Supermassive Games are arguably one of the finest developers of interactive horror experiences in the industry today. A large part of that praise can be attributed to the excellent 2015 PlayStation 4 exclusive, Until Dawn, a love letter to 80s teen horror romps with a terrific butterfly effect branching narrative. It also propelled them into the spotlight, making their planned eight-part anthology series, The Dark Pictures, one that appeared near the top of my most anticipated list. The first entry in The Dark Pictures Anthology, Man of Medan, removes us from the confines of a "cozy" cabin in the mountains and drops us on a haunted ship. Not all is what it seems on the deep blue seas, though.
Man of Medan follows a group of young adults who venture out to the sea in search of a fabled sunken treasure. With nothing but flimsy coordinates to go on, they begin their search of a submerged WWII plane. Unfortunately, a storm rolls in - along with some other bad circumstances - forcing them to board a ghost ship in the middle of the ocean.
If you're familiar with Until Dawn's gameplay, Man of Medan will make you feel right at home. While the butterfly effect has been stripped in favour of a more traditional branching narrative, the core concept remains the same: choose dialogue choices and nail quick-time events accordingly in order to ensure the survival of your characters (or not). From a storytelling perspective, while Man of Medan failed to grab my attention as much as Until Dawn's surprisingly monstrous twists and turns, there's still a compelling haunted mystery aboard this labyrinthine vessel. Finding clues scattered around the environment on your own terms is essential to piecing together the mystery at large, giving more context to the unfolding events. Like The Curator - your host of each anthology story played by a certain famous actor - suggests, things are not all what they seem at first glance.
Man of Medan's strengths lie in its staggering high-quality visuals and an atmosphere simply drenched in palpable dread. Many scenic shots took me by surprise due to how photo-realistic they were, adding to the immersion that Supermassive Games have painstakingly perfected in their career. Facial animations have also been significantly improved since Until Dawn, though they're still prone to the odd janky twitch. The motion capture is also fantastic, with each actor providing their likeliness and nailing their performances. Sadly, I never found myself as invested in the characters, which is tragic considering that the emotional payoff and narrative-driven mechanics of the game so heavily rely on how attached you are to them. At best, I found myself occasionally caring for the character of Conrad, played by Quantum Break's Shawn Ashmore - probably the most well-known face out of the bunch too.
Many scenic shots took me by surprise due to how photo-realistic they were...
Most, if not all of Man of Medan's twists and big narrative moments can be achieved in a couple of playthroughs...
Writer. Enthusiast of all things geek. Legend has it he completed Final Fantasy VII without a memory card.
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PC, PS4, Xbox One
30 August 2019
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