Man of Medan is an interactive Survival Horror Story game developed by Supermassive Games and released August 30th, 2019 on Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC. Not quite a stand alone game, this is the first installment in the Dark Pictures Anthology, which is planned to be a whopping 8 game collection. We are already aware of the next installment, titled “Little Hope”, that’s slated for release sometime in 2020. A release schedule has been proposed that would put about 6 months between each installment, likely placing Little Hope’s release date somewhere around Spring 2020.
Being what they are, anthologies have some encompassing segment that doesn’t tie the stories together (they are unrelated after all) but does unify them for the sake of presentation. In Medan’s case, it’s an extended session with the Curator, played by Pip Torrens. The Curator introduces the stories and converses with the player at certain intermissions within them, almost as if the player is telling the story to him and he’s providing his feedback.
As for this installment, we are introduced to a group of friends: Alex, his brother Brad, his girlfriend Julia and her brother Conrad. They are all aboard the Duke of Milan for a diving expedition, lead by their captain, Félicité “Fliss” DuBois. They get more than they bargained for when they find the WWII plane wreck they wanted but get wrapped up in trouble that leaves them confined to a WWII ship wreck that’s the stuff of nightmare. Can the group escape before whatever haunts this place ends them?
If you’ve played Supermassive’s Until Dawn then you know the lion’s share of what you’re getting yourself into here. Being an interactive horror story title, somewhere around 60% of the experience is going to be cinematic sequences that consist of QTEs. Most quick actions are taken using the displayed button while dialogue and more measured decisions, represented by a compass, are chosen by holding the right stick in a particular direction until a choice’s gauge fills. Between those are exploration sections where you’re tasked with leading the character of that section through the halls of the present locale, be that the Milan, a sunken warplane or the Medan itself. It’s these sections in which you find the various trinkets that reveal portions of lore, open up potential actions down the line or premonitions that can help you make better decisions all around.
As for new additions, Man of Medan has a couple new tricks up its sleeve. Supermassive noticed that during play sessions for Until Dawn, players loved to pass the controller around to each other to take turns playing. As such, they added a multiplayer aspect to this title with two flavors. In the first variety, “Movie Night”, up to five players choose separate characters that they will control in a couch co-op playthrough of the story. Naturally, the game changes character perspectives multiple times throughout, so players are prompted when their turn is up. The other variety, “Shared Story”, is an online co-op session where two players follow parallel threads in the story. It’s an form of asynchronous multiplayer and events in one player’s thread will immediately affect the other.
The second big addition actually is more of an improvement upon a previous feature. Until Dawn had it’s polarizing “DON’T MOVE” mechanic. It was essentially an inverted QTE that required you to keep the controller still. As inventive as it was, if it caught you mid fidget or your had a kinda banged up controller, you were likely to fail before you got a chance even try and comply. Man of Medan turns these into a more standard QTE, instead requiring the player to press a button in a time with a varying rhythm. If you’ve played any type of rhythm game you’ll understand immediately.
Multiplayer – The one failing of the multiplayer is that it has no matchmaking. So I won’t touch this mode with a ten foot pole since that requires me to directly invite other players. What do I look like, Supermassive, a person with friends? But in all seriousness, this kind of asynchronous multiplayer is an inspired system. I’m sure there’s some wrinkles that need to be smoothed out, as better feedback about important events (especially failure) is necessary, but I hope they refine the system and continue to use it along with their couch co-op in the future.
Atmosphere – It should go without saying that Supermassive is good at creating the hokey old school vibe in their games. Their signature mocap animation style and adherence to horror cinema tropes make for a great game to play on a dark night. That being said though….
A Little Too Familiar – No matter how much you like a dish, eating the third helping isn’t going to be as good as the first. Furthermore, anything you didn’t like about the experience definitely isn’t going to magically be better by then either. Man of Medan is the medium to Until Dawn’s large or, daresay, extra large. I was motivated to begin my second playthrough to fix the mistakes of my first, but I was already lamenting the slow pacing and tediousness of the character’s walking and interaction animations – and by my third playthrough, I was thoroughly tired of playing the game all together.
Jump Scares – Taking the genre into consideration, jump scares are practically mandatory. But for some reason, Man of Medan lays them on a bit too thick. It loves its scare chords and its loud noises and it’s all really a bit too much. This is exasperated by the fact that characters start reacting to things that you don’t even get to see (I’M LOOKING AT YOU JULIA). There isn’t enough room for any of this to breathe and there’s no tension. Interacting with anything is grounds to get audio blasted and it gets old.
I can’t call Man of Medan a return to form for Supermassive Games because they’ve been on the ball since they shook everyone up with Until Dawn this time four years ago. But that’s both a blessing and a curse, in a way. This isn’t a game I wouldn’t recommend – it is by no means a bad game. My praises come with a caveat, though. If you’ve never played a Supermassive game before, but enjoy the old school horror cinema tropes employed by old greats like Resident Evil, then you’ll likely enjoy Man of Medan. If you HAVE played their previous titles, you’ll likely enjoy this one as well, to a point. I found the game a tad bit underwhelming – or perhaps a better way to put it is, my interest plateaued and dropped off faster than it did with the other titles. And that’s because, story withstanding, I’ve seen this all before. Everything that was good and bad about Until Dawn is so for Man of Medan. Until Dawn had the length and novelty while Hidden Agenda had a more enjoyable gameplay experience and a more substantial multiplayer dynamic. I’d call them the vastly superior games.
As is stands, Man of Medan is a decent interactive horror story game. More or less, it’s exactly what we’ve come to expect of a Supermassive game – perhaps a little TOO much so.