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Man of Medan Video Game Review

Written by Ryan Noble

Released by Bandai Namco

Developed by Supermassive Games
2019, Rated M
Game released on 30 August 2019
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC

Man Of Medan Cover Large

Review:

An anticipated game docked on multiple platforms at the end of August, and if you loved the interactive, narrative-driven horror of Until Dawn, you just might have been waiting for it. Before you come aboard, let me tell you whether it’s worth dusting off your scuba gear for their next choose-your-own-adventure, set in the South Atlantic Ocean and based on the eerie tales surrounding a real-life ship called the Ourang Medan*.

*Research this after playing the game as you’re sure to find spoilers in the real-life events of the ship.

Man Of Medan 01  Man Of Medan 02

Gather round for the first of eight stories…

Man of Medan is the first of eight new games in a collection that Supermassive Games is calling The Dark Pictures Anthology. The studio has said that they plan to release two titles a year – which is great news for horror lovers – and based on this first game, it seems like they’ll be bringing unexplained phenomenon from our world to life in their own way. And bring it to life, they have.

This is one of the most realistic games I’ve ever seen. Using the latest motion-capture technology, Supermassive capture people perfectly. It’s not just their facial expressions, but also the way they walk and interact with the world around them. Nowadays that may seem like a small thing, but it just looks that good. But, as is often the way with interactive stories, it’s all about the narrative experience…

For the first time ever, there are a couple of different ways to play through the story. You can ‘Play Alone’, which is the single-player experience you might remember from Until Dawn, or you can try the brand-new co-op modes within ‘Don’t Play Alone’; this consists of online co-op and ‘Movie Night’, the latter of which is an especially nice touch, allowing 2-5 players to each choose a character – or multiple depending on how many players there are – and pass the controller between them to take their turns.

It really captures the shared experience of sharing ghost stories and I could imagine it making for a few great evenings in the upcoming month of Halloween – that’s right, it’s an entire month over here at HorrorDNA.

So, who are the unfortunate souls are trying to make their way through the murky depths of this horror? After a suitably creeping opening that gave me serious Ghost Ship vibes, teaching the player the basic controls of the game while setting the scene for everything that comes later, we’re greeted to our five protagonists as they board the Duke of Milan for a diving expedition.

Man Of Medan 03  Man Of Medan 04

Welcome to the Duke of Milan’s crew…

Aboard this ship is Conrad, a guy with as much arrogance as money, notably portrayed by Shawn Ashmore (X-Men); Julia, his sister, a slightly more down-to-earth counterpart and girlfriend to Alex; Alex, who has been planning this trip to keep the fires burning in their now long-distance relationship; Brad, Alex’s nerdy brother – almost stereotypically so; and Fliss, the captain of the Duke of Milan, who walks the line between strong-willed and stubborn.

What begins as a group of friends getting together to explore an underwater wreck soon becomes so much more, plunging the characters into tense and terrifying situations where every choice might be the last they make. Of course, the twist and turns of the story are the game’s highlights, so I won’t be spoiling that for you here…

Gameplay is as you might expect if you’ve played Until Dawn, switching between characters as the story progresses to interact with objects and people around you. Even when you switch from their fancy boat to much less desirable environments, it pays to explore like you’re searching for gold. Finding a certain piece of information or a key item can completely change an event further down the line, although not always in a good way…

It also pays to never let your guard down. At any moment, you might be subject to a quick-time event with brutal consequences. Sometimes you’ll need to make a quick decision, press a corresponding button, defend yourself, or match button presses with the beating of your poor, overworked heart. These can be over in seconds, but may completely shape your personal path through the choppy waters of Man of Medan.

Who will be left by the time the credits roll?

In all honesty, I didn’t really mind who lived or died… Sadly, I didn’t warm to any of the characters much throughout, which meant it didn’t really hurt that much when they started dying off, either…

And that might be my main issue with Man of Medan. Weighing in at around five hours of gameplay, the game is noticeably shorter than Until Dawn, a game I can’t help but compare against. While the length isn’t a negative, especially given the game’s natural replayability, it does mean that there isn’t really that much time for character development.

Without such character development, I don’t feel like I got to know the characters well enough to care about them, with the exception of Fliss, a natural outsider to their group of entitled personalities. Even so, I was pleased that I managed to keep 3/5 of the original crew alive through to the end… And then I started all over again.

Supermassive know how to make you love déjà vu…

The length of the game, though used as a downside literally two paragraphs ago, is also a reason that the game feels so replayable. Knowing that I could finish the game in a couple of sittings – or even one if I had a completely free evening – I had to dive back into the story and see what I could do differently…

Would they have all survived if I’d not done this or that? What would have happened if I’d gone left instead of right? What secrets did I miss? For such a small story, the ‘what ifs’ still feel monumental…

Man Of Medan 05  Man Of Medan 06

A few things I'd rather not see again...

Less monumental are the few noticeable barnacles clinging to the underside of this ship-heavy horror. I was playing on a PlayStation 4, so perhaps it was an issue of slightly older hardware compared to updated PCs or the PlayStation 4 Pro, but there were a number of times when the frame rate dipped to the point that characters’ movements, normally so fluid and realistic, became clunky.

Another small issue was that lining up with items sometimes felt off, as you have to be facing from a very specific angle to interact; this leads to turning around in circles to get it right, shattering the illusion that these are real people, even if they truly look the part.

Then, and this may be a personal one, there were some moments that had me shouting at the screen in the same way you’d shout at idiot teens in a slasher movie. They’d be loud when they should be whispering, calm when they should be freaking out, or just chatting about trivial nonsense when they should have been scared for their lives…

Even if they look real enough to touch, there were times when it felt like the writing revealed stereotypical teenage templates under their life-like skin.

Regardless, Man of Medan gets under your own skin and you can’t help but want to go headfirst into another playthrough, either to see what you can do differently or to try out one of the other modes with friends or by yourself.

Should you prepare your sea legs for this story?

While the game feels like it could be longer, there are certainly positives to its shorter length; not only does it mean that Supermassive can scare us twice a year with shorter development times needed for each new game, but it means sitting down to replay the story feels akin to settling around a campfire with friends, eager for bite-sized horror.

Sure, Man of Medan feels less memorable than Until Dawn, maybe because of the game’s length, meaning less time to warm to the characters or invest in their individual dramas. But, then again, that’s kind of how ghost stories work, too, right?

For a short period of time you’re trapped in their intense storm of horror and then they’re gone. Over. Until the next time you decide to tell ghost stories again.

It may not be perfect, but I do think it’s worth coming aboard the Duke of Milan for a short, sea-faring ghost story that you’ll want to keep coming back to… And before you even see land again, the next instalment of The Dark Pictures Anthology might be out.

All we know so far is that it’s called Little Hope, it’s releasing in 2020, and it’ll feature Will Poulter, who you may have seen in We’re The Millers or Netflix’s own foray into interactive stories, Bandersnatch. In the teaser shown at the end of Man of Medan, we see a woman skipping around a campfire, a creepy doll, and a woman dragged into the darkness by chains... So far, it’s a nonsensical nightmare, but I’m excited.

Let’s just say, I’m ready to hear another ghost story.

Grades:

Story: Threeandahalfstars Man Of Medan Cover Small.jpg
Buy Amazon Uk
Graphics: Fourandahalfstars
Gameplay: Threeandahalfstars
Sound: Threeandahalfstars
Replayability: Fourstars
Overall: Threeandahalfstars

About The Author
Ryan Noble
Staff Reviewer
If Ryan isn't watching, reading or playing some form of horror, he's probably writing about it. He used to be an Editor at Indie Game Magazine so he has a soft spot for independent creators, especially when they're creating fear. Whether you're one such creator, or a fellow horror fan, let's speak about spooks on Twitter or email.
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