Developed by Supermassive Games.
Published by Bandai Namco.
Available on PC, Xbox One and PS4.
Reviewed on Xbox One X.
When Supermassive Games released Until Dawn on the PS4 back in 2015, it became an instant classic. It was a brilliant homage to horror films, with all the clichés this entails. Man of Medan, the first in their new horror anthology of similar style games, tries to replicate the success of its predecessor with mixed results. Featuring its signature quick-time events, iconic facial capture, branching storylines depending on your choices, and genuine scary moments, it definitely succeeds in quite a few areas. However, there are a number of issues and creative choices that stop the game reaching the same great heights as Until Dawn.
We begin the game talking to the Curator, (like the psychiatrist in Until Dawn) who gives us some information about what the nature of the game and story will be like. We then move to the actual beginning, where we are quickly introduced to the five characters we will be playing as and manipulating across the roughly 6 hour game. These are Alex, Brad, Conrad, Julia and Fliss. The first four are going on a diving trip in search of a downed war aircraft and enlist the help of ship captain Fliss. This soon takes a turn for the worst when a group of bandits commandeer the ship and capture our group of, often annoying, characters. You’ll shortly be taken to the fabled haunted ship the Ourang Medan.
For the most part, the characters are decent but not really memorable. Alex was perhaps my favourite, he cares for his younger brother, despite butting heads at times (as all brothers do). I had mixed feelings about Conrad, who comes off as pretty arrogant to start with, but I warmed up to him later. Brad is the smart but shy one, Fliss is the mature and serious one for the most part and Julia is just annoying from start to finish. The problem is that there’s just not really enough time for them to develop and for us to get attached to any of them. The short runtime, which is understandable due to it being half the price of the usual game, really does impact the character development and pacing.
If you’ve played Until Dawn, then you’ll know what to expect in terms of gameplay. Every choice you make apparently has an effect, even if it doesn’t appear to at first glance.You’ll spend your time walking around the environment, picking up objects and notes to help you piece together the story, talking to others and partaking in an absurd amount of quick-time-events. While this can become a bit tedious the longer it goes on, the shorter runtime actually benefits the gameplay so it never becomes too much of an issue. A single mistake can often cause the death of one of your characters, although I never encountered this for my first playthrough, I tried out sections again after to test different scenarios and I ended up killing a couple of people. While its quick-time events may turn some people off, I feel it does work and suit the type of experience well, leading to some very unique plays.
That is probably the biggest draw of the game, the replay value, where your various decisions can have both small and significant repercussions for the rest of the game. You could end up with an almost entirely different experience to another, missing out entire sections and situations. This is further expanded in the co-op mode, however, I didn’t try much of this as I wanted to experience the story on my own, if someone did die I would only have myself to blame. But it is a nice feature to have nonetheless, particularly for a game night with friends or family.
Most of the scares in the game are just jump-scares, which do become predictable and wear pretty thin after halfway through. It’s not to say they’re completely ineffective, far from it. They will still make you jump even when you expect them and there are plenty of genuinely terrifying moments scattered throughout, aided by the smart camera angles. Nearly every single camera positioning made me uneasy. I was constantly on edge as it’s designed to make you look around and think something might pop out at any moment. It is very reminiscent of the old Resident Evil games in this regard, which isn’t a bad comparison.
In terms of the graphics and world, it’s mostly great. There are moments, particularly early on before you get to the ship, that really stand out and make you just sit there and take in the view. Character models and animations are where the game do shine, the facial capture is very impressive in bringing out the emotion and subtle reactions to conversations and events. It’s not perfect, where there are a number of times that breach ‘uncanny valley’. Honestly, Julia smiling is probably the scariest thing in the whole game, which would likely keep the horrors of the ship at bay. Texture pop-in is another common issue, particularly when the camera shifts between different moments in a cutscene. There are also a number of muddy and blurry textures that feel like they are from a ps2 era game. Frame rate is mostly solid, although it can drop heavily in random moments when you’re just walking in a room with nothing going on. Overall, it’s an incredible looking game with a decent level of performance.
I do wish that there was a greater variety in the setting and environments. There are essentially three, Fliss’ boat, underwater and the ship. The first 2 are very small areas, whereas most of your time is spent exploring the ship. This isn’t helped by the fact that every part of the ship looks exactly the same, and your required to walk up and down the exact same dull corridors for most of the runtime. While it is very good at crafting a tense and creepy atmosphere, it doesn’t stop it from getting too repetitive. Until Dawn had so many differing environments such as the house, the asylum, woods and mines. While Man of Medan is a shorter game, it does detract from the experience a bit.
Perhaps the biggest flaw the game has is the story. I’m not going to spoil anything significant such as what the ‘twist’ is. While it may appear to have an interesting premise and setting, it ultimately causes a number of issues. The pacing is way too slow at the start, which is a major problem considering its short length. You’ll spend the first 2 hours getting to know the characters with an intro to the overall story. This wouldn’t normally be a problem, however, since this equates to essentially a third of the game, it ends up taking too much time away from the main section. This isn’t helped by the fact that the first real scary moment, apart from the prologue, happens almost halfway through the story. This becomes an even more obvious problem when the ending is so abrupt, and we get to see no surviving character reactions and reflections of their horrific night. It’s incredibly jarring, and could have been executed so much better if the first 2 hours were made shorter so the rest of the game and narrative had room to breath.
However, the main problem is the stories’ twist itself. In the very first 20 minutes, I had my suspicions about what was going on, it’s clear that it isn’t that straightforward. When we finally get to the ship with our protagonists, it isn’t long before a few notes and character interactions confirm what I had suspected. It’s big twist can be seen coming from a mile away, even if you don’t pick up a ton of notes and only mildly pay attention. It was funny that when the characters finally understand it themselves and say it out loud in the last 40 minutes, I’m thinking to myself “what person playing would need this direct explanation?”. Furthermore, once you know what’s really going on, the game loses its horror and sense of danger. The reason Until Dawn was so brilliant and terrifying was that the Wendigos posed a very real and clear threat. While I don’t think it was bad, it certainly hindered the final sections of the game when everything ramps up much more.
A final note is that the character traits and relationship system didn’t seem to have any noticeable impact. Things would pop up saying this characters traits had changed or this relationship has increased, but it didn’t appear to have any real effect on the game. While the changing relationships did likely have some sort of impact on certain parts of the story, the traits seemed so pointless.
In many ways, Man of Medan feels like a faithful and solid successor to the great Until Dawn. The signature branching narrative is in full force here, where you could experience entire sections completely different to another, offering strong replay value. It’s also a visually impressive game with good voice acting and meaningful choices. However, it ended up leaving me a bit frustrated, despite overall enjoying my time with it. The obvious story and twist end up harming the experience, where it became incredibly clear what was going on and the right decisions I needed to make. It never ends up reaching the same quality and scare factor of its predecessor, making Man of Medan not the strongest start for the Dark Pictures Anthology.
Score = 6.5/10
Thank you so much for reading my review, I hope you enjoyed it. Let me know what you thought in the comments. For all things gaming, stay tuned to Honest Gamer.
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