In 2015, Supermassive Games released Until Dawn, which defied the odds after a rough development cycle and became a surprise hit for the PS4. Despite this, Supermassive hasn't really returned to the Until Dawn-style of gameplay since, instead focusing on virtual reality projects and a PlayLink game. The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan, the first in a planned horror anthology series from Supermassive, plays like a successor to Until Dawn, and is certainly one of the better games from the studio.
Anyone who played Until Dawn will find The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan immediately familiar. It plays like a big budget version of a Telltale game, with most of the interaction relegated to QTEs and selecting dialogue options. There is some minor exploration elements at play, with players able to find secrets hidden in the game world, but Man of Medan is still more of an interactive film than anything else.
However, Man of Medan succeeds where similar games have failed because choices made in the story truly do matter and have a significant impact on the plot. Much like Until Dawn, all of the main playable characters can die in Man of Medan if players make the wrong choices or fail crucial QTEs. Players have free reign over the relationships these characters have with each other as well, and it's interesting to see how these relationships help steer characters in certain directions as the story goes on.
Perhaps the best and earliest example of how players can manipulate relationships in The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan is the romance between Alex and Julia. The two are presented as boyfriend and girlfriend, and players can either embrace their relationship, or they can create a rift between the two. Whatever players decide to do will have a ripple effect that will impact upcoming events in the story, with the game keeping track of all the major decisions and laying out clearly how each choice changes the course of the plot.
Man of Medan is a classic ghost ship story, with a group of Americans winding up on an old World War II ship that appears to be haunted by evil spirits. While it sounds cliche, it's actually a pretty effective horror game, and it delivers some genuine scares. It also doesn't just rely on jump scares, but instead develops the characters enough so that players become invested in them and won't want to see them die, lending an extra air of tension every time one of the playable characters is in danger. And the jump scares Man of Medan does use are actually pretty clever at times and well-earned, though to go into detail would be to spoil them.
One reason why it's so easy to get invested in the characters in Man of Medan is because of the game's production values. The characters are well-acted, with Hollywood talents like Shawn Ashmore and Pip Torrens lending their voices and likenesses to the game. The dialogue sounds natural, and everything looks fantastic. It's very easy to buy into Man of Medan's world, and that, in turn, makes it so much easier to care about the characters.
Another way that Supermassive makes players really become attached to the characters is through the Movie Night multiplayer mode. The best new feature in Man of Medan, the Movie Night multiplayer mode lets up to five players play through the game together locally. Each playable character is assigned to a different player, with the controller passed around the room whenever it's someone else's turn. This almost makes it become a competition to make sure the character you selected lives to see the end of the game. And while playing Man of Medan with friends makes it less of a horror game and more of a party game, the competitive element makes it sting even more when a character bites the dust.
Man of Medan also has an online multiplayer option for two players, though it doesn't appear to have matchmaking. That seems like a missed opportunity, and while it would likely be difficult to find a quality online game with a random in Man of Medan, it could have been good for some laughs. It also would have ensured that the game has more replayability than these kinds of games usually do, but the inclusion of any multiplayer modes at all is already a huge step in that direction and very much appreciated.
Besides the addition of multiplayer, Man of Medan is a very similar experience to Until Dawn. However, there are a couple of areas where it stumbles when compared to its predecessor. For one, it's even shorter than Until Dawn, with players able to complete it in just a few hours. Secondly, the game doesn't appear to be quite as polished as Until Dawn, and has more technical issues as a result.
The longer one gets in Man of Medan's story, the worse the technical issues become. This is mainly in the form of brief freezing and stuttering during cut-scenes. While it's not game-breaking by any means, it does ruin the immersion. Man of Medan also seems to struggle with keeping track of every single choice players have made, which becomes more complicated as more choices are made and the web of possibilities expands. There was one rather bizarre instance near the end where two characters were shown to be together, but then they were separated in later scenes without explanation, almost as though the game forgot where they were supposed to be located. This is a pretty glaring oversight and hurts the immersion even worse than the stuttering.
The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan may have more technical issues than Until Dawn and it's also much smaller in scope, but the game is still a pretty effective horror game and worthy successor. The Movie Night multiplayer mode is an especially smart addition and gives it far more replay value than many similar games, and it has some genuine scares to boot. There are some kinks to iron out, but horror fans won't regret playing through Man of Medan at least a few times, and it's exciting to see what the future holds for The Dark Pictures anthology series.
The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan launches August 30 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided a PS4 code for review.