Until Dawn is still one of my all-time favourite horror games to date. Its superb story and intense frights managed to deliver a refreshing experience in gaming. The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan is in a way the spiritual successor to the original PS4 exclusive and takes on an even story scope with new characters and scares alike.
Man of Medan expands on the choice-and-consequence system to create a real sense of threat to the player that makes multiple playthroughs not only feel like a must but also like an enjoyable rerun of your favourite TV show. Its online co-op and “Movie Night” mode are still the best way to experience this as it combines the varied personalities of your friends with a death system to deliver a debate through every playthrough.
Unlike Until Dawn that took on an 80s slasher movie approach, Man of Medan is much darker and throughout the six-hour story, the game delivers a fantastic psychological horror. After a rather nasty Captain Phillips-like introduction that sees a group of youngsters get kidnapped by pirates, they get stranded on a WW2 freighter that just stopped in the middle of the ocean.
Sure, the intro to the game kind of gives you a rough idea on what is going on in the ship but the story is all up to self-interpretation until the plot unravels. The setting manages to deliver some intense frights and I was left in fear quite often while exploring the barren halls of this rusty and dead ghost ship. The location manages to deliver an ambience quite hard to capture as the hollow halls and pitch-black rooms almost feel teeming with life but at the same time, the story portrays a theme that touches on abandonment quite often.
Were it to be a real movie, perhaps it would be a cheesy watch and a complete waste of admission but the game’s adaption carries the rollout of this freak story very well. That is to say, the setting, scares and sheer fear set in through the game’s locations is its stronger point when compared to the weak and all-around terrible characters.
The main cast just failed to impress me. Unfortunately, while everything else may be off the “cliche horror path”, the cast is as one-dimensional and cheesy as you could ever imagine. Bar the pirates which instil the fear of death in you. Each main character felt like they came right out of a low-budget horror flick. No relatable personality and their script and actions felt so outside of reality that it ruined much of the player-to-character relationships the game tries so hard to build upon.
The sad part is that this is delivered within twenty minutes of the game where the rich brat Conrad pulls out a wad of money and starts throwing it at the pirates that sail past to analyse the boat they plan on invading. I was instantly turned off and it gave me a glimpse of the poor personalities the game decided to include. There is some fun to be had though as I made it my goal to kill them all because they were just dumb characters.
The deaths in the game come from being just bad at the mechanics or making bad decisions. Sure, you can “foresee” much of these by investigating paintings but when death comes, you either fight or die. The game also delivers these deaths extremely well as they are gory and quick to the point where you just sit back in horror knowing you screwed up.
The weight of it all also hangs over your throughout the game. Once one character dies, there is this feeling that the threat you are facing is real and life becomes so precious. We then have the fate system which ties your dialogue choices, where and what you explore and your actions during specific scenes together. Think of it as a massive tree branch where every action takes you on a different path and the overall ending will depend on every specific thing you did throughout the game.
Relationships are also important as you could be a total d-bag to someone when you are playing them and it will begin to show throughout the story. Characters will be willing to save you the kinder you are. My advice, play a few playthroughs and don’t be scared to just hate everyone. It is good for the soul, trust me.
Apart from the relationships and decisions, you make in Man of Medan, the deaths all still come down to being fast with the quick-time events. These panic-filled moments scare the life out of you as you need to tap buttons in time or quickly move over the cursor to an object. You need to have some sort of gaming skills to survive in the game, which is a good thing and a bad thing as the Movie Night mode tests you and your friends.
This mode is the best way to experience Man of Medan, in my opinion as I love a couch session with some friends and a game. Each player chooses a character to control (or two if you are short players) and when the time comes for them to play their moment, you give them the controller. They make all the decisions, fight the creatures and kill or save their own characters.
It is nerve-wracking as it all you can do is sit there and watch your friends and family make stupid mistakes or choose bad dialogue options which you would never go for. It causes personalities to clash and creates chaos in the room and on the game. It is highly entertaining to witness.
The game then also has a co-op mode where you and an online player plays through the game at the same time and you watch their game while playing yours and they do the same thing. It is an interesting perspective but Movie Night mode still takes the cake for being the best.
The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan delivers a fantastic story and has everything you would expect from a game of its genre. Sure, the characters are a snoozefest and you will probably hate them all but try to be nice to them, simply due to poor writing, but the scares make up for it. Movie Night Mode is great fun with friends and I can only hope the sequel to this improves on the game’s mechanics and trashes the cast.
This Man of Medan review was based on a copy of the game sent to us by Bandai Namco
Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PC | Reviewed On: PS4 Pro | Release Date: 30 August 2019 | Price: R595