Supermassive Games may have gotten their start working on DLC for LittleBigPlanet, but their breakout game was undoubtedly 2015’s Until Dawn. The developer has mostly focused on VR titles in the time since, but now they are returning to what worked in Until Dawn with a brand new anthology series known as The Dark Pictures. Each entry will focus on different horror sub-genres and the first is here to haunt players with The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan.
While most of The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan takes place in the present, the game starts off back in the past during the World War II era aboard a large freighter in the ocean. Some supernatural events occur aboard this ship in the opening, which also serves as a tutorial for players on how to play the game. The game then jumps to the present, where five characters are introduced that you will be controlling throughout the game. Brothers Alex and Brad are introduced first, with Alex’s fiance Julia and her own brother Conrad following soon after. Lastly, the captain of the boat, Fliss, comes aboard and the group set out to go diving.
Each character is sort of built around a stereotype, though they prove to be much more than this as time goes on. Alex is the strong headed athletic type while his brother Brad is the prototypical nerd. Julia and Conrad come from a rich family and appear at first to be a little spoiled, with Conrad especially being a bit self-centered. Then you have Fliss, the mysterious captain that none of the group knew prior and leads to some tension as a result. Each of these characters is voice acted well in the game, helping to make their characters feel believable.
The visual style in The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan is similar to that of Until Dawn, with realistic graphics that utilize mocap to provide emotive faces. This helps to make the character interactions feel all the more natural, regardless of which dialogue options you are selecting. Even though there aren’t that many different locations in the game overall, the game utilizes lighting very well to not only look good, but also complement the aesthetic the game is trying to present. The presentation is also really neat, as the game utilizes a Cryptkeeper like character that introduces the story and shows up throughout the game as well.
Once the story moves to the present and we are introduced to these five playable characters, things start off pretty lighthearted with banter and flirting between characters, one character getting seasick after drinking beer, and then the scuba diving itself. However, everything starts to get really intense as some major events happen that end up leading the crew to the now abandoned freighter from the beginning that is now a ghost ship with the single goal being survival.
The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan comes with two different ways to play that you can choose from on the main menu, Don’t Play Alone and Play Alone. Based on past Supermassive Games outings, you would expect the single player option to be the default main play type, but this game is actually designed for cooperative play above all else. That does not mean it cannot be fully enjoyed as a single player as well though, with Play Alone offering you the full story and experience as well.
Play Alone is the most simplistic experience in the game, where you rotate playing as one of the five main characters after the initial introduction section. When you are in control of a specific character, you will be answering questions as them when asked by moving the right analog stick to the answer of your choice. Each one of these questions has two answers to choose from, as well as the option to not speak at all. These answers affect relationships and how each of the characters are perceived, which can be viewed in the menu. There are also a few where you have to make a choice pretty quickly, such as to run or hide.
Similar to Until Dawn and other interactive games such as this, The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan is full of QTE sequences that you must perform as well with the face buttons. Some of these are life or death situations where a missed button press could lead to the death of a character, while others just lead to a variant scene. You never do know how important each QTE sequence will be, so you must try to complete everyone you can and hope any you miss don’t come back to hurt you.
Beyond the typical QTE sequences you are used to, The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan also has something known as the Keep Calm mechanic that is used multiple times in the game. This pops up during moments where you hear somebody coming and have to hide and stay quiet to avoid detection. At this point, a bar will appear across the screen with different heart readings that are moving across and you must press the button like a rhythm mini-game to stay quiet. You will be detected if you miss even one, with the result of being caught varying depending on the situation. These are thankfully not overused in the game, instead used at just the right moments to make these moments all the more stressful.
All of the above are featured in the Play Alone mode, but where the most innovative and complete experience is found in the game is with the Don’t Play Alone mode. This mode includes two different options itself known as Shared Story and Movie Night mode. Shared Story allows you to play with one friend online with each of you rotating between the five playable characters throughout the game. Sometimes the two characters you are controlling are interacting with one another, while other times they are separated. For instance, there was one section where Alex and Julia were both diving underwater, while the others were on the boat. The Play Alone mode went back and forth a few different times between the two parties, but Shared Story actually has them happening simultaneously. This leads to there actually being additional content that you can witness that is not available in solo play, with you and your friend each only witnessing what is going on first hand. Playing with a friend and being able to hide or reveal information that you want like this adds in a whole new layer of intrigue and fun.
Movie Night is a fantastic option for groups of friends that want a great multiplayer game
Movie Night mode expands the fun to up to five friends for local couch co-op. This mode has you passing the controller around as each person involved controls a specific main character from the group of five. The separate simultaneous conversations aspect of Shared Story is off the table here, but Movie Night is a fantastic option for groups of friends that want a great multiplayer game to play together.
Regardless of which game option you select, The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan is a relatively short experience at only about four hours or so long. However, there is a lot of replayability found here due to how players can be killed off in the game, so you’ll want to try and get better outcomes on subsequent playthroughs. In addition, there are some collectibles to come across in the game that are cataloged in the menus, including special Premonitions you can find by looking at specific paintings.
The game does have some performance problems here and there, though they are mostly few and far between. There was one instance where the lip sync fell off for like 15 seconds before correcting itself, while other times it was mostly involving just outright character movement. This is pretty stiff most of the time, like most similar games to this, but there are times where it messes up worse than usual. Probably the most frustrating issue throughout the game though is the difficulty and preciseness for interacting with objects. Sometimes the select icon, X on PS4, will not show up at all, requiring you to move back and walk up to it in the same spot to have it show up. This isn’t a performance problem, but more so a flaw in the design itself that can slow down progress pretty often.
Supermassive Games has been struggling a little since the release of Until Dawn, so it was great to see them finally bounce back with The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan. While a little short overall, there is a lot of reason to keep coming back to the game to try and save all five characters in one playthrough. Even with a few performance issues, The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan is a worthy spiritual successor to Until Dawn that is great with solo play and even better when playing with friends.
As only the first entry in Supermassive Games’ new anthology series, The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan offers a very replayable experience that is a lot of fun both in single player and with friends, leaving us very excited to see what they have in store for future entries yet to come.
- This article was updated on August 28th, 2019