Are you ready to tempt fate? Supermassive Games’ first entry in their new Dark Pictures Anthology (2019) series, “Man of Medan,” is a spiritual successor to their highly successful 2015 Sony exclusive game Until Dawn, in which players would control one or several characters through what is best described as an interactive horror film. Different outcomes would result from different decisions and who was alive by the end. “Man of Medan” takes after it’s predecessor with a similar premise but with a host of new features.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: “Man of Medan” follows a group of friends in a diving expedition in the South China Sea to explore a previously undiscovered WWII wreck. After a run-in with some locals, the group discovers a derelict military vessel and terrifying events quickly begin to unfold.
The story of Man of Medan starts off on a dive boat in the South Pacific. With a rumoured WWII wreck to find, and plenty of on-deck partying to be had, our group of 4 young Americans and their skipper Fliss get ready for what should be the trip of a lifetime…but it doesn’t go quite to plan. As the day unfolds, and a storm rolls in, they find themselves trapped on board a ghost ship. Subjected to unimaginable stress and terror, they must try to find a way to escape the ship and its sinister history.
Although the main outline for the story is set, the events that unfold are entirely under the player’s control. Each decision made not only influences the ultimate outcome, but also events in the short term. There are several different endings with any combination of characters surviving or not. Decisions are made through quick-time events in which players must react to on-screen prompts rapidly or face consequences. These come in three varieties: decisions (choose one of three options on screen), split-second button presses (a button with flash on screen), or button-mashing (repeatedly pressing the button on-screen). Successfully completing or failing a quick time event could result in life or death consequences for the characters.
Horror Anthology Roots
It’s easy to tell that The Dark Pictures Anthology: “Man of Medan” is a love letter to horror anthologies. With the enigmatic Curator, played by Pip Torrens (Preacher) as a host for the story you as the player are crafting and with more titles in the way the horror anthology roots are evident. However, the inspiration is a lot deeper for Supermassive than just a simple derivative of the genre. In fact, the style of the game in itself is an expression of the appreciation for horror cinema with options on the title screen such as “special features” and “theatrical” vs “curator’s cut” of the main story. One of these special features is a short documentary on the history of horror anthologies. The documentary was surprisingly in-depth, ranging from Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales, to the radio program Quiet, Please, to V/H/S (2012); tracing the spooky family tree of horror anthologies from its roots to The Dark Pictures Anthology.
A Spooky Summer Night With Friends
Perhaps it’s most emphasized feature, “Man of Medan” encourages you to play with friends. From the title screen, players can choose to either “Don’t Play Alone” or “Play Alone” in that order. Under “Don’t Play Alone,” players have the option of online co-op in which two players each take on different characters and play through the story separately with each player’s decisions influencing the other’s experience. Another option being a couch co-op playthrough in which players will pass the controller to another player with each being in charge of one character. Either way, the story will be unique and provide plenty of friendship testing opportunities!
The Technical Stuff
Supermassive is known for their story-driven, decision-based games with titles such as Until Dawn (2015) and Hidden Agenda (2017). What they are not known for is their game optimization. While “Man of Medan” looks beautiful with scenes of South Pacific sunsets and spooky tracking shots through the abandoned ghost ship, the game Itself is a bit clunky. Aside from optimization, there are issues with controls and transitions. The static camera and single joystick movement controls along with slow walking characters makes for a frustrating experience while navigating the tight corridors of the abandoned ocean liner. Additionally, the transitions from one scene to the next are often jarring. This is likely a necessary trade-off due to the branching style of storytelling. Every scene has to make sense with the one that came before and that can get complicated when the player is influencing which scene will come next. It’s understandable, but it does leave some transitions and the cohesion of the narrative a bit choppy.
Despite it’s less than perfect technical build, The Dark Pictures Anthology: “Man of Medan” offers a unique horror experience you can share with friends. With multiple options for multiplayer, Supermassive is definitely pointing the player towards the optimal experience. The story, admittedly simple as it is, is clearly the result of a labor of love from horror fans and pays respectful homage to its Anthology roots.
Immediately following the first completion of the story, is a short trailer for the next installment coming next year titled “Little Hope” which seems to take on folk horror with a Silent Hill vibe. I for one am super excited for the next installment
For now, though, I’ve got a series of collectibles left to find in Man of Medan as well as a “Curator’s Cut” to play! The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is available now on PC, PS4, and XBox. Will you be picking this title up? What are your thoughts? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or Instagram!