Man of Medan is the newest horror extravaganza from Supermassive Games, the people behind the PlayStation 4 hit Until Dawn. Featuring a diverse cast of characters, an evolving mystery, branching narrative choices that can determine which characters survive, and jump scares galore, Man of Medan hopes to set the tone for The Dark Pictures Anthology, Supermassive’s planned series of horror thrillers. Is Man of Medan worth a look, or will its surprises be cheap and uneventful? Let’s find out in our official review.
Note: We also have a technical review that looks more into Man of Medan‘s graphical options, performance, and other settings. Please be reminded that this official review will contain only mild spoilers. For the rest of our Man of Medan features and guides, head over to our hub.
Man of Medan: The story so far
A few months ago, I was able to detail the inspiration behind Man of Medan‘s story. It was none other than the SS Ourang Medan. It was during the post-World War II years when the Dutch freighter sent out a distress call that attracted nearby vessels. Its final message included the ominous last words of the radio officer: “I die.”
When sailors boarded the ship, they found not a single living soul. The bodies of the Ourang Medan‘s dead crew stared at the ceiling, lifeless eyes conveying only unimaginable terrors and their faces frozen in a rictus of a silent scream. Time passed, and rumors turned into legend and myth — a ghost ship that was lost forever in the Pacific.
The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan adds a new twist that’s fitting for modern times. The ship, supposedly carrying Manchurian gold, is something that has attracted the interest of a group of 20-something novice divers and adventurers in the present day. However, there is something sinister and unnerving that lurks in every corner. In Man of Medan, you’ll learn early on that nothing is what it seems.
Man of Medan: Meet the cast
This intrepid group sailing French Polynesian waters is led by the strong-willed Alex. He’s got his somewhat nervous and timid younger brother, Brad, along for the ride. The two are also joined by Julia, Alex’s loving and carefree girlfriend, and Conrad, the arrogant and annoying brother of Julia. Rounding out the group is Fliss, the courageous captain of the group’s small diving boat, the Duke of Milan.
You’ll notice the typical tropes that many scream flicks and horror B-movies are known for. Alex acts as the group’s leader, although Fliss is also not one to shy away from responsibility given that everyone’s on her boat. Brad can be quite socially awkward, whereas Julia is more free-spirited. As for Conrad (played by Shawn Ashmore), well, he can be quite the douche. Conrad is the answer to the question: “What if Bobby Drake wasn’t quite as cool, and he had the personality of Emily from Until Dawn?”
You are responsible for the choices they make and for the consequences that can shape or end their lives. In Man of Medan, your adventures in the middle of the ocean will present you with numerous options that can turn the tide (pun intended) in many ways that won’t be evident until later on.
There’s also a sixth major character in the game, and that’s The Curator. This mysterious and almost omniscient being appears in Man of Medan‘s opening credits, narrating the background of the story you’re about to experience. Think of him as a not-so-skeletal version of the Crypt-Keeper in Tales from the Crypt. From time to time, The Curator also makes note of your actions and the remaining survivors, breaking the fourth wall, and he can also provide hints that will help you understand your predicament.
Choose your own adventure under the sea
The game’s dialogue and script, on their own, won’t win any awards (as mentioned, it’ll remind you of B-movies). At times it can be quite cheesy and uninspired (“Come at me, shark!” comes to mind). But, like Until Dawn before it, the true narrative and storytelling strength of Man of Medan comes from all the possible choices you can make.
Like the Choose Your Own Adventure books of yore, Man of Medan offers branching paths depending on certain dialogue and action choices. Some sequences can even present new end results.
Dialogue choices can be something as mundane as Alex taking a selfie with Julia before their dive. However, this choice might lead Alex to forget to pick up a bangstick or knife, which might be useful later on. If Julia gets her leg snagged on a piece of metal, that injury will be visible throughout the game, altering the character’s appearance slightly. (More noticeable would be the bruises on Conrad’s face, and even some grievous wounds, if he gets into altercations.)
The short dive to check out a sunken plane, while slightly uneventful, might see Alex proposing to Julia. Yet, this moment might never happen if Brad was unable to tell his older brother to get rid of the jitters in a different conversation that happened beforehand. Meanwhile, Julia’s choice of whether she surfaces too early or not will have dire consequences. Will she remain hale and healthy, or will she suffer from the bends (decompression sickness)?
Premonitions, secrets, and survivors
All of the above can happen in one of the game’s earliest chapters. There are numerous possibilities which can even affect the late-game experience. A few can actually change the game’s end credits surprise drastically, too.
Some of these outcomes are made known to you via Premonitions. As you progress through Man of Medan‘s story, you’ll spot a number of framed pictures hanging from walls. Accessing these could show you a certain cutscene that can happen down the line, presenting you with an outcome that you might not have been aware of. One of those is the aforementioned moment when Julia suffers from decompression sickness. Another example is a character shooting themselves in the head with a pistol. Even more surprising is one Premonition that might confuse some Man of Medan players. We won’t spoil that here, though.
There are also 50 secrets to find while you’re playing Man of Medan. From letters to loved ones, documentation, bullet casings, military equipment, and more, the group can piece together and unravel these mysteries. In later parts of Man of Medan‘s story, characters will even explain what they’ve discovered, affecting additional dialogue choices.
The goal of all these clues and hints (some even coming from The Curator) is to nudge you to keep all five characters alive. Naturally, having more characters alive would provide new possibilities. A moment where Fliss and Brad are exploring a ship’s engine room would be vastly different if the two are already dead. A sequence where Conrad is experiencing the paranormal wouldn’t be the same if he’s already gone.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Ghosts on a boat
Of course, all of these features and mechanics would be for naught if Man of Medan wasn’t as terrifying as it’s touted to be. Previous trailers and demos have shown a few of the creepier moments as you explore, but do these translate well once you’re playing the actual game?
Thankfully, many of the moments in Man of Medan can be tense and foreboding, with a sense of dread that slowly builds up. Some are outright frightening. There are threats everywhere — human or supernatural, both bizarre and strange — and the environments are artistically crafted to convey disease, death, and decay. I mean, you are on a ship that’s been lost with all hands on deck since the 1940s.
Character models and expressions are vividly captured for that extra visual flair as the audio and atmosphere build to unease and anxiety. People waving their flashlights around, characters suddenly stopping when they hear a scream, the banter that tells you of possible threats, the chilling music, the creaking and slamming in the ship’s hull, and many other cues are enough to keep you on your toes in Man of Medan.
Certain sequences might also have your characters trying to “remain calm,” a mini-game where you have to press specific buttons in-tune with their heartbeat. It’s akin to an arcade rhythm game.
None of these challenges in Man of Medan can be considered fairly difficult at all given how the game uses an assortment of quick-time events or QTEs. It’s only through fear and panic which might make you miss a step. It’s a lot better than Until Dawn‘s “don’t move” mini-game where all you needed to do was turn off your controller’s vibration function and place it down on your table so it doesn’t shake.
One caveat, though, is that the game often tends to rely too much on cheap jump scares. If you’re the type who’s become far too jaded with this aspect of some of Hollywood’s horror movies, then you can likely predict when these moments will happen in Man of Medan.
Multiplayer “Movie Night”
Ideally, you’d want to play The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan in single-player mode. This is to help you understand the entire story from the perspective of all the characters. At the very least, it keeps the plot more cohesive. In fact, a majority of my experiences and all the subsequent guides you’ll see are based on single-player runs.
If getting spooked is a bit much, though, then you can try the game’s two co-op modes. One of them is “Shared Story Mode” which is for two-player online co-op. The way this mode works is that you and your friend pick specific characters to play as. While you’re playing and seeing the perspective of one character, your friend is also experiencing something else that happens from their chosen character’s perspective.
For instance, you might have Conrad who’d unexpectedly run into Fliss. Fliss, controlled by your friend, might be looking for you at the same time without you knowing it. In certain parts of the game, you get to make choices that your friend won’t see (only showing up as “Player 1 is deciding” on your screen), and it’s up to the both of you to figure out what those consequences are.
The other co-op mode is called “Movie Night.” This one is all about “couch co-op” or “pass-and-play” for up to five people. You and your buddies next to you can pick one character each (or, if you’ve only got one extra player, then you can each select multiple characters). Whenever Man of Medan switches the story’s perspective to that character’s, you simply pass the controller (or keyboard) to the player who has selected that protagonist.
It’s a fairly welcome feature for a genre that, normally, isn’t tailor-fitted for co-op play. Even Supermassive’s Until Dawn only had the single-player experience.
One particular downside is that Man of Medan‘s co-op mode saves are separate from single-player saves. My wife and I played “Movie Night Mode” initially. When she went to bed, I tried to continue the story in single-player mode. It surprised me that I couldn’t do that — I had to replay all the chapters separately. Using the same save for both Movie Night and single-player (or at least letting you progress from where you last left off) would’ve been helpful since everyone’s playing on the same machine anyway.
Dumb ways to die
As mentioned in our technical review, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is graphically stunning, and framerates can be unlocked as you explore your environs. Unfortunately, a few scenes might suddenly lock it back down to 30 FPS and you’ll have to toggle the setting on and off (though this odd predicament happens rarely). The only other major technical downside would be the controls. Man of Medan is just more suited for gamepad users as opposed to using a keyboard and mouse. And even then, it can still feel a bit clunky when you bump into obstacles.
In terms of the story, Man of Medan‘s narrative remains cohesive enough, though a few moments can be quite flabbergasting. For example, in one playthrough, Alex and Julia had narrowly escaped certain death. The game then switched to Conrad’s perspective to look for them. During a tense, action-packed scene, I realized that only Julia was around and Alex was nowhere in sight — despite the two of them having not split up.
Another notable problem would be something that Until Dawn veterans may remember — replaying key moments will still not allow you to skip cut-scenes and cinematics. You’re forced to rewatch the same sequences or conversations despite just wanting to get to the decision-making moments. When you’ve already seen what Netflix can do with Black Mirror‘s Bandersnatch special (which feels more intuitive when you just want to skip chapters and scenes to see new endings), then Man of Medan falls one step behind.
Other notable changes from Until Dawn would include the lack of visible “butterfly effect” icons. Instead of having butterflies fluttering around when you make a major decision, Man of Medan will show a notification about a change in your “bearing” (subplots or branches in the story) or “relationship” (character bonds and attitudes). Another surprising omission in relation to the “butterfly effect” was the list of “popular decisions” made by a percentage of the player base. Then again since I’m playing a review build, I’m not certain if this would be added later on during the official release.
Outside of these nagging concerns, Man of Medan remains an enjoyable and ecstatic romp. Although a quick playthrough can only last around five to six hours, finishing the game also unlocks two additional options:
- Scene Selection – Unlike Until Dawn‘s method of letting you start from the beginning of a chapter, Man of Medan allows you to pick from moments within the chapters themselves.
- The Curator’s Cut – Available via pre-order but will be made free by late-November 2019, this mode switches around character perspectives. If the normal game (also known as the “Theatrical Cut”) had you playing as Brad for a particular scene, then the Curator’s Cut might have you playing as Fliss instead (who would’ve been Player 2’s character in “Shared Story” mode). Think of it as a way of experiencing the online “Shared Story” mode except while playing solo.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan – The final verdict
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan captures the essence of the horror anthology genre and B-movie flicks of yesteryears. Despite its arguably shorter length, numerous choices and additional modes increase replayability, allowing you to experience character perspectives in a refreshing way.
Tense and terrifying cinematic moments abound, something which fans of Until Dawn and the horror genre, in general, might be keen on trying out. It’s a brilliant game to play alone or with friends, especially the ones you can continue blaming for getting a character killed.
Simply put, Man of Medan is the perfect way to kick things off for Supermassive Games’ The Dark Pictures Anthology series. If more features and mechanics are fine-tuned (including the ability to skip some expository dialogue, cut-scenes, and exploration so you can get to the good parts once you’ve finished a game), and if it added even more possible choices, outcomes, and challenges, then we could see a reinvigorating take on the branching narrative experience for gaming’s horror genre.
You can pick up The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan via its Steam store page. For our technical review of the game, just take a look right here. Lastly, for more features and guides, you can take a look at our nifty hub right over here.