The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is a short, but fun romp through the choose your own adventure genre that Supermassive Games has become known for. There are some issues here and there, but fans of horror games and choose your own adventure games will really enjoy what it offers.
The story starts with four young Americans chartering a boat for some diving and relaxation. Joined by the equally young but gruff captain of the boat, they eventually wind up on a derelict, old ship where some scary stuff happened in the past and is now repeating with dire consequences. The ghost ship idea is a great place for the series to start and gives an opportunity for players to experience different types of scares, even if they are mostly jump-based.
If you’ve not played one of these games, the gameplay consists of story segments broken up by decision points. The pre-release trailers talked about the game as a giant flow chart, and it’s true. Different segments are played from the perspective of different characters. At certain points, you are given two actions or responses, and sometimes doing or saying nothing at all.
The thrill is not knowing how that decision will impact your game later and some will take hours before hitting you with the consequences. Others are immediate. Seemingly small choices could result in a character dying. A visible timer forces you to choose quickly. QTEs are also present in the game, and they pop up without warning, typically in movement.
Movement is one of the places I hope future games improve. It’s not going full old school Resident Evil, but the movement can be a little tank-y. Moving through a door requires you to change the position on your controller, before you walk right back out. It’s not horrible, but I wouldn’t mind it being smoother.
Even though the game is about four hours long, it’s designed to be replayed, and you can play it alone, online, or with a group of people in your living room. If you only play it once, you are really missing what makes this game unique. On my second playthrough, I tried to pick the exact opposite choices of my first time. I had a different group of people die, and I saw new things and didn’t see some parts at all. There are certain beats that are always going to be the same, but it’s a new perspective on the story that feels like you are seeing a parallel world that answers some of your “what if” questions.
Those “what ifs” generally result in the life or death of your characters, and Man of Medan can end with everyone alive, everyone dead, or somewhere in between. The changes can be more subtle as a character’s personality traits can be shaped by your choices too. The beginning personalities are varied and layered, but there is room for a full character arc if you can keep them alive long enough.
The story is good, but it has some rougher parts. I don’t think any of this is a spoiler if you’ve seen any of the trailers, but you’ve been warned. The first half is sets up characters and brings you to the ship. It can drag out a little bit, and for all the scary I was promised, this part doesn’t deliver. It’s like eating a salad while waiting for steak.
The second half is set on the ghost ship, and this felt like an entirely different game. The atmosphere was tense, there were plenty of scares, and decisions felt like they had more weight. It’s mostly linear, but a second playthrough drove home how significantly better this part of the game was.
There is the occasional effect where you can see the narrative stitches in the story. You will make a choice, and the game shifts awkwardly to the next scene. It’s usually good, but it can feel disjointed at times. Some of those shifts take you to speak with the mysterious Curator. He tracks all of these decisions and their consequences and comments on your journey. I look forward to more interactions with him in future games.
As you explore the world, you can find secrets and reveal premonitions. Premonitions give you a chance to see a potential future by examining the many picture frames scattered through the game. Secrets are in notes or journals, and they reveal information. You can piece together the full backstory from these items.
I think that backstory is my biggest complaint about the game. They tell you a little too much in the beginning. It breaks the tension created by the mystique. Although later jump scares are good, it doesn’t carry the same weight. I stopped watching Scooby Doo once I realized it was always someone in a mask.
Technically, the game does fine. Textures will pop in often, but it’s usually quick. There is a nice fog effect in the game and the visuals and lighting are nice. The sound is generally good too, but the voice over audio quality isn’t consistent across all characters. It’s as if some of the actors weren’t recording in the same studio. The voice acting itself is normally good, but the military guy at the beginning is awful.
On a side note, what is going on with Julia’s eyes? When she is normal and not in trouble, they roll around and look really scary and off. I didn’t notice this with anyone else in the game. She was also my least favorite character, so maybe it’s just me.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is a good start for a series with some big potential. I am really excited to see what they do in the next game, since it was announced for 2020 in a trailer at the end of this one. Despite my problems with parts of the story, some minor technical and movement issues, and some sound complaints, it’s a great ride for anyone who loves this genre, and I hope to see many more releases in the Anthology series.
Man of Medan PS4 Review
Overall - Very Good - 7/10
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan tells a horror story with plenty of scares and delivers on replayability with plenty of forks in the road to explore. Even though the story and audio feel a little uneven and movement and texture and scene pop in could be better, it’s a fun trip you’ll want to take more than once and sets a good foundation for future releases.
- A ghost ship is a great beginning and the star of the game
- Your choices really matter and have weight
- Story reveals a little too much too quickly
- Movement could be better
- Voice over audio and visual pop in could be better
Reviewed using PS4 Pro.