While I never played UNTIL DAWN, I watched others navigate its varied gameplay and multiple endings that could occur with each playthrough. Doing so made sense to me, because it was basically an interactive film. The graphics were great, and the story was intricate and anxiety-inducing. When their next game, THE DARK PICTURES: MAN OF MEDAN was announced, people were excited and I could understand why. Though this time around, I decided it was time for a hands-on experience to see just what all of the fuss was about.
MAN OF MEDAN was developed Supermassive Games and published by BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment. It looks to be the first in an anthology of games, hence being titled THE DARK PICTURES ANTHOLOGY. While UNTIL DAWN was about creatures/killers, this new game seemed to be more ghostly and supernatural, which is more in my wheelhouse. The thing that I learned quickly about this game is that nothing is what it seems. I will try and go over MAN OF MEDAN with as few spoilers as possible, but inevitably some information needs to be shared. But don’t worry, no deep details will be discussed.
Our tale begins with four friends heading to the South Pacific to do a dive on a crashed World War II airplane. When their boat gets boarded by some high sea baddies, the trip goes downhill fast when a storm blows the small craft into a ghost ship from WWII. They board the ship to gain shelter from the storm, though it quickly becomes clear that they are not alone on the massive vessel.
In my opinion, MAN OF MEDAN’s story is much more interesting, simple and eerie than UNTIL DAWN. The psychological elements here are reminiscent of LAYERS OF FEAR, and the setting is stunning. Dripping, rusted and always decrepit, I feel like I got tetanus just navigating the game’s environments. As if the gameplay wasn’t enough to keep you on edge, the claustrophobic ship doesn’t make you feel any better. The game’s graphics, sound design and choose-your-own-adventure aspect are all great, but the game definitely has its flaws.
Alright, now that the sunshine and rainbows aspect is out of the way, let’s talk real stuff here. The game is VERY jumpy. Remember the old arcade game DRAGON’S LAIR? You had to make certain correct movements to initiate a new animated sequence, though it was a tad choppy because the sequence didn’t initiate until you made your move. Even still, DRAGON’S LAIR was smoother than MAN OF MEDAN. It’s so choppy that certain actions are cut off by cutscenes and dialogue – important in a narrative game – are cut short to make way for a transition that jumps into action with no prompting. It’s unfortunate, as I would never get to hear what certain characters had to say.
I was always terrible at choose-your-own-adventure stories when I was younger. However, with MAN OF MEDAN, I made all the correct decisions in my playthrough for every character to live, though they still met their untimely demise due to one thing: quick time events. I hate quick time events. I didn’t like them in RESIDENT EVIL and I don’t like them now. I am directionally dyslexic; I know my left from my right but in fast situations (or any, really) my body mixes them up and does the opposite of what I know is the proper direction. It’s annoying enough in everyday life but in MAN OF MEDAN it was infuriating, because my characters’ lives often depended on a left or right button hit. I was a champ when it came to up and down prompts, but because of this mechanic, three of my five characters didn’t make it out alive… even though all the right story decisions were made. Rage ensued.
Despite the unfortunate relationship between me and my left and right directions, I was always engaged in the story. The deaths aren’t more brutal than they need to be, which is a positive in my opinion. They’re fairly realistic given the subject matter, though I wasn’t upset because of their deaths, I was upset because I wasn’t allowed enough time for character development to give a rat’s fart in space whether one character lived over another. Had there been some extra time in the beginning before everything went down for me to connect to Alex, Brad, Julia, Conrad and Fliss, I would have cared more about their fates. In the end, I wanted to know more about what was happening on the ship rather than wanting the characters to actually survive.
I know it sounds like I didn’t have fun with MAN OF MEDAN but I promise I did. The gameplay lasted about 6 hours and I played solo. You can always play with a friend, and I believe there are added scenes for offline two-player co-op in the game’s “Shared Story Mode.” There is also “Movie Night Mode,” where you and up to four friends play together in local co-op, each controlling a different character. As you progress in the story, extras unlock and it’s almost like the bonus features on a DVD. Just like with UNTIL DAWN, the replayability is here with so many ways that gameplay can branch.
There are pictures you can find which will give you premonitions of what may come, and your decisions are tracked on compass wheels that let you know the impact of your decisions. You’ll be able to unlock secrets along the way, so always make sure to fully inspect each of the game’s area. The movement mechanics here a bit lacking, almost as if each character’s shoes are filled with sand. As in old-school horror games, the camera angles are pretty static and very cinematic. The way it’s “shot” is very pretty, but the changing camera angles doesn’t help with the already wonky character movement.
Though the voice acting here is wonderful, I must say. Pip Torrens, Shawn Ashmore, Ayisha Issa, Chris Sandiford, Kareem Tristan Alleyne, Arielle Palik, Kwasi Songui and Chimwemwe Miller all lend their talents for the main characters, and all do a great job of making the situation seem more realistic. So overall, THE DARK PICTURES: MAN OF MEDAN is a good time. Sure, it has its share of issues, but it’s a fun narrative experience that’s sure to make you occasionally jump and leave you feeling eerily anxious with its atmosphere and intense story.