Man of Medan Review – Supermassive Success?
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Release: 30th August 2019
I’m always a sucker for a good horror game or promising ones in general, so when Bandai Namco and Supermassive Games announced their upcoming Dark Pictures Anthology horror series, I was more than excited. I found Until Dawn to be a promising and pretty fun experience if not for the unneeded twist in the second half. So, can Man of Medan, the first 5 hour long adventure in this horror short story series capitalize on the past titles and deliver a thrilling, multi-path adventure? Often, yeah!
Man of Medan centers around five teenagers who, as every good horror flick on sea begins, set out to explore some undiscovered underwater wrecks and dive to places where no man dove before. Naturally, things go wrong and they soon find themselves in custody of a group of pirates and soon on an abandoned wreck where things aren’t as they seem and slowly they begin to doubt their own sanity.
The story itself is rather predictable for the most part, with a handful of twists in-between I of course, won’t spoil. Otherwise the whole affair is a pretty unsurprising horror movie on the sea with everything you could ask for. Similar to Until Dawn’s first half, it doesn’t want to reinvent the genre but deliver exactly what you came for: A cliché horror movie. This time though, it fully commits to it and doesn’t go astray later on with questionable writing decisions and introductions of new enemies.
Where Man of Medan’s surprise factor lies in, are the many choices you will have to make during your trip, affecting the character’s fate in quite drastic ways. While this may sound more like PR speech, the decisions actually matter this time around and nearly all of them too. After the first 30-45 minutes, nearly all decisions have some sort of later impact, only with a few unimportant ones in-between for good measure. The condensed playtime really helped the writing to come up with meaningful moments to influence the characters instead of having to come up with many but ultimately boring ones over the course of a 10 hour campaign. In this departmen, I have to give Supermassive Games credit since they actually managed to make me feel in charge of this cast.
Yet, in these decisions also lies one problem: In order to make all of them matter in significant ways, many of them actually lead to badly written passages. Unless you play perfectly and progress through the story in what I consider the “intended way”, Man of Medan struggles to come up with believable death or danger scenarios as a result of your actions. For example, I give a character a weapon, 5 minutes later he goes crazy and kills another character. Could I have predicted that?
For me, a video game story that doesn’t give me a fair chance to “win” is frustrating. Especially since nearly all deaths are written into the game as a result of unpredictable or dumb behavior. Another example, I send someone away to get help, thinking if the cast flees before he finds them, they can just radio him up and inform him. In the end, they don’t do that, even though they had a radio and the
Here the fact horror protagonists in these kind of “movies” are typically dumb hinders the enjoyment as now the player actually suffers from their stupidity and doesn’t get enjoyment out of it anymore as he is now actively involved. At least that’s the reason I could think of why this writing solely sucked when it came to punishing bad decisions. Though after completing it in an almost flawless way too, all these problems disappeared and I actually had a great time with Man of Medan.
Gameplay-wise, it’s also pretty much as one would expect, especially if you’ve played Until Dawn. There are easy, sometimes time or trigger restricted exploring passages, some quick time events and a whole lot of cutscenes. Luckily, Supermassive Games found a good way to balance things out and there is always at least something to do, either walking around or pressing something. Naturally all this is very light and not challenging in the least.
Graphically though, having played the PC version, Man of Medan is an absolute treat for the eyes. While I guess it looks similar to Until Dawn on PS4, which already looked great, the PC version runs super smooth and is well optimized as well as help to showcase the visual complexity of the game. Characters look amazing, especially skin and clothes, while the lighting helps to really create a great atmosphere for the whole ship and surreal scenes. From time to time, the directing and animations seemed a bit stiff in their transitions but overall, it really comes awfully close to a playable movie.
Man of Medan is a good, almost great start for this horror stories anthology. I still believe the reliance on choices hurts the writing in many places and consider the perfect playthrough the best possible experience from every perspective, it’s a well-made experience that catches pretty much every good and
[A Review Code was provided by Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe]