Review – The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan

Man of Medan is the first game in The Dark Pictures Anthology, Supermassive Games’ series of short horror stories. With their last four titles being for either PSVR or PlayLink, it is also the first true console follow-up to their PS4 entry title, Until Dawn, as well as their first notable multiplatform title. Although it fails to hit the same surprising benchmark that made Until Dawn the sleeper hit of 2015, Man of Medan still does more than enough to have me truly excited for the entire anthology.

While Until Dawn had you playing as old friends, Man of Medan has you playing, for the most part, as five strangers. Julie and Alex are the connection between them, having been dating the last few months. Conrad is Julie’s brother and Brad is Alex’s. While Fliss plays the captain of the Duke of Medan, the charter boat hired to take them out diving.

During your dive, you happen across an item giving coordinates and mentioning a “Manchurian Gold”. However, before you have the chance to set sail for it, you are overtaken by pirates. Their intentions quickly shift from ransom to gold and this seems to be where your choices truly start changing how the game presents its story.

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Introducing your playable characters.

Just as with their games in the past, Supermassive uses the butterfly effect in Man of Medan. Each choice can directly affect later choices, be it immediately or in later chapters. This is done with a success/fail of a QTE moment, such as making rapid successful QTE’s to jump a chasm or to fight away an attack. It can also be done with which certain dialog paths you choose or items you do or do not find. Picking up a knife to defend yourself may not result in that being its use. At times, there were moments that I felt that I was meant to progress through a section in one way, but instead did it a different way, which confused me a bit. For example, telling other survivors of something I never saw played out. It isn’t flawless, but it does more for the game than it takes away.

In addition to the butterfly effect, many more mechanics will feel familiar if you are a fan of Supermassive Games. Not just the dialog choice and the QTE moments that I mentioned, but also searching for items and secrets, path trees that you take for different key moments, and small premonitions of possible scenarios. Staying calm and hidden now requires player input rather than simply laying the controller down. I also noticed that my reaction time had to be that much faster than in Until Dawn.

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As I sail the seven seas…

The real gem in what Supermassive added and retooled wasn’t so much in how the game worked, but in how the people playing the game worked. Seeing how their games were being played, with groups getting involved, Supermassive decided to put those play styles into the game. You can play alone as a classic horror story, choosing how each character plays out their traits. Playing with a group is another option. Each player taking on the role of their character and handing the controller to them to play, while everyone else yells out, “don’t go in there!!” But the true way to play Man of Medan, for me at least, is its online co-op. You and a friend each take control of a different character while you simultaneously work your way through the game. Playing on your own but with the added fear of your partner doing something completely unexpected and not in your plan. This, to me, is how Supermassive intends for these anthology games to be played.

Graphics and sound are top-notch, but being a heavily scripted game with little way to veer from the path you put before yourself, I would be disappointed if otherwise. This heavy scripting also helps with loading times, as there is very little wait for a new section. There are graphical moments that seem to stutter, though, almost like a movie reel that must be cut and taped. Man of Medan seems to fall in that same “B-Horror Movie” as Until Dawn so I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but it happened more often than I would have liked, and it was distracting. The voice acting and the environmental sound were fantastic and were the key to any immersion this game provided. No one is putting Troy Baker out of business, but it just works with a game like this.

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Gimme some sugar, baby.

The Dark Pictures Anthology isn’t a full priced AAA game, nor is it an episodic title. Each episode is fully equipped and told, beginning to end, just in a smaller package. The game can be played in probably under five hours, and much faster than that on alternate playthroughs, of which you will have many reasons to revisit if you desire. Either to play solo or with friends, to trophy hunt, or to simply play out “what if” for your choices, there is no reason to not sail back out on the Duke of Medan.

Man of Medan may not have had the surprise benefit of Until Dawn, a game that came out of nowhere. It also had to make people forget about average attempts like The Inpatient and Hidden Agenda, as well as downright awful games like Bravo Team. What it did do was show us that Supermassive still has a brand that they deliver on. They figured out that they are also games that deliver better with slightly smaller doses. I am sad to see the Until Dawn world put on hold, but I now have much more than a little hope for The Dark Pictures Anthology.

 

Graphics: 9.0

Other than some occasional screen stuttering, the game is as stunning as Supermassive Games have become known for.

Gameplay: 6.5

Gameplay, or lack of, is also what Supermassive Games have become known for. Gameplay revolves around finding clues, dialog choice and QTE’s.

Sound: 10

Use of environment and vocal talent is fantastic. Script isn’t always Shakespearean but that sells the B-Movie aspect.

Fun Factor: 8.0

Gameplay aside, you aren’t playing this game for double jumps, you play it for immersion. And the added gameplay types keep the game fun and fresh.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Man of Medan is available now on PS4, Xbox, and PC.

Reviewed on PS4 Pro.

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