Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Man of Medan is not Until Dawn 2, but – coming from developer Supermassive Games and tapping into the same veins of choice-driven narrative, relationship management, and jump-scare horror – it’s the closest we’re likely to get for now.
Instead, it’s the first part of what’s set to be a loosely connected new universe of horror games, all inspired by real-world legends and coming under the Dark Pictures umbrella. An an anthology, it comes complete with its own Rod Serling-type host, The Curator, introducing the events of each instalment. Here, it’s a ghost ship tale, starting off at the tail end of World War II, before leaping to the present day and focusing on a group of overly-attractive young people caught in terrifying circumstances.
Player control shifts between brother and sister Julia and Conrad, Julia’s insecure boyfriend Alex and his own brother Brad, and Fliss, the young captain of a ship the others have hired to explore a newly-discovered deep sea wreck. It’s a solid cast with the usual horror movie archetypes in force – the jock, the nerd, the hot girl, the smart girl, and the douchebag you really hope gets killed first – brought to life by actors such as Shawn Ashmore, and given an appropriately cinematic flair thanks to fantastic, filmic visuals throughout.
Early on, the tension comes mainly from the friction between the cast, before introducing a gang of modern-day pirates – at which point the game could easily segue into a competent thriller sans any supernatural elements – and eventually shifting to its more unsettling elements. While there’s a lingering unease over the course of the game, the majority of scares still rely on jump scares. It might be a bit trite, but it still serves Hollywood well enough, so why not games?
Very much the spiritual sequel to Until Dawn.
Mechanically, Man of Medan is very much the spiritual sequel to Until Dawn. Whether its dialogue choices affecting the characters’ views of each other, decisions affecting the outcome of each scene, or quick-time events to make it through the occasional desperate tight spot, players picking this up based on the developer’s back catalogue will feel instantly at home. However, a few throwbacks to survival horror games of years past – as with Until Dawn – feel even more antiquated here in 2019. Tight, claustrophobic corridors or disorienting camera angles are timeless, but stilted movement and tank-like controls should have stayed in the ’90s.
What makes Man of Medan stand out though is its unique approach to multiplayer. Whether online (a co-op ‘Shared Story’) or off (the controller-passing ‘Movie Night’) the emphasis is on creating a linked narrative experience, where other players’ actions and choices can affect the direction of the story. It’s not just arguing over choices though – your co-player can focus on other areas or parts of the story, their decisions affecting what you’re doing. It’s an extremely effective wild-card, and coupled with an easily consumable play time of roughly six hours, makes the game perfect for replays, to see every permutation of the story and the interpersonal relationships.
Perhaps the biggest frustration thrown up here is the choices it doesn’t allow you – characters you’re not currently in control of engaging in horror movie clichés for instance, or Conrad, in particular, doing almost anything. Then again, maybe that’s Supermassive’s other nod to horror cinema: the gaming equivalent of screaming “don’t go in there!” at the screen when someone walks right into the slasher’s lair.
Man of Medan is a strong evolution of Supermassive’s past work overall, and its few irritations are either genre-appropriate or forgiveable given what it gets right. It’s a suitably intriguing start to the Dark Pictures Anthology, sure to leave players eager for the next tale.