You know when a new game comes out, everyone is excited about it, sharing photos of the box and then screenshots and clips of the game – and this can go on for weeks, everyone around them getting more and more hyped until, eventually, they cave and buy the game themselves?
That happened with Man of Medan incredibly briefly. It was a quick flurry of activity, of people being super excited and engaged – and then it was just…gone. Sure, like any game that’s out there in the ether, it still gets the odd mention here and there – but the hype train seemed to disappear for it incredibly quickly. Why is that?
Supermassive Games were responsible for the hugely popular Until Dawn on PS4, and Man of Medan – the first part in a planned series of games known as ‘The Dark Pictures Anthology’ – capitalises on Supermassive’s horror expertise to deliver another round of character based terror.
The story is presented as if it’s an episode of an anthology show – akin to a much more overtly jump-scare based Twilight Zone, perhaps – and even has a host, The Curator, who periodically passes snarky comment on choices made and the success or failure of certain events. He introduces the story, which has a great, interactive cold open faux TV show-style credit sequence before we get to the main game itself. The Curator, it has to be said, is fantastic.
Not wishing to spoil the story – it’s one of those games that is best experienced as a narrative you know little about going in – I’ll just say that it’s about a group of twentysomethings who discover a ghost ship on their (not so) leisurely trip out to sea. It’s full of dialogue and action choices that you often have to make very quickly, along with quick time events that, again, you’ll need to be very swift with in order to succeed. The story itself is a relatively short one (around four hours), but multiple endings should encourage repeat playthroughs.
However, I have to say that once was enough for me. Though the motion capture tech produces remarkably stunning results visually, I didn’t feel attached to any of the principal characters – they really seemed like an unlikeable bunch to me; perhaps that’s unfair with one or two of them, but if they weren’t – at worst – unlikeable, they felt a little too thinly sketched. That’s not a good sign for a game of this nature, where players should feel properly invested in each character’s fate.
Gameplay issues raise their head too. For starters, onscreen text is unbelievably small, meaning you can’t sit comfortably back and enjoy the game as you should (unless, of course, you’re blessed with a colossal TV screen – in which case, well done you!). The quick time events come out of nowhere and expect you to react incredibly quickly and precisely; though you could argue that’s exactly how it should be in a situation under pressure, too often it happens when you’ve just been watching a non-interactive scene for a few minutes and you’re suddenly asked to resume ‘playing’ with zero prior warning. Though it wouldn’t usually be such as issue, too much weight is placed on these very specific moments, that can very easily lead to the death of a character and no way of retrying the event. Again, it’s arguable that this increases tension, raises the stakes and makes every moment matter – but it often feels unfair, too sudden and overly fussy in practice. Control of the characters is awkward too, unfortunately.
At such a brief length, it’s pretty easy to get through to one of the endings, but whether it’s worth playing through again to try and trigger another is debatable, even at just four hours. There are a decent number of different ways to play with other people, however, including online and local multiplayer – and it feels like playing socially is definitely preferable, though the gameplay issues do still rear their heads (and, with players controlling specific characters, you then have an issue of some players not getting a turn for ages as the focus changes through the story – or even losing altogether if their character dies.). These issues, in my opinion, led to the hype dying down very quickly for Man of Medan; as well as that, the short length meant that anyone who was really into it got through it in a few sittings at most.
The overall production is stunning and very atmospheric, from both a visual and audio standpoint. The visuals really are seriously impressive, though even on an Xbox One X – the version I played – there was the occasional issue with stuttering frame rates.
Despite the problems, the premise and framework show serious promise – and the price point, especially now that it’s been reduced from its already low original RRP, is pretty fair.
Supermassive plan to regularly release new titles as part of the ongoing Dark Pictures Anthology, with Little Hope being the next game due for release (currently ‘sometime in 2020’). I look forward to seeing The Curator again and, hopefully, some more engaging and likeable characters – with a few improvements to the way the quick time events work (and some larger on screen text!), the next game will be an unmissable experience.
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