Man of Medan is the first entry in the Dark Pictures Anthology, a collection of choose-your-own-adventure style games from Supermassive Games, the creators of the PlayStation 4 exclusive Until Dawn. This time, Supermassive Games has partnered with Bandai Namco to bring you this curated collection of Tales from the Crypt-esque short-stories. But can this new horror-adventure hold a candle to the critically-acclaimed Until Dawn? This is our PlayStation 4 Man of Medan review.
Let me preface our review by letting you know that due to the nature of Man of Medan’s story, this review may contain slight spoilers. We have tried to keep it as spoiler-free as possible while still maintaining a thorough review of Man of Medan but there may be elements that some may find too revealing. With that warning out of the way, let us begin…
STORY AND SOME PLOT
I found the beginning to be a little weird at first. All I knew about Man of Medan was that five characters – that you controlled and decided their actions – were going on a diving trip gone horrifically wrong. So, having the beginning set in World War II where I controlled a very-forgettable U.S. Navy private threw me for a loop. However, in hindsight, I came to appreciate the world-building this provided in giving me a look at the main setting of Man of Medan before everything turned upside-down. My favorite part of this prologue was the tutorial on how Quick-Time Events (QTE) are handled throughout the story via an automated Chinese training-dummy. Although the events of the prologue seemingly lacked any kind of impact on the main story, it did provide me a glimpse into what’s really going on in the story. It wasn’t until the second playthrough that I caught these key scenes, however, and the significance of this revelation had me re-thinking what I thought really happened on the ship. In playing this prologue again through the second, third and fourth times via co-op and Movie Night modes to try and get every Trophy, I started to wish this entire into was skippable since there’s no discernible cause-and-effect relationship between any of the choices I made.
The only good thing about the prologue in Man of Medan is after I finished it, I was treated to an epic title sequence introducing the characters’ actors while listening to a fantastic song by American “doomed” metal band Khemmis titled ‘A Conversation with Death’. I had never heard of this brand before, but upon listening to this track I immediately fell in love and started furiously Googling to find out who they were. This opening sequence for Man of Medan provided the perfect tone for what I was about to experience. After, I was introduced to the Curator: a narrator-type role in Man of Medan who provided me with clues (only if I asked for them) in-between chapters and gave me remarks as to how I was doing based on the decisions I made for the characters. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t asked for any clues since I feel like they gave too much away in the story. The one piece of advice I’d give to anyone that plays Man of Medan is to try and figure things out yourself. And yes, that will require a couple of playthroughs.
After I got things explained by the Curator, I started the present-day timeline and was introduced to each of the five characters I would be controlling in Man of Medan. I felt like this first chapter did a good job of introducing each character and highlighting their personality to the fullest. I did get some stuttering during this section, especially at the onset of each character’s intro, which included wonky texture pop-ins and worsened frame rates. It didn’t seem as if there was anything demanding to go on at the time, especially since I had just taken off ‘Boost’ mode on my PlayStation 4 Pro, so I don’t know why I was getting graphical-hitches at the time. I noticed texture pop-ins were pretty consistent throughout my gameplay, but it wasn’t enough to detract from my experience at all. What did detract was that while my PS4 was on ‘Boost’ mode the video output would cut out for a few seconds and cut back in. It got to a point where I was getting a blank screen every 3-5 seconds that would really mess up any QTE actions I had to do, but I was playing without any Day 1 patch so I’m hoping that if it hasn’t been resolved already it will be soon.
Otherwise, I felt like this first chapter did a great job in allowing the decisions I made to also influence the character’s personalities. I felt like I was able to enhance certain characteristics based on how I thought each person would behave. For example, when Conrad was blatantly flirting with Fliss I didn’t like how cocky and confident he was in hitting on her. When he implied that it must’ve been difficult for her to start up a business, I felt like Fliss would have taken offense to that. And then Conrad said his wealthy family could make a sizeable investment into Fliss’s business and I was like, “Oh helllll no! Fliss is a strong, independent woman who made this business from scratch and doesn’t need no wealthy, white boy acting like Prince Charming to come in and save the day!” (note: I myself am a wealthy white-boy). As such, I immediately turned down all his advances and decided in my head that she would be better off going after Alex’s little brother, Brad, instead – who seemed like he needed a strong, protective woman in his life. This feeling was cut short however when it turns out Fliss and Conrad get together anyways, but I spouse that’s the nature of this type of story-telling.
GHOST SHIP AHOY!
As teased in the prologue, the biggest chunk of the action is when you actually come upon the ghost ship, the titular [Redacted] Medan. The actual name of the ship is something one may discover while playing through the story, so I’m not going to spoil it here. However, the events of this mysterious ghost ship are actually based on real-life events – which just makes the actual setting that much more believable. Once upon the Medan, all kinds of spooky and paranormal stuff start happening. As if it wasn’t spooky enough that dead bodies – seemingly literally scared to death – are littered all over the ship, allowing Supermassive Games to lean on their expertise in jump-scares to really set the mood. My experience throughout the events of this ghost ship would have been so much scarier – and my choices so vastly different – if the Curator didn’t offer me a piece of advice beforehand (that I so willingly took). It was because of his words that my first playthrough actually managed to complete successfully with nobody dying. However, it kind of ruined the atmospheric thrill of exploring the Medan when I thought I had already figured out its secret.
That said, there were aspects of my first playthrough that I really enjoyed doing – such as absolutely 100% refusing to disturb or interact with any of the dead bodies on the ship. Because of a tale that Fliss told earlier, I felt like if I disturbed any of the bodies then I would start being haunted by their restless spirits. In fact, it wasn’t until I came across a section of the ship that forced me to interact with a body in order to progress that I started seeing weird paranormal activities going on. At the time, I was stuck inside an endless-loop of a hallway that reminded me of the canceled P.T. project, and I couldn’t escape the loop until I had interacted with this body. I really like that in my experience, I didn’t succumb to anything up until that point, so it again made me feel as if my assumption was correct to not disturb the remains of the ship’s crew. However, again, when I did start experiencing paranormal activities, I had harkened back to what the Curator told me previously and because of that was able to escape every scenario virtually unharmed. In fact, my gameplay had progressed so smoothly that when I did finally reach the last chapter and successfully escaped, it felt extremely abrupt. The final scene where I had finally achieved a method to escape felt underwhelming because, at this point, I already knew what the secret was and what I needed to do in order to ensure my characters’ survival. The sudden ending kind of put a sour taste in my mouth because I didn’t feel like I had resolved anything. Instead, my guys just escaped and put all the spooky stuff behind them. It was almost so abrupt as to question if I really got the “good” ending just because my characters all survived, or if maybe there was some kind of hidden sequence of events that might unlock a secret, “true” ending. As off-putting as that was, I found myself still wanting to go back and explore more of the Medan. So, I didn’t have that sour taste for long.
GAMEPLAY MECHANICS, ACCESSIBILITY, AND YOU!
Another part of my success can be attributed to the fantastic accessibility options present in Man of Medan. One of the first things I look for in any video game I play is the option to turn on subtitles if they’re not on by default. The reason being that I seldom get the opportunity to play with sound, so I need to be able to at least read what the characters are saying. While I was turning on this setting, however, I found all sorts of convenient options added by Supermassive Games that will allow so many people who might have found difficulty with the QTEs to progress just as smoothly through Man of Medan without any setbacks. In fact, I turned on many of these settings myself. There is the option to disable the countdown-timer on QTEs so you can just focus on hitting the right button instead of accidentally rushing and screwing up. As well, you can disable rapid-button pressing for situations like opening barred doors or moving tables and opt to hold down the button instead. Watching more gaming personalities that have disabilities, like Steve Saylor the Blind Gamer, and seeing people getting involved with organizations like Able Gamers has been eye-opening to me in how I feel like developers can help these gamers by adding in these kinds of accessibility options. It’s been amazing to watch big companies, like Microsoft, introduce accessories, such as their Xbox Adaptive Controller, in order to allow even more gamers to participate in this medium that we all love and enjoy. So, whenever I see a game that I feel helps push these accessibility options I feel like I need to shout it from the rooftops because unfortunately not every game is playable by every person. That said, these accessibility options I mentioned are unfortunately only allowed in the single-player story mode. I am curious as to why they couldn’t integrate these options into every mode as I feel like that could be very do-able, but I’m not a programmer so I don’t know how difficult that might’ve been to do.
CO-OP AND MOVIE NIGHT MODES
Although I didn’t have as successful of a story in the online 2-player co-op modes, I almost preferred this mode compared to single-player. One playthrough on single-player can take up to 6 hours to complete, whereas playing online with two players allows you to split up the story beats where two different characters are experiencing different things at the same time. Throughout my first playthrough on solo, I would constantly get confused as to the timeline of certain events. Man of Medan liked to backtrack after I’d gone through experiencing one character’s segment and put me back to when character’s paths may have diverged earlier in the story. This jumping back and forth between the story so I could experience all five character’s experiences systematically kind of ruined my overall enjoyment of the story, and I definitely think playing 2-player co-op is the optimal way to go about unraveling the mysteries in Man of Medan. Some might disagree since you do essentially miss out on half of the story, but I feel like Man of Medan was designed to be played through several times anyways so why not see one side of things first and then discover so many new things on the second time through? I kind of wish I had played this mode first so I could have another perspective on my second playthrough. Since co-op was my second time around, however, I remembered everything that was happening in the other person’s playthrough that was playing with me and was able to give them little bits of advice (or just stay silent and enjoy their reactions to certain things). Communication between me the other player was definitely a key factor, and a large part of the enjoyment I got out of playing with somebody else was dependent on how well I could relay information back and forth to them. If you have a close friend that enjoys scary stories (or especially someone that gets scared easily) then this would be the best gameplay mode for you.
What I didn’t enjoy was the Movie Night mode. In this mode, two to five players take turns passing the controller around each taking part in controlling a specific character or characters to experience Man of Medan’s story. This would have been a great idea if I had any friends that could pay attention for a 6-hour playthrough but, unfortunately when I played this mode none of my cohorts could even sit still through the prologue. Remember the prologue? I do – and I really wish I could’ve just skipped it, or at least broke it up into different segments so everyone could have gotten a chance to try the Chinese training dummy and practice QTEs. Trying to pass the controller to a different player when there has been nothing else to do for them up until that point is an exercise in patience. And if their character happens to die towards the beginning of the run, what’s there to really do? At least in my experience, I found this to be an interesting gimmick but overall a useless mode. If you have 4 friends that want to watch the Hobbit trilogy with you then this might be a good mode to try out. Otherwise, if your friends are like mine then I would suggest you just stick to the single-player or online co-op modes instead.
I found my overall time with Man of Medan to be enjoyable. Although there were some cringy-dialogue options and I feel as if I spoiled the entire mystery by asking the curator for advice, I enjoyed my time playing through the story and trying to escape with as many – or as few – survivors as possible. The main motivation I had to replay over was in attempts to unlock certain Trophies that required a different group of people to survive each time. For example, I needed to play through with only the women surviving at the end, and likewise for the gentlemen. This motivation added some interesting decisions I had to make in order to try and kill off certain characters while ensuring that others were all saved. There was an instance where I messed up towards the end of a gameplay run, and I quickly powered off and turned back on my PlayStation 4 but, unfortunately, it had auto-saved right after the important decision was already made and I lost one of the characters I needed to keep alive. Luckily, I was able to start over that specific chapter with that same save file in order to make different decisions – but that ability was locked up until I had completed the story one time through. Although I feel like some players might be turned off by the idea of having to play through multiple times, to me it just added value to Man of Medan. I hope that the future episodes in the Dark Pictures Anthology will offer just as many – if not more – playthroughs for me to enjoy and I can’t wait to try out the recently announced Little Hope that will be the next entry in this collection of short stories.
COMPARE TO: Until Dawn, Detroit: Become Human, Beyond: Two Souls, Heavy Rain
Two PS4 codes were provided for the purpose of review.