In 2015, Supermassive Games gave us one hell of a horror adventure game in Until Dawn for PS4. The high-quality facial animations, creative story design, and character perma-death that actually altered the story were all beautifully executed. Since then Supermassive Games have been busy creating similar adventure games for VR which is fine. However, fans have been clamoring for a traditional console release which has finally arrived in Man of Medan which is available for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
The Dark Pictures Anthology’s first installment is Man of Medan which is based on a classic ghost ship tale about the S.S Ourang Medan. (Read my preview here for full details on the ghost story). Supermassive Games does a nice job with the opening game segment taking place on the ship and giving us a firsthand perspective of what “could” have happened on the S.S Ourang Medan.
After the opening segment, we are jumped to the present and introduced to our cast of playable characters which consist of two sets of young adult siblings (Conrad / Julia) – (Brad/Alex) and their captain Fliss on a diving ship called “Duke”. The plan for the group was to do some diving, explore an undocumented World War 2 plane resting at the bottom of the sea and drink a few beers afterward. Things obviously do not go according to plan and to avoid spoilers I will now jump into the game’s presentation.
I’m not a fan of reading or writing comparative reviews but I feel like it’s unavoidable in this case since Until Dawn set such a high expectation when it comes to facial animations, storytelling, and overall presentation. At times, Man of Medan was completely on that same level and I was fully immersed. However more often than not, I encountered frame stuttering, frame rate drops, and off queue scene cuts. I also would like to mention that I was playing on a PS4 Pro connected to a 4k / HDR TV.
The majority of your time in Man of Medan will take place on the S.S Medan which does a great job of portraying a creepy ghost ship that should never be explored. The fixed camera angles from Until Dawn return which adds to the suspense and tension that builds as you navigate the claustrophobic halls of the ship. Unsettling sounds and disembodied voices can be randomly heard throughout the ship. To truly immerse yourself, I highly recommend that you read all of the collectible items you find which will mainly consist of notes and crew log files. Doing so will help you make wiser choices and this brings us to the gameplay.
Man of Medan offers a variety of gameplay interactions. You have the navigation wheel which covers two options with one being more aggressive than the other and the do-nothing action which in turn is an action. You will also encounter QTEs which like the navigational wheel, are timed so choose wisely because like “Until Dawn” there are no go-backs. If you fail a QTE that leads to a character’s untimely death that death is set in stone.
The only way to undo that death is to start the campaign from the beginning. TIP: If you are not particularly good at QTEs, there is an option in “accessibility options” that turns off the timer so you can still fail the QTE by pressing the wrong button but the timer is gone and this only applies to single player. I was also glad to see they removed the “hold controller still” feature which was extremely sensitive in Until Dawn. It has been replaced by a breathing/heartbeat mini-game that scrolls along the bottom of the screen. Unfortunately, when these events occur it requires your full attention otherwise you’ll completely miss all of the action taking place in the main game window.
Each character also has a trait window that will unlock different traits based on your chosen responses to various situations. This window also shows your connection level to other characters. At any point, you can press (R1 for me on PS4) to bring up the window and see what has changed from a recent response or altercation.
Man of Medan offers the following three gameplay modes:
- Play alone (standard single player)
- Shared story (online co-op with one other player)
- Movie Night (up to 5 players can play locally with one controller)
I spent time in all three modes and completed it fully in single player. I honestly have to say that Man of Medan offers a better gameplay experience in both Shared Story and Movie Night modes. The shared story offers new elements of uncertainty when it comes to my partner’s responses and choices. For the most part, the character he was assigned at the time is not with me so he was having his own set of experiences that could impact my playable character and at some points it did. The only notification that a choice is being made is via a prompt that appears in the top right corner. At various times the game would switch us to a different character in a different location.
Movie Night mode has to have been inspired by the fans. Until Dawn live streams were very popular and justifiably so since it offers an interactive element. Ask the chat on what choices should be made and create the story together. In Movie Night, you can do one better. Grab some friends or family members and instead of watching a movie, you all can interact with one. Whenever it’s time to swap the controller to another player, a prompt will notify you and that’s it. Everyone gets involved in the adventure. I could see this being great at parties with non-gamers.
Man of Medan is a short adventure game that introduces some new modes to the genre such as Share Story and Movie Night. These new features make it a decent buy, especially for the release price of $29.99. There are also some interesting items in the “special features” such as the history of anthological horror” However, for those going in for the traditional solo experience, there isn’t much here to sink your teeth into.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan for the PlayStation 4 provided by Bandai Namco Entertainment.