In 2015, Supermassive released a game called Until Dawn, which let players take control of a campy slasher flick and manipulate the story and character relationships however they pleased. The Dark Pictures Anthology takes that idea and runs with it. Supermassive plans on releasing an interactive horror experience in the vein of their 2015 breakout hit every six months, each with a brief runtime, completely original characters, and an entirely new premise. Man of Medan is the first of these, and it doesn’t exactly set the bar very high for the games that will follow it.
Game Name: The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Publisher(s): Bandai Namco
Developer(s): Supermassive Games
Release Date: August 30, 2019
Man of Medan takes place almost entirely on a World War II ship that has been sitting out on the open ocean for decades. A group of four friends hires a local ship captain to take them out on a diving trip, and after some things happen, they end up on the aforementioned ship where even more things happen. “Things happening” is about as in-depth as Man of Medan‘s disappointingly thin plot goes, and the story beats serve more as excuses to put characters in tense situations that take advantage of the game’s decision making mechanics rather than a means to flesh out the game’s bland cast. Those seeking a gripping narrative or even a fun, campy one like Until Dawn should steer clear of Man of Medan.
Although Man of Medan fails as a story-driven game, it still manages to succeed as a horror game. The dark interiors of the ghost ship paired with the horrifying imagery of the corpses of soldiers that look like they were literally scared to death create a constant feeling of dread as you attempt to survive the night. While the game leans a bit too heavily toward cheap jump scares, there are some terrifying moments of psychological horror that will have you questioning what is actually happening. This can get you into some trouble if the game forces you to act quickly or face consequences (which happens quite often in Man of Medan), and it adds to the uneasiness knowing you might not necessarily get the time to think things through in the face of danger.
Danger is omnipresent in Man of Medan, and characters can be lost much easier than in other games of a similar style. As per usual, failing QTEs can lead to a character’s untimely demise, and Man of Medan does not mess around when it comes to QTE timers. Some disappear in just about a second, and you can and will get someone killed if you let your guard down. If you choose to play with friends, deaths might result from miscommunication as well.
Man of Medan includes multiplayer, a feature that hasn’t been a part of games like this until now. “Movie Night” mode allows you to assign characters to up to five local players, with the group passing the controller around whenever someone’s assigned character is up. “Shared Story” mode, however, is the true gem hidden in Man of Medan. Only playable online with two players, Shared Story lets you and a friend experience the game from different perspectives at the same time.
Early in the game, the group splits up. Two of them gear up and go diving while the rest remain on the boat. In my Shared Story playthrough, my friend stayed on the boat and had conversations and explored while I dove beneath the waves to investigate a crashed World War II plane. In single-player, scenes would happen one after the other, but Shared Story allows them to happen simultaneously, making Man of Medan much more interesting. Not being present for some scenes spices up the game with an incredible sense of dramatic irony, and once your paths begin to cross, your decisions will have an effect on one another. Later in the game, some characters will start to see things that may or may not be real, and there were multiple moments in Man of Medan where my co-op partner would freak out and ask if I saw something while the room looked completely normal on my screen. This is the definitive way to play Man of Medan, and even though it shortens the game’s runtime to a little under four hours as opposed to a five to six hour single-player playthrough, it makes the experience much more enjoyable.
Unfortunately, losing characters, whether from a failed QTE or miscommunication between friends, never has any emotional weight. Each of the game’s five protagonists is insufferable, and I found myself not really caring how any of them ended up. That’s somewhat due to the stilted dialogue, which can be downright annoying at times, but also the hit or miss facial animations. Sometimes Man of Medan is one of the most graphically impressive games I’ve seen in a while, and other times the characters look like plastic. This, combined with the hilariously awkward pauses that happen when a friend is making a decision, make the game’s cast look and sound like bumbling idiots rather than a group of compelling characters.
Man of Medan also struggles from horrendous pacing issues, too. The game opens with a scene set during World War II that lasts way too long, and the pair of characters you’re started off with are somehow worse than the game’s main cast. Until the main crew sets foot on the ghost ship, Man of Medan is a boring slog, and it takes quite a while to reach that ship. Also, numerous technical issues constantly ruined the gravity of certain scenes. During scene transitions, the game will sometimes stutter, and the framerate will dip on occasion as well. I also ran into some bugs, especially in the Shared Story mode. It’s a little hard to stay immersed in the world of Man of Medan when characters sometimes freeze in place or textures don’t load in.
Man of Medan‘s weak plot, bland characters, and occasional technical issues hold it back from being something truly great, but it’s innovative Shared Story multiplayer mode makes it worth seeing through to the end. Being able to experience different parts of the story simultaneously with a friend and trying to communicate while juggling jump scares and split-second decision making results in a truly unique experience that you can’t really get anywhere else. It’s a shame that Man of Medan never really reaches the heights of Until Dawn, but after seeing this story through to the end, I’m excited to see what’s next for The Dark Pictures Anthology.
Review Disclosure Statement: The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan was provided to us by Bandai Namco for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
The Dark Pictures Anthology is unfortunately off to a disappointing start. While Man of Medan can provide some genuine scares during a few segments, the rest of the brief story is held back by unlikable characters, questionable performances, and a few too many technical issues that can take you right out of the moment. The shared story online cooperative mode is enjoyable, but a weak story and incredibly slow first act make Man of Medan a game to skip if you’re planning on playing alone. Despite it’s shortcomings, the game is still somewhat entertaining, and I’m hoping Supermassive will knock the next entry of this spooky anthology out of the park.
- Great lighting and atmosphere
- Real sense of danger
- Innovative cooperative modes
- Boring, unlikable cast
- Framerate dips, awkward transitions, and bugs
- Awful opening
- Super weak plot
- Facial animations are hit or miss