewed On: Xbox One
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer Supermassive Games showed me a unique way to experience narrative-driven video games with their 2015 release Until Dawn. While it not only scared the crap out of me, it also gave me a chance to show friends just how immersive and engaging video games can be. The game didn’t require you to be a skillful swordsman or solve complex puzzles; it merely presented you with options that carried severe, unforgettable consequences.
I’m glad to see that the developer isn’t over exploring this medium with their newest game, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan. Here, we see the beginning of a series that they aim to grow. As the first entry to something more, Man of Medan excels in several areas of horror, story development, and sound design, but hardware limitations end up holding it back.
Man of Medan begins in an interesting way that sets up the ghoulish story that players will face. I don’t want to give away too much here so I’ll just skip ahead to the true beginning. Players will meet Alex, the boyfriend of Julia and older brother of Brad, as he plans a dive with a group of people close to him. Julia brings her older brother Conrad and the ship’s captain, Fliss, also joins the party. The party of five then set out to explore a sunken craft that hasn’t been discovered by the mass population yet.
Their chemistry as a group flows naturally. The developers have mastered the art of making conversations feel natural even though they are based on the player’s input. The game allows you to attribute personalities to each of the characters through choices made during dialog, which can either turn out for better or for worse. The opening of the game allows you to firmly establish who these characters will be for the duration of the adventure and while they can be redeemed during several moments later on in the game, you’ll be making some pretty heavy decisions in the first hour.
While the opening of moments of the game is somewhat relaxing, this doesn’t last long after pirates seize the group. During negotiations and endless threats, the crew discovers a giant abandoned ship that they board to get out of a massive storm. This is where the supernatural comes into play and the player is then at the mercy of their choices, both past, and present.
The ship itself is interesting because there isn’t a map that shows where you are or where you are going. This means that the developer can just put winding corridors wherever they see fit, and you’ll simply have to believe that this is the layout of a ship. Interestingly, the characters even comment on being lost several times to the point that they think they are going around in circles. In some ways, it does seem like this, but there are often distinct rooms and large areas that will distinguish one set of hallways from the other.
What doesn’t make complete sense is the casual conversations these characters can have during some moments of the game. I mean, they are running from killers, but then take the time to joke about something. However, this ends up playing into the game’s overall charm and the relationships that you as the player create between the characters. If they don’t like each other, well you can expect more hostile comments, but if they’re friendly, then a joke will pop out every once in a while.
Supermassive Games knows how to scare the player and they seem to love the jump scare method, which gets me every time. The game attempts to play with your mind during exploration by flashing images in your peripheral view to make you question if you saw what you saw. It works wonderfully and keeps you always on high alert for anything to come next.
The atmosphere of the ship is dark and gloomy, which is a good and bad thing. Bad because the game is sometimes way too dark to see where you’re going and good because it sets the mood. However, nothing makes this game more of a horror experience than the excellent sound design — everything from the eerie creeks of the ship to the screams of a potential victim.
Sadly, the audio doesn’t always seem to match up with the mouths of the characters, which causes some confusion. At one point, the audio was playing almost five seconds before the scene even began. I hope these audio issues are fixed because it does affect some moments of the experience.
Man of Medan has some beautiful camera work that makes it feel like you are playing through a movie. What’s strange is how the quality of the game changes during different moments of the gameplay. There were times where characters and environments were crystal clear, but others where the resolution seemed to dip dramatically and it was quite noticeable. Furthermore, the framerate of the game is often a problem where scenes appear to be skipping. With that said, it didn’t end up affecting the experience that the game was trying to provide for me, as I was still highly invested in its world.
While Man of Medan can be experienced through a solo campaign, the multiplayer aspect of it is a huge focus. Players can play online co-op with a friend as they make choices and do their best to explore and develop their own horror story. I think the party mode is most interesting, perhaps being the best way to get your friends involved in your insane video game addiction that they don’t understand. This allows each of your friends to choose a character and make choices while that character is in play. If they die, then, that’s on them. It creates some unique moments because how one person perceives a character is not the same as someone else and their choices will show how that unfolds in the game.
There are also accessibility options where players can take off the quick time events that have you press a button quickly. These can be rather brutal at times, but I felt like they added to the intense nature of the scenes. There’s also a menu where you can check in on the relationship between the characters and review the choices that you made and perhaps ones that you’d like to change in future playthroughs.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan presents some amazing steps forward in the narrative adventure genre made by Supermassive Games. They have truly outdone themselves with their attention to story development and overall design. I was fully immersed in this world, which can, on average, take about six hours to get through, but, trust me, you’ll want to play through it again, multiple times.
The game has some hiccups in its framerate, but nothing takes away from its horrific storytelling and beautifully crafted set pieces. As a first entry to The Dark Pictures Anthology series, Man of Medan had me sweating from beginning to end as I attempted to save my friends whose lives were in my hands. What sucks is that after everyone died, I had no one to blame but myself.
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