The developers of the cult horror game Until Dawn, Supermassive Games, return with a new IP in the form of The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan which sadly leaves a lot to be desired.
There are very few things that are more frustrating for a gamer than to see an otherwise good idea with genuinely talented people behind it yet they completely drop the ball. While it's not the worst game to come out this year, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is the perfect embodiment of that frustration. It has the right ideas, appealing graphics, and a solid cast of characters yet it somehow manages to use all of them in the most incompetent way possible. The end result is a game that will likely frustrate any player who touches it while also making them occasionally laugh with how hilariously bad it can be.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is an interactive drama that follows a group of college-aged divers who are searching for a wrecked airplane that went down in the late 1940s. After getting boat jacked by a band of pirates and caught in the middle of a storm, the group is forced to take refuge in a mysterious ghost ship from the same post-World War II era.
However, not everything is as it seems on this ship as everyone onboard begins to see horrific things that threaten their sanity and their lives. It's up to you to lead the five characters through the ship, escape the pirates and whatever other horrors are onboard, and decide which of the characters live or die. Sadly, while the plot has an intriguing premise, it's executed poorly.
Man of Medan's primary blunder is its story structure with the first error being in the prologue section where you play as a member of the ghost ship's crew before everything went wrong. It features some hilariously bad acting that immediately eliminates any chance of the player being able to take the story seriously and it also gives away its entire hand before the main story begins.
Right off the bat, you get a pretty good idea as to where the ship's horrors come from and what is in store for your characters later on. It cuts out a big chunk of the mystery factor which, as any horror fan will tell you, is often creepier and more interesting than any of the monsters or jump-scares. As a result, when you're finally given a plausible explanation as to what happened on the ship, it will land with a dull thud and undoubtedly make you think to yourself, "Oh, yeah... I already guessed that..."
When Man of Medan finally decides to focus on our main character, it admittedly finds its footing. The first third or so of the campaign has us getting to know the characters as they prepare to make their dive. Unlike with the characters of Until Dawn, the developers went out of their way to try and make these personalities more likeable and get us to care whether or not they make it to the end. While they succeed in this, the issue is that we spend a little too much time with them before we even get to the ghost ship.
The majority of the first third is spent doing tedious busywork that involves your characters poking their noses in other people's business and looking at objects for what feels like an eternity. While this sort of downtime is common with games like these, it feels like the developers were merely trying to pad out the gameplay time in this case. This is sadly something that is more or less spread throughout the campaign as you'll spend a lot of time walking around hallways and looking at objects with large gaps between scares.
Thankfully, Man of Medan starts to get interesting once you finally get on the ship. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of annoying busywork coupled with clunky controls and annoying camera angles that will frustrate you to no end but at least now, you have a creepy and unsettling atmosphere to do it within. It helps that most of these long crawls of busywork end with genuinely horrific moments with actual tension that are sure to get your blood pumping. Unfortunately, right as the whole thing starts to get interesting, it just kind of stops. There isn't a climax, any big twist, or anything resembling a satisfying conclusion. It merely gets to a certain point then says that the game is over with your characters living or dying depending on the choices that you made which is an infuriating conclusion to an already frustrating game. It's sure to find itself featured in my Bad Video Game Endings series at some point.
Story issues aside, many games can redeem themselves with good gameplay. Unfortunately, interactive dramas like these almost always rise and fall with their writing. The gameplay is primarily made up of quick-time events, dialog options, and decision making but even the most creative of these don't make up for the poor story. Yes, even this aspect is something that the developers messed up.
Like Until Dawn, Man of Medan features stunning graphics that almost perfectly puts human characteristics and features on the character models which almost seem to have clawed their way out of the uncanny valley. The problem is that the actual animations are incredibly buggy and subject to horrible framerate drops. Someone will be in the middle of a tense conversation then the whole scene will be completely ruined by a character's lip movement being terribly out of sync with the audio or a freeze will occur that immediately jumps to something else thus ruining the pacing. It's not something that happens every now and then; these framerate drops and jumps seem to occur in every conversation and will constantly distract you from the drama that's taking place. This is something that will undoubtedly be patched but it's a shame that any developer would release a game in such a messy state.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan does have one saving grace. The multiplayer aspect is unquestionably fun but probably not in the way that the developers intended. You basically take control of other characters who would normally be controlled by the AI while making decisions and choosing dialog for them. The fun that you'll likely get out of this is from laughing at how bad the whole thing is with your friends. The annoying framerate drops and bad acting (particularly in the prologue section) is far more enjoyable with friends and you'll find yourself having a ball with the help of a few drinks. Unfortunately, this doesn't make Man of Medan worth playing if you don't have anyone to play it with and it's kind of hard to justify purchasing multiple copies just for a laugh.
In the end, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is a tough game to recommend. With buggy animations and a sloppily told story, it simply feels like a waste of time if you want to play it alone. The good things that it has going for it merely make the bad feel all the more noticeable. Plus, what's truly enjoyable about it is often fun in ways that the developers clearly did not intend.
Hopefully, Supermassive Games can learn from what went wrong here and apply it to their next projects. For now, Man of Medan is simply not worth playing and I recommend skipping it entirely.
- + Great graphics and realistic characters
- + Genuinely creepy moments filled with tension
- + Multiplayer makes it more fun so you can have a laugh with a friend
- - Plot gives away too much too soon
- - Horrible framerate drops
- - Takes forever for the main characters to actually get to the ship