As the first entry of Supermassive Games upcoming The Dark Pictures Anthology, Man of Medan really needed to impress and show that the cult success of 2015’s Until Dawn wasn’t just a one-time thing. While the latest cinematic horror adventure from the studio does a solid job with some of the defining mechanics they introduced in Until Dawn, the overall product really fails to impress on many levels.
The Dark Pictures Anthology is a brand-new series of games that will explore various horror tropes across multiple titles. Each game will focus just as heavily (if not more heavily) on player choice and building the relationships between the main characters. Through this, the studio can tell a story that changes minimally or quite drastically depending on the player’s decisions and chosen paths. Man of Medan does a really good job of giving players all of the power of choice, and the game’s various branching paths leave a lot of room for exploration. Unfortunately, though, there are a lot of rough edges to take into account as you explore the derelict ghost ship that the entire game centers around.
Man of Medan follows a group of four friends and their boat captain as they head out into the South Pacific Ocean in search of an old plane wreck that’s said to be in the area. The emphasis on building relationships between characters and player choice is very apparent as players are faced with big choices right from the start of the main story. Two brothers, Alex and Brad are busy prepping the beer that they will undoubtedly ingest on their trip out to sea. While doing so, they converse amongst themselves, talking about Alex's trip to med school, Brad's nerdiness, and even broach the idea of Alex making a very big decision soon. As they talk, choices become available, decisions that can change how the two approach each other throughout the rest of the trip.
Will Alex and Brad start off the trip on a rocky slope? Or will they support each other as they prepare to shove off on what will no doubt become one of the most memorable trips of their lives. It’s a good way to start the main adventure, though the happy-go-lucky tone is definitely a weird change following the game’s opening moments, which offers a fairly dark origin story for the ghost ship that the group stumbles upon later in the game.
Those opening moments are actually one of the things I dislike about Man of Medan. While it sets the stage for the story, I felt that the opening bit—which is set after WW2 and follows a couple of drunk soldiers as the ship quickly falls into chaos—gave away a bit too much for my liking, and it was already pretty apparent from those opening moments where the big twist in Man of Medan would take players. It’s a good way to set the tone, but overall, I’d have liked to see them play a bit more loosely with those opening minutes, and really drive the supernatural setting home.
After you make it through the opening, though, Man of Medan drags you through quite a bit before you finally get to return to the ghost ship. Players are quickly introduced to the various members of the cast, including Alex and Brad, Julia and Conrad, and finally the captain of the Duke of Milan, Fliss. Fliss is a real stubborn captain, who wants to do things by the book. Unfortunately, as usually happens in these types of stories, the rest of the crew isn’t into the whole “by the books” kind of thing, and that’s what allows the story to veer in the direction that it does.
Not the vacation you expected
I won’t spoil the story here, considering how important the story is to this kind of game. The dialogue options feel good, and the weight of choices (especially those made in quick response to intense situations) really help to drive the story forward. One thing I did notice—which was also an issue in Until Dawn—is that often the tone of the voices doesn’t really fit the scene and many of the character animations feel stiff as you move around the world. Intense scenes of fear are often broken up by un-immersive voice lines that don’t paint that same fear in the player’s mind, which can lead to some disconnects between the tone that the game is trying to hit and the tone that it actually manages to hit. The faces on many of the characters also look weird during some scenes, with many of them looking almost like wax figures at times. This itself can be unsettling and also pulls you from the scene that Supermassive is trying to paint.
While Man of Medan sells itself as a horror game, most of the time it feels more like a lite thriller, with much of the tension that could make it scary being undercut by the weird voice lines and the fact that the big twist of the game was already pretty well spoiled from the start. The environments are really good, though, and the developers have done a good job of building up to each character’s round of “insanity” Where Until Dawn did a good job of kind of lumping all of the tension together, Man of Medan brings it in small spurts, giving players a bit of a lull between each to catch their breath.
The problem with the entire setting, though, is that it never really feels as eerie as I’d expect a ghost ship to. Most of the tension here is created in quick jump scares, or through “blink and you miss it” moments. Of course, there was some good in here. For instance, after making your way onto the ghost ship, one character begins to see things that quickly build up to an intense and action-packed confrontation, a confrontation that feels good and really hits the highs of what Man of Medan has to offer.
Unfortunately, that’s where the power of choice becomes a weakness, at least in terms of story. Because so many of the game’s scenes are based around choices you’ve made in the past, you can often find yourself thrown into the middle of conversations or circumstances that don’t make much sense. This makes for an oddly paced experience that leaves quite a bit to be desired in the long term. This uneven pacing is further broken up by the appearance of the Curator, who can often be seen lurking around as you play through the story. The Curator offers advice and criticism of your choices, and sometimes even congratulates you on the good decisions that you've made so far.
Safety in numbers
Don’t play alone is a big part of the advertising for Man of Medan and Supermassive have done a solid job of bringing players two ways to play through the story with their friends. The first mode, Movie Night, allows you to work with up to four of your friends to play through the story on a single console. Through this mode, players will take turns making decisions for each character, which really puts the entire story in your hands. It’s a really nice way to experience Man of Medan and is no doubt something that many will enjoy.
The other multiplayer mode, Shared Story mode, allows you to team up with one other person in an online cooperative game. You play through the main campaign as usual, but each person takes control of a different character for various scenes. It’s a really cool way to play through the game, though you will miss out on certain scenes depending on how far apart the characters get. This can make for some nice surprises, though, and you’ll need to work together with your cooperative partner if you want to survive the nightmare and make it off the boat with everyone still alive.
The multiplayer portion of Man of Medan is by far one of its big saving graces. Being able to experience the full breadth of the story with a friend offers some unique and intriguing opportunities to turn and twist the story in new directions, as you won’t have control over some of the characters that you would normally have control over. The downside, though, is that you can’t drop new players into your solo save files. Instead, you’ll need to play through the game in a multiplayer-only save file, which could be tedious for those trying to play through it alone and with a friend.
Not your premier travel destination
I really wanted to love Man of Medan. The power of choice is such a nice element and being able to directly control some of the relationships with the decisions I made was by far one of my favorite parts of the entire experience. Unfortunately, the story’s pacing is all over the place, and the tone of some of the voice lines completely pulls you from the moment. On top of that, if you’re planning on playing the game on PC, I’d highly suggest picking up a gamepad as controlling the characters on the keyboard can be quite the ordeal. I’m not sure how to explain it exactly, but it feels like the controls are delayed, or sometimes not even picked up at all.
While Man of Medan isn’t the greatest game you’ll play this year, it does a good enough job of setting the Dark Pictures Anthology series out to sea. Unfortunately, the unevenly paced story, the out-of-tone voice lines, and the stiff animations make for a subpar experience that we will hopefully see improved in later iterations of the series.
This review is based upon a PC code provided by the publisher. The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan will be available on August 30 for PlayStation 4, PC, and Xbox One.
Man of Medan
- Heavy emphasis on player choice
- Expanded relationship system opens up new paths and conversations
- Secrets and info push players to explore the world
- Beautiful and highly detailed environments
- Unique multiplayer modes create new twists and turns with each playthrough
- Stiff character animations
- Out-of-tone voice lines
- Uneven story pacing
- PC controls feel delayed and unresponsive
- The big twist isn't all that surprising
- Standard horror character tropes
Josh Hawkins posted a new article, Man of Medan review: Troubled waters ahead
Great review, and I really like the Shack website's formatting of the article, looks nice. Shame this isn't an unqualified slam dunk, but it still looks like fun. How would you say it compares, overall, to Until Dawn?
I'd honestly say that Man of Medan does a lot better job with the overall mechanics and making your choices feel very impactful (also the amount of branching paths available is really great, more than Until Dawn had). But overall the story is much weaker and the game just has some big issues that honestly could have been fixed and it would have been a much greater game.
Both awesome and a bummer to hear. Still excited to check this one out.
Yeah, I mean if you enjoyed Until Dawn and the campy horror stories, then this will probably be a fairly enjoyable playthrough for you, especially if you can get a friend in to join you. The cooperative stuff is really cool and opens up some nice twists and turns because you don't have control over how your friend is going to react to things.
Sounds like a Dishonored 2 situation, just a few glaring misteps away from being a classic
I'd say that's a really good way to look at it, yeah.