Man of Medan: A Terrifying Ordeal at Sea
The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan, the first video game of the The Dark Pictures Anthology series, released on August 30, 2019. This title was developed by Supermassive Games, and published by BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment. It was also released for a range of platforms, including PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Although it’s the first entry of the anthology, Man of Medan is an impressive showing that blends interesting characters with interactive, choice based gameplay. It manages all this, while still maintaining an effective, eerie atmosphere; perfect for a horror game.
The story begins with a group of friends embarking on a diving expedition during vacation. This group is made up of brothers, Alex and Brad, along with the sibling pair, Julia and Conrad; Julia and Alex are also a couple. Accompanied by their skipper Fliss, the group discovers the site of an underwater plane wreck. Shortly after, the trip takes a sinister turn, as the friends are kidnapped by pirates and forced to board an old war ship. It doesn’t take long for the group to discover that the ship’s previous occupants may have never left.
As I mentioned before, Man of Medan is the first entry in The Dark Pictures Anthology. Said anthology will include a series of cinematic, horror oriented video games; each one will contain a standalone story with new characters. The mastermind of this, Supermassive Games, is behind the hit game Until Dawn, as well. Ultimately, Man of Medan is a narrative-driven, decision-based title. It features many choices, branching paths, and potential outcomes. Additionally, its gameplay centers around making dialogue/action choices and completing QTE’s (Quick Time Events).
Like Until Dawn, any and all characters can possibly die, often in brutal ways. The game includes “Secrets,” clues that can be used to determine the story and give background information on it. These secrets are typically in the form of documents and journals. Furthermore, Man of Medan has character traits that change based on choices. Similarly, character relationships can alter from certain decisions. Meant to guide players, the game also features special frames. White frames show the outcomes of choices, while black ones preview specific death scenes. These are intended to keep players from making negative decisions.
Truly, Man of Medan does an excellent job of building and retaining a dark, creepy atmosphere. The ambience is light and carefree at the beginning of the trip, but quickly becomes eerie. This atmosphere continues through the rest of the game. From dim lighting to distant noises, the atmosphere is incredibly impactful. The ship setting only ramps that up.
I became so engrossed in the game, I actually jumped a few times. And my chest felt tight throughout my entire playthrough, largely due to the spooky ambience. In addition, I really felt the panic and anxiety of having to make important decisions on a whim. These elements combine to create an atmosphere that truly reflects a horrific situation.
The dialogue/choice system works very well, just as it did in Until Dawn. Rather than being brushed aside, decisions have clear consequences, and there is much power behind them. One wrong choice, and a character could die in the next scene. Likewise, you could make a decision and think it was fine, only for it to have serious repercussions later on. This system makes the game easy and accessible for players of differing skill, as it requires simple button inputs.
And because of the various branching paths, Man of Medan has a lot of replayability. It gives the possibility for each playthrough to be unique. Many scenes can change because of the decisions you make, even if just slightly. But, it’s always neat to see this happen. Entire sections of the game can be skipped if certain characters die, or because of the seemingly smallest choices.
Moreover, the QTE sequences add a bit of challenge to the gameplay. They’ll keep you on your toes, but they aren’t so punishing as to become frustrating. Overall, this game is quite forgiving in its difficulty. Characters can die from failed QTE’s, but you’re given plenty of chances to keep them alive. Appropriately, these sequences are intense and stressful; just as a horror game should be. I always felt anxious when playing them.
Personally, the Glamour Girl chase is my favorite of the game. The buildup to it is fantastic, and the way it unfolds is very cool to see. Ultimately, this scene is just really well executed. It certainly left a lasting impression on me.
Graphics/Voice Acting & Sound Design
Without a doubt, Man of Medan’s graphics are beautiful and realistic. They appear almost life-like, especially the character models. Furthermore, character movements look smooth and accurate to how actual people would move.
For this game, I think the voice actors did a good job. Each voice suited its respective character, and they all sounded distinct from one another. I will say, the voice acting isn’t quite as good as in Until Dawn. But, the actors still provide a solid performance; they truly give life to the game’s dialogue.
As I stated before, atmosphere is a critical part of this game. In turn, a significant aspect of the atmosphere is how sound design is handled. Overall, I think the sound design and soundtrack of Man of Medan is quite impressive. Whether it’s a clang in the distance, or a ghostly whisper, it’s always effective. These small touches really add to the already fear inducing ambiance. They make you dread what might be lurking ahead.
Additionally, the soundtrack fits with this game well. For most of its runtime, the background music is fairly quiet. There will be tracks that pick up at suspenseful parts, increasing tension. But, music is used more to complement rather than overpower. Tracks are used sparingly, as sound design is the more important aspect; that’s what truly creates immersion in this title.
Furthermore, I believe the characters are well-rounded and interesting. I found all of them likeable, and I quickly became attached to the main characters. When they died, I felt genuine dread and disappointment. In the end, I lost two of five characters, and each death was like a slap to the face. Regarding personality, Julia is probably my favorite character.
I really liked The Curator as well. Technically, he’s there to guide the player and let them know how they’re doing. But, he always seems to be a little disappointed with you and your decisions. Moreover, you can always detect that he’s unimpressed, no matter how well you do. Personally, I loved his sarcastic air. And I found The Curator to be a very fun, engaging character. I believe he was a great addition to the game.
At a certain point, the story and its big twist became quite predictable to me. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed it. The story was solid and interesting enough to hold my attention for the three or four hours it lasted.
Too Many Hints
As much as I adore The Curator, I think he divulges too much information. At times, he gives you the option to ask for hints. Even when I chose, “No,” I received hints that spoiled the story. They made the twist obvious way before it should’ve been. So, I feel that design choice was a bit of a double-edged sword. It makes the story too predictable, and if you figure out the twist early on, it decreases the tension of many later scenes.
To me, some of the character interactions were a little unrealistic. They were even strange, sometimes. A character can go from seeing a friend brutally die one minute, to making stupid quips the next. It just seems a bit weird and like the deaths are glossed over. The characters are barely shown grieving over their loved ones. Although, I felt the same way about Until Dawn, and it was about double the length of Man of Medan.
Unfortunately, I did experience a few technical problems throughout my playthrough. These issues ranged from lagging, to stuttering during cutscenes, to long loading screens. Luckily, these pitfalls weren’t very severe; so, they didn’t do much to detract from my experience with Man of Medan.
Although this game is hindered by a few issues, its positive points manage to shine through them. Due to its effectively creepy atmosphere, innovative gameplay, and impactful decisions, Man of Medan is a worthwhile video game. Truly, it’s an entry that stands out in the horror genre, and one that most gamers will enjoy playing.
Official The Dark Pictures Anthology Website- https://www.thedarkpictures.com/
Official Supermassive Games Website- https://www.supermassivegames.com/
Official BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Website- https://www.bandainamcoent.com/
PlayStation 4 Store Page- https://bit.ly/32joSXA
Xbox One Store Page- https://bit.ly/34sFYUu
PC/Steam Store Page- https://bit.ly/32dIkF5
All pictures were obtained from the official The Dark Pictures Anthology website. This was done with both the knowledge and permission of Supermassive Games, the developer. Additionally, these pictures are used purely for review purposes. They don’t belong to me, and no copyright infringement is intended.