I have so many fond memories of Telltale games like The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us and Tales of the Borderlands, but there’s no denying that the genre these games fit into is seemingly restrictive and formulaic despite their critical acclaim. Even so, developers like Supermassive Games are trying to push these kinds of titles in exciting ways, most recently with the start of their Dark Pictures Anthology. Man of Medan is the first of eight games in the series and gets the anthology off to a remarkable start, and shows great promise from an ambitious idea.
Man of Medan follows a small group of young adults on a diving trip in search of undiscovered wrecks deep in the South Pacific Ocean. In traditional horror fashion, a few things go awry, and some unexpected events wind up stranding the group on a seemingly cursed ghost ship. How these events transpire and who survives them all comes down to the decisions that the player makes. It creates a strong incentive to replay Man of Medan aside from scouring for more clues as to what happened to the ship in the first place. I’ve seen a fair few of the numerous routes that the game has to offer and I still feel like there’s much more to be seen and discovered.
Tonally, Man of Medan is a very different horror game compared to Until Dawn. It does away with its campy nature and stereotypical characters for a more psychological and suspenseful thriller where the answers are never fully unveiled until the end. It’s a much more believable premise with a smaller, yet likeable cast, some of which have traits that are certain to rub people the wrong way, but that’s an integral part of these kinds of games, especially when your friends control the characters. It makes for a game that feels much more serious than the underlying cheesy nature of Until Dawn, which keeps it feeling unique.
There are a few different ways you can play Man of Medan, and each of them provides a different experience. Movie Night mode allows up to five players to pass around the controller as they play as different characters. It adds an extra layer of complexity to the formula, incentivizing you to think carefully about what you want to do next. Shared Story mode allows two players to play online at the same time, taking control of separate characters to provide different perspectives on a scenario. The game presents itself in this mode as if you’re playing split-screen, which again, encourages you to think a little more about the decisions you make. There’s also your typical solo mode where you can play by yourself, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to experience one of these excellent coop modes. It feels like the game was designed around them, and it’s heavily intended for you to try each of them out, creating even more replay value.
The area that the choose your own adventure games typically falter in is when it comes to gameplay, and it’s easy to see why. They often fall into the trappings of repetition and shallow mechanics. There’s always a stark focus on the narrative at hand, and Man of Medan is no different, for better and for worse. It’s easy to get involved with the cast and the events at hand, but there are a few sections in Act II that slow the pacing down in comparison to Acts I and III. Titles like this always get a bit stale by the time you reach the end, but the lack of gameplay variation is sorely felt in Man of Medan.
Where the game shines, though, is in the ways it makes small improvements to the genre that make sense and improve the overall experience. Things like being able to track character traits and relationships as you play and watching how the decisions you make affect these things is satisfying, and a great insight into how you could do things differently. Exploration is also rewarded with lore, information about what’s happened on the ship and most importantly, paintings that trigger premonitions of the future. These can clue you in on how to stop the events that are going to take place before they start or ensure them if you’re wanting to experience a different route.
Presentation-wise, Man of Medan is mostly excellent. The game is gorgeous with meticulously detailed environments and intricate character models. It’s a joy to look at, and the game runs well for the most part. There’s occasional stuttering that becomes more prevalent in Acts II and III, it’s never enough to ruin the experience, but it gets a bit frustrating, nonetheless. Performances are great across the board, and the score is suitably understated and creepy, which works wonders for building up suspense.
THE PS4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL COPY OF THE GAME WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Man of Medan is a stellar example of how to push boundaries and innovate within genres that seem restrictive at first glance. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like Supermassive has done much to give the game its own identity, but enough is going on under the hood to make it unique and have it stand out among the plethora of choose your own adventure games. There’s a few pacing and gameplay variation issues that hold it back from being excellent, but a plethora of game-modes that all offer unique experiences and loads of replay value get the first game of The Dark Pictures Anthology off to a great start.
Engaging Narrative Premise And Characters
Seemingly Endless Replay Value
Small And Meaningful Innovations That Fit Into The Formula
Pacing Issues And Minimal Gameplay Variation
stuttering Gets Frustrating In The Latter Parts Of The Game