I grew up with an unhealthy obsession with horror. It started when I was small, watching the Tales of The Unexpected on TV. Then I found black and white re-runs of the Twilight Zone and most recently I’ve read a whole bunch of horror anthology literature from Edgar Allen Poe to Clive Barker. But in games there hasn’t really been a horror anthology, unless you can count the horror that is the Airport Simulator management series. Now though, with Man of Medan, we have it. This is the first in a set of games comprising The Dark Pictures Anthology that has been promised so let’s darken the lights, turn up the volume and prepare for things to get a little ominous…
Supermassive Games – the lead developers on Man of Medan – are no strangers to developing powerful cinematic stories with previous games like Until Dawn and Hidden Agenda. But Man of Medan is different and it doesn’t just come with a solo experience called ‘Play Alone’, but also two other modes in ‘Don’t Play Alone” which consists of a two-player co-op experience where you share the experience between you and a friend. Then there is the offline Movie Night opportunity for up to five players, letting you share the experience together by basically swapping the controller around after making an important decision. But let’s start with the solo experience first.
The story in Man of Medan is told through a mysterious figure called The Curator, who tells us that we will be encountering this story, but it is us who will shape the events of how it turns out; basically put, who will live and who will die. No pressure then.
His setting of a book depository and spooky candled desks sets a great atmosphere from the start and I’m sure this character will appear in all the upcoming games. He reminds me of a slightly more disturbed Rod Serling from The Twilight Zone and had me hooked into the world straight away.
You’re then transported to World War II for the briefest of prologues and some tutorials that show you how the main game dynamics work. Man of Medan is played in the third person and you swap between different characters throughout the story, walking around, exploring the land and picking up objects to examine them in more detail. You also have a number of Quick Time Events, but I have to admit that I found these quite tricky. See, there are the classic fight/dodge/run QTE sections which involve pressing the buttons in the right order with the right timing, but there is also an interesting segment which sees you hiding from something, and it is left up to you to match the rhythm of your heartbeat at the bottom of the screen to stay hidden.
The main episode after the World War II section is based in modern times, centred around a diving trip in the South Pacific. There are two brothers, a fiance of one, her cocky sibling, and a no-nonsense captain of the vessel, Fliss, who completes the team. It is they who wish to investigate an old crashed airplane, but soon things go horribly wrong when some uninvited guests arrive and they crash into a ghost ship.
The story is excellent, as is the writing from the team. Each character is brilliantly realised and you will end up loving them, hating them, laughing at them and fretting when something happens to them. You will be interacting with conversation choices and decisions that really manage to shape the nature of the story; a decision about what you feel about a person’s intentions and how you respond to that could have a deep impact later on in the story, while a specific course of action in a heated moment could result in death.
On my first playthough I killed everyone involved. I may not be proud of this – although the 100G in Gamerscore helps soothe the pain – but it did make me want to go back straight away, taking in another playthough with completely different responses. Whatever you choose though, Man of Medan certainly plays on the horror theme and there are some excellent jump scares throughout, with some generally very disturbing sequences to be had.
The ‘Don’t Play Alone’ sections are excellent value as well. Movie Night is a blast even though I mostly knew what was going to happen already, but it lets you have a good time debating, arguing, and agreeing with the decisions each of you make. When the jump scares come it feels treble the power, with real leap out of your skin moments. So much so that one of my team refused to come back from their hideaway halfway through the game, only being coaxed back once a specific section was over.
The other option allows the chance for you to play through the narrative with a friend. There will be times where you are both together, but at others you will go on your own separate ways, down totally different paths. For example, I spent one section on the deck of a boat chatting and drinking beers while my co-op partner was underwater exploring a sunken wreck. It is moments like these in Man of Medan, when the two stories connect, that makes this a fantastic bit of game design; nothing short of a massively original experience.
The visuals that Man of Medan on Xbox One come with are of a very high standard and consist of some amazing performance captures. The slight variations of a facial expression are captured perfectly and the detail in the features is amazing. The actual locations you will work through are a good mix too, whereby the outdoor stuff on the Duke of Milan (Fliss’ boat) looks beautiful; complete with sunsets and rolling seas. That situated on the ghost ship can get a bit samey as it’s all about the decay and rust, but the spooky side of this is stunning with the application of detail in documents again of a very high standard.
In the audio department, you will find an emotive and affecting soundtrack that is almost pitch-perfect in sync with the gameplay. Then there are the effects which are some of the best I’ve heard in a horror game; you may well wish to change your underwear at times. The acting performances are all solid and very well observed too.
I have had a great time with this game. But in fact Man of Medan is more than just a game; it’s a hugely entertaining experience. A solo player will find this journey interesting, but with the multiplayer extras it really does give the game plenty of replayability, becoming something to bring out late at night with some friends after a few drinks. Another good selling point is the price, and this sees Man of Medan come across as extremely good value, and that’s without even mentioning the bonus extra feature videos you can unlock.
Man of Medan is one of those near must play titles, and I can’t wait for the next instalment in The Dark Pictures Anthology.