Man of Medan (2019) Review
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is a nautical themed cinematic horror game and the first entry into a planned eight-game series developed by Supermassive Games and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Be wary all ye who enter here, for a cheesy ghost story awaits on the lonesome sea…
Man of Medan begins with a prologue set in Manchuria (Northeast China), sometime after the second world-war. An American freighter, the SS Ourang Medan, is preparing to sail home with some ominous cargo in its hold, at least according to the skull and crossbones stamped on it.
Shortly after beginning its voyage, the ship is struck by lightning, causing the contents of its mysterious cargo to leak out, blanketing the lower sections of the freighter in a murky greenish mist. Once exposed to this mist the crew of the Medan begin to hallucinate and chaos quickly surges throughout the ship. None of the crew survive the pandemonium that ensues and the ship becomes lost at sea.
Cut to modern times and a small group of divers aboard a cabin cruiser called The Duke of Milan are scouting out an underwater WWII aircraft wreck somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean in the hopes of a wealthy plunder. This group is comprised of our five main characters: Alex a beefy med student with no personality, brother of Brad and boyfriend of Julia, Brad, Alex’s ‘nerdy’ younger brother who is surprisingly likeable and goofy in a charming manner, Julia, Alex’s girlfriend who’s equally as boring and devoid of personality as he is, Conrad, Julia’s smart-mouthed brother and easily one of the more likeable characters in the game, and Fliss, the stern and level-headed captain of The Duke of Milan. Some time is spent aboard the Duke of Milan on character introduction before some commotion occurs and we shockingly end up on the derelict Ourang Medan which is now seemingly haunted by its former crew.
Depending on the choices you make and how quick your reaction times are, all or none of your characters may survive till the end of the story and the defining moments between life and death are well put together, with most keeping an engaging sense of tension and unpredictability.
The gameplay of Man of Medan consists of walking, talking, and doing the occasional quick-time event (QTE). For the most part it’s a fairly simple loop of: walk around an area, examine a handful of notes/documents, get jump scared, QTE, rinse and repeat.
You will switch between controlling the main cast of characters throughout the game, each one plays the exact same with the only aspect you’re able to control are dialogue and action choices they make. Each character has a floating word bank of traits associated with them on the status screen to give you an idea of their personality. These traits will either diminish or become more prevalent depending on how you play but I didn’t notice any actual effect they had in the game.
The main cast of characters can live or die depending on the choices you make or the QTEs you fail and character relationships can improve or decrease depending on how you interact with them throughout the story.
There are secrets and collectibles present throughout the game in the form of notes and items with most revealing some lore or background information of the doomed freighter. The more interesting collectibles however come in the form of premonitions. Throughout the game you will find picture frames that will show you a snippet of what’s to come in the future such as one of your characters in trouble or a hazy vision of a crucial event. These never really spoil anything and can influence the decisions you make in future.
100% of the game’s focus is on story and narrative and for the most part it’s an enjoyable if somewhat cheesy horror tale that you can kill a few hours with. The game itself is fairly linear process of walking forward until you hit the next set-piece. The prospect of different outcomes depending on how you play is a good selling point, however I couldn’t justify jumping into another playthrough of the story once I finished it.
The main characters are a bit hit-or-miss. Conrad and Fliss are easily the stars of the show and Brad has his moments. Alex and Julia are pretty bland and I never found myself caring about their wellbeing. The game suffers a bit from a lack of connection between the characters and their reaction to events happening on screen. Oftentimes they don’t react at all to the spooky shenanigans going on or their reactions are somewhat downplayed or delayed, it makes for a disjointed experience and ruins a lot of the potential atmosphere the creepy abandoned ship could have.
The game primarily relies on jump scares for horror over atmosphere. There were one or two scenarios where the atmosphere was brilliant but almost immediately ruined by a barrage of cheap jump scares every minute. It becomes very hard to take the game seriously when you’re constantly wondering, ‘what’s gonna jump out at me next?’ and everything from rats to eels will be used to this extent. That being said there are some well done jump scares, such as non-cutscene specific scares where often the environment and fixed camera angles are combined to show a glimpse of something moving accompanied by the horror staple high-pitched music sting.
Crucial choices/moments are intense and the outcomes are often uncertain, this works very well for the game and it has a few well-done twists utilizing player choices. The monster design is a pretty generic zombie-ish one, however it’s one of the more enjoyable aspects of the game along with the overall graphical look due to the graphic-design and Unreal Engine. The game looks very nice in all areas, the facial animations can border on the uncanny valley at times but are fine for the most part.
I never noticed any perceivable effect the traits or relationship mechanic between characters had on the story or gameplay. They feel like they’re just there for filler and to give the game an illusion of depth that it doesn’t really have.
This roughly 6-7-hour story is enjoyable for what it is and offers many a cheap jump scare to keep your nerves on edge as you wander around a derelict ghost ship. It almost had an interesting story but unfortunately it is often ruined by a barrage of jump scares and a weird exposition dump later in the game (depending on if you’ve read enough documents and kept everyone alive) that summarizes and explains the entire narrative in around 30 seconds.
I’d recommend this game if you’re a fan of a more cinematic horror experience and are looking for a quick dose of thrills and cheese. You’ll most likely forget all about it in a week but luckily there are a few more games to check out in The Dark Pictures Anthology, each with a different horror theme and hopefully more memorable stories.