After 2015's Until Dawn, Supermassive Games started plotting out a new series very much in the same vein: The Dark Pictures Anthology. The first entry, Man of Medan, presents a bundle of scares with a great cast, who all turn in enjoyable performances. The branching narrative returns, and multiple characters live or die by the calls you make.
It looks great, with Unreal Engine 4 proving a worthy new engine (some frame rate problems aside), creating a fantastic, dark, slimy environment, especially if you've got an HDR TV. There's plenty of great spooky stuff to go through, though the story feels a bit too safe and restrained compared to Supermassive's prior work. At around $30 and about four hours to play through, with plenty of replayability, this is well worth grabbing if you're interested in narrative-driven horror games.
A solid new step
The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan
Bottom line: This is a great narrative-driven game and a good starting point for a horror anthology.
- Branching narrative
- Likeable cast
- Much-needed quality-of-life features
- Frame rate drops throughout
- The story is restrained and plays it safe
Man of Medan is a ghost story
Much like Until Dawn, control passes between a few different characters, who have to make choices and maintain their relationships. Since this is a shorter game, we follow a slightly smaller cast of five playable characters. Brad, who's the nerdy, introverted type who loves history. His brother Alex is the strong, more outgoing type, who is dating Julia, a bit of a thrillseeker and sister to Conrad, a funny but also obnoxious rich-kid type. Finally, there's Fliss, the captain of the Duke of Milan who has been booked to take these four out into the ocean to look at undersea wrecks.
There's plenty of good scares and the atmosphere is well-established.
The entire cast is likable, and they all turn in great performances, especially Conrad as portrayed by Shawn Ashmore, who previously held a lead role in Quantum Break. Still, my favorite character in the game is the one that the player doesn't control: the mysterious Curator, manager of the eclectic. After an excellent introductory sequence that Until Dawn veterans will smile at, the Curator is established as an all-knowing guide. He provides cryptic clues between chapters and will be present in future Dark Pictures Anthology titles.
This is a shorter game (I completed it in around four hours) so I don't want to "dive" too far into what happens. Suffice to say, this diving trip doesn't go as planned, unexpected guests arrive, as well as a fierce storm. Oh, and there's an abandoned hulk of a ship where something has gone horribly wrong. There's plenty of good scares and the atmosphere is well-established. Still, I think Until Dawn has the stronger payoff by comparison and this game plays its conclusion out in an oddly safe fashion. I enjoyed my time with it, but it's definitely a "journey over destination" deal.
Man of Medan choices and gameplay
If you've played Until Dawn, a Telltale game or any other similar title, you'll be familiar with how the controls work. For those who haven't: it's a fixed camera environment and you move your character of the moment around, interacting with different objects. You can examine things for clues or hidden secrets, which can unlock different dialogue choices and conversations. At one point, I'd collected a fair bit of evidence regarding a particular plotline, and it was impressive how naturally two of the cast talked about what I'd found, which wouldn't have happened if I hadn't combed the environment.
As the Curator forewarns, your choices matter. It's not a spoiler to say that everyone, no one, or even any combination in-between, are all capable of dying. When the action and the horror begin, you're subjected to quick-time events (QTEs) that will test your reflexing, from dodging deadly hammers to making quick escapes and holding someone else hostage. So it's a good thing that Supermassive has improved plenty of features here, addressing some of the criticisms from other, similar games. In the settings, there's a bundle of accessibility features, like being able to change the subtitle colors or hold a button down rather than mash it during a panicked moment.
If you hated holding the controller still during tense situations in Until Dawn, fear not, as that mechanic is gone.
Man of Medan is hauntingly beautiful
For Until Dawn, Supermassive worked with the Decima engine, Sony's proprietary tech pioneered by Guerrilla Games. Since Supermassive was now working on multiplatform titles, the studio has swapped over and opted to use Unreal Engine 4 for this game. All in all, it's a very solid choice and they've done a great job keeping the same kind of quality from before, with visible improvements that aid the immersion.
This game LOOKS great, especially if you have an HDR TV.
Man of Medan looks great on Xbox One X, with 4K and HDR support. As a result, the visual detail is great, whether it's for the cold, metallic, wet surfaces of a ship, the dark green waters of submerged wrecks or the orange twilight of a calm evening. Some of the scenes set at night are a real treat on an HDR display. The frame rate, unfortunately, still leaves a lot to be desired. It's not quite the slideshow that Until Dawn could be, but it's only a tad off. If possible, I hope Supermassive can focus on optimizing the performance in the future, as these kinds of games would be much more enjoyable without hitching or frame-rate problems.
Summing up the dread of Man of Medan
There's a reason I reference Until Dawn so much throughout this review; Man of Medan is essentially a sequel. It may not share a name but the structure is there. While this story is curiously restrained, it's macabre all the same and well worth a look for fans of narrative horror.
I enjoyed my time at sea with this crew, and I'm interested in talking to the Curator again, wherever this anthology is headed. The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is set to be released on all leading platforms on August 30, 2019.
We reviewed The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan on an Xbox One X, with a copy provided by the publisher.
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