The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is developer Supermassive Game’s follow up to Until Dawn (2015), a flawed but thoroughly entertaining horror romp. Man of Medan is the first of eight (yes, eight) entries into the so-called Dark Pictures Anthology, a rather unusual episodic initiative whose overall success remains to be seen. Having now completed this four hour or so first ‘episode’, my hopes are somewhat dashed. While there are things to like here, overall Man of Medan is rough. Let’s get into it.
To sum up the premise of Man of Medan – because the title sure as hell doesn’t give any clues – it’s about a ghost ship, essentially. A United States warship goes missing in a storm just after the end of WW2, never to be seen again. That is until our intrepid youngsters stumble across it of course.
You control one character at a time, switching between them as the story dictates. You move them around each area, talk to people, interact with items and so on. Man of Medan is designed to feel like an interactive horror movie, with the more action-packed sequences becoming quick-time events. Where this formula gets interesting is when you have to make rather crucial decisions in mere seconds. Make the wrong call and a character could die right then and there. That doesn’t mean you get a game over and have to reload a save, by the way, that character is now dead for the rest of the playthrough.
This is the gimmick that made Until Dawn so enjoyable, and while four years later the novelty may have worn off slightly, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t gratifying when a character narrowly avoided death right near the end because of a decision I made or an item I picked up in the first twenty minutes. Without playing the game several more times it’s hard to say how many of these choices are actually meaningful and which of them present merely an illusion of importance, but regardless on the first run, the magic holds up.
Unfortunately, Man of Medan fails to keep things interesting throughout. The first hour or two of this game are a real chore. It takes way too long to actually get to the ship and everything that happens beforehand is dreadfully written, performed and paced. That isn’t to say everything after reaching the ship is Oscar-worthy, the paper-thin script and soulless acting are just less noticeable once things get hectic. The dialogue crosses the line from corny to aggravating more than once and none of the characters have any depth to them whatsoever.
The one narrative element that was consistently well done was the narrator: a mysterious character the game cuts to every now and then. His dry, British wit was a welcome reprise from the cliched garbage coming out of every other character’s mouth. He frames the story in a pleasing way, offering cryptic hints and condescending feedback. This character is probably one of the few reasons I’d be interested in checking out future episodes.
Overall the graphics are quite impressive, especially in the smaller, more detailed, environments. You can see every pore on each character’s face, and yet there can be something unintentionally unsettling about the animation here and there, especially when it comes to smiling. There’s something off about the way the bodies animate too, aside from cutscenes, everyone walks around like they’ve just broken out of a early nineties animatronic museum display.
Be warned, the jump scares in this game are utterly ludicrous. Not only do they rarely make any sense (one involved opening a locker only to have a Halloween mask fall down from… the top of the locker??? On a ship that’s been abandoned for 80 odd years???), but the sudden audio blast and camera zoom that accompanies them are merciless. That said, I got the impression that the game knows how stupid these sequences are and yet carries on regardless.
The Dark Pictures Anthology is off to a rough start, to be sure, and it’s hard not to wonder why this story in particular was the one Supermassive Games decided to kick all this off with. There is fun to be had here but Man of Medan features nothing that Until Dawn didn’t do better four years ago. The potential remains for this episodic series to improve as it goes along, I just hope Man of Medan is by far the weakest of the bunch.