The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is a bit of a far cry from the titles Bandai Namco is used to. Gone are the anime brawlers and anime tie-ins, and in comes the new title from Until Dawn developer Supermassive Games. Things aren’t too different from Until Dawn, so anyone who has played that title knows what to expect. However, this title does away with a lot of the campiness of that outing, instead opting for a more serious adventure. One that doesn’t always hit the mark.
Man of Medan starts pretty slow. I get it, there’s an order to things. Characters, locations, mechanics all need introduced. After a short introduction, things grind to a screeching halt for the first third of the game. Man of Medan already isn’t a long title though, and taking an hour and a half for setup took away any sense of dread that I was feeling from the intro.
Once things get going though, Man of Medan’s plot barrels through. I found some of the narrative to be a bit too rewarding for those that don’t explore. Most of Man of Medan takes place on a deserted World War II ship. Five young adults end up aboard after pissing off a group of fisherman in international waters. I’m going to keep things as vague as possible, since there are so many varying paths that players can take and I don’t want to spoil things or inadvertently guiding someone one way.
I really wanted to like the cast, which includes Shawn Ashmore, Ayisha Issa, Arielle Palik, Chris Sandiford, and Karem Alleyne. Most of the time though, they come off as entitled tropey characters. I think some of this comes from the occasional terrible dialogue that can be pretty difficult to pull off all the time in a game like this. I did find most of the performances fairly good, even with some really bad moments.
I just don’t know how these friends managed to hold it together. Once aboard the ship, the group should have been pissing themselves from fright based on what they saw. Instead, they keep their cool most of the time, even when supernatural forces are headed their way. Their behavior didn’t always make sense, but maybe that’s just part of the interactive movie experience.
The core gameplay experience revolves around navigating the ship and inputting QTE’s to get through various (mostly exciting) situations. The fixed camera angles in Man of Medan make exploring a bit clunky, and I often found myself caught on an object or doorway just trying to get into a new room.
I’m the worst kind of player. Whenever I play games like these, I always try to keep as many characters alive as possible. A lot of people have fun killing off characters, but I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished as much as I can until I save everyone.
Man of Medan is really good at making players feel like their choices matter. I mean, that’s the crux of the game: branching paths. Supermassive Games are almost masters at crafting a narrative with different outcomes. Almost constantly throughout Man of Medan players are presented with dialogue choices. There are usually two choices to pick between, but it’s always an option to say nothing if you can’t decide which way you want to go. Even small decisions in Man of Medan actively affect scenes, but you’re on a timer, so choose wisely.
For the purposes of this review, I played through the game twice. The first outing, I tried to save as many people as possible. One poor decision during the literal final scene of the game prevented me from achieving this (I’m still frustrated about it). The other playthrough I spent trying to kill everyone. There are plenty of gory scenes in Man of Medan, so I recommend playing through at least twice. I still think there’s a lot for me to see though, because I have more than a few hidden achievements left.
Man of Medan looks great and has a really sharp horror aesthetic. I played through half of the game on PC (more on that in a bit), and then played through it all on Xbox One. I expected the PC version to run significantly better, but the Xbox One X kept up really well too. Don’t get me wrong, the PC version is obviously superior with framerates and textures, but the visuals and frames were great on console.
I had an issue on the PC version that caused my CPU to run really hot. I’m not unfamiliar with PC gaming, I know CPU’s run warmer under load, generally between 65-75 degrees celcius. My CPU was in the 85+ range. This is a new PC that was recently built with high-end parts, which leads me to believe that at the time of my playthrough it wasn’t entirely optimized for PC. My PC shut down in the middle of a scene and led me to work on it for 5 hours before I could get it to turn on and narrow down what caused the problem. For a counter-argument, I had played five hours straight of Wolfenstein Youngbloods the night before, and had an extended session of PUBG earlier in the day of the malfunction. Neither game had the heat issues I experienced during Man of Medan.
There are also some interesting multiplayer modes in Man of Medan. I didn’t have the opportunity to try out Movie Night mode, which puts each character in charge of a different player (or if you have less than 5 players however you divvy them up). Shared Story mode can be played online, and has two players each controlling a different character in every scene. The friend I tried this out with is a jerk, and thought it would be funny to try to kill off as many people as possible as quickly as possible to screw with my playthrough (I know, I know, I need better friends). This actually served me better, so I could talk about it and displayed how players can work against each other in Shared Story mode.
Man of Medan is a great start to The Dark Pictures Anthology. Choices matter here, and there are a lot of them to be made, all of which have repercussions throughout, whether they be large or small. This outing may not have some of the campy charm that Until Dawn has, but opting for a more serious, dark, and gritty title works in Man of Medan’s favor, even if some of the dialogue isn’t up to par. I’m excited for the next portion of this anthology: Little Hope (which players can get a sneak peek of at the end of the game), but I’ll be working on finding all of the endings of this game until then.
Man of Medan is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. This review is based (mostly) on an Xbox One copy of the game provided by the publisher. Purchases are available here. Images courtesy of Bandai Namco.