Man of Medan is the first entry in The Dark Pictures Anthology by Supermassive Games – a new series of standalone horror games with branching narratives. Having cemented the foundations for a successful interactive horror experience in their popular hit, Until Dawn, Supermassive Games strives to improve on this formula in Man of Medan.
I’ll try to avoid major story spoilers where possible, but I will be talking about the plot briefly so if you want to experience the game entirely fresh without hearing anything about what lies ahead, do yourself a favour and add this to your ‘watch later’ list. If you’re still with me, let’s get stuck in.
If you enjoyed Until Dawn, I think it’s safe to say that you’re going to be impressed with Man of Medan. Despite being released four years apart, with a number of smaller releases in between the two, this feels like a true spiritual successor to the story we saw unfold back in 2015. However, Supermassive Games have pivoted from the teen slasher genre, opting for a slightly more mature story, rooted in supernatural and psychological themes. This time around, the story follows a group of five individuals who embark on a diving trip, later realising that they’ve bitten off way more than they can chew when a storm blows them into a long-abandoned WW2 cargo ship.
Similar to their other titles, Supermassive Games are structuring this title around branching narratives, enabling players to control who lives or dies, based off their decisions. The developer has also put more weight behind relationship management between characters, including more consequences when things aren’t as amicable as they could be. In addition, certain scenes only trigger on specific narrative paths, making multiple playthroughs where you actively make different decisions more interesting. According to the devs, Man of Medan also has 69 possible death scenes, compared to Until Dawn’s 38. I’ve played through the game a couple of times already and while the main story appears to remain consistent whether you choose to save everyone, or get them killed, I did notice a few alterations. New scenes triggered when I chose different responses in conversations and some segments later in the story featured different characters in specific parts on the ship. Of course, losing a character to an untimely death is quite a noticeable change too.
The Curator’s Cut also unlocks an alternate path through the story, giving players the chance to play from the perspective of other characters. For example, at the beginning of the game, you’re briefly introduced to two US Army soldiers, Joe and Charlie. In the Theatrical Cut, you’ll see the majority of the events unfold through Joe, whereas in the Curator’s Cut, you’ll play as Charlie. Seeing the events unravel a second time around also offers more of an explanation as to why a specific supernatural event occurs, which adds more clarity to the plot. This was a really nice touch as it demonstrates that some of the scenes that you may chalk up to just being there to scare you the first time you play, are actually deeper than that, and do have a more complex reason for their inclusion. There are a few instances where this occurs in the Curator’s Cut, making it feel more worthwhile to play through.
In addition to expanding the number of narrative branches in the game, Man of Medan categorises decisions slightly differently. Until Dawn approached conversations by offering the choice of two replies that had different tones. Your dialogue, as well as other decisions would then feed into the 22 possible Butterfly Effects in the game. Man of Medan has taken this system and has made it feel a lot neater, splitting decisions into acting with your heart or your head. You can also choose to say nothing to see how that pans out. All three choices are always displayed on a compass and there is also an achievement for playthroughs where you only choose ‘head’ decisions and one for ‘heart’ decisions, demonstrating that you can experience the entire game using these predetermined styles.
The Totems from Until Dawn also feature in Man of Medan, reintroduced as framed images of ships out at sea that you’ll find as you explore your surroundings. When you interact with these items, they will show you a brief premonition, revealing a possible outcome for your characters later on in the game. Depending on how you continue to play, you could end up honouring the events of the premonition and solidifying that fate for the characters, or avoiding it entirely. The premonitions in Man of Medan are split into two sets, with black framed images showing a premonition relating to a character’s death and white framed images just showing a possible event in the future. These can prove to be particularly helpful if you are hoping to play the game a certain way or want to avoid a specific character’s death. You’ll also meet ‘The Curator’ who reminded me of Dr. Hill or, ‘The Analyst’ from Until Dawn. This character will occasionally check in with you to comment on your decisions so far and he shows up in the background for a few seconds in at least one of the playthroughs. This is the one constant character that we’ll see in The Dark Pictures Anthology going forward as all of the upcoming titles are standalone but set in the same universe.
Despite all the things that Man of Medan does well, there was something that dampened my impressions slightly. QTE windows are huge, meaning that you’ll always have more than enough time to hit them, but missing these and deliberately failing the heartbeat rhythm sections that replace the ‘Don’t Move’ portions don’t appear to make a huge difference, in my experience. At worst, it appears that missing a QTE will slow the scene down slightly, with a character falling over, or with the heartbeat sections, it may just speed events forward. This isn’t particularly noticeable on your first run as you’ll likely want to perfect all of these parts, but so far, on my other runs, I haven’t seen many game-changing consequences from these mechanics. Experiencing other branches in the story or different death scenes is not entirely ideal either. The Scene Selection that unlocks after you complete your first playthrough is useful if you know exactly where you want to alter a decision you made previously, but the game will just continue to run from that moment. It’s interesting when you see a scene that you haven’t already come across but I know a lot of people will likely just watch other snippets of the story on YouTube to save time. The build that I played featured a Debug Menu where you could start playing from any chapter in the Theatrical or Curator’s Cut and select specific choices before jumping in. This rectifies this problem for the most part.
Overall, Man of Medan feels like the result of a gradual and natural progression for Supermassive Games. I cared more about the characters in Man of Medan than I did in their previous titles and I felt more invested in unraveling the story and revisiting it to unearth more secrets. The pace of the story as well as the careful balancing act of switching between each of the characters on the ship ensures that the atmosphere is consistently tense and eerie. Having played through the game a few times already, I’ve found that my average playtime is around 3.5 hours per run and although this sounds really short compared to Until Dawn, I’d argue that it’s the perfect length for the type of brief horror experiences that Supermassive are aiming for with this anthology. While I would have liked to have seen a little more added to the ending segment of the story, I think this shorter length leaves no time for boring filler content and makes the game more appealing to play through again. The Curator’s Cut, while not groundbreakingly different in the scheme of things, adds a few nice additions, and having the option to go back to a chapter where you made a choice that you questioned later on via the scene selection is nice. I can’t say I’ll be finding all the possible deaths that the devs have included, but I’ve already played through this title more times than I expected, and I’m still keen to revisit it again.
Man of Medan will release on 30th August and at £25 I’m slightly torn on whether I’d recommend it at that price. Even though this is a budget price tag compared to other titles, and I really enjoyed the game, if you’re only planning on playing through this once I can see why you’d rather wait for a sale. While I’d recommend playing The Curator’s Cut, as I mentioned earlier, a significant portion of the story is still the same. The Curator’s Cut also appears to be a preorder bonus that won’t be available to all players until later on this year. This further strengthens why you’d want to wait a little longer to play the game. With more titles already planned for the anthology, shelling out £25 each time feels a bit steep so I hope that they release some type of bundle option. That said, if you enjoyed Until Dawn you’ll certainly appreciate how Supermassive Games has continued along those same lines while refining the experience. I’m definitely excited to see what the rest of the anthology will contain and I’m looking forward to the horror sub-genre they’ll cover in the next instalment.