The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is a horror game. One can think of it as a treasure hunt where you seek for “Manchurian Gold.” However, the story is also based on an old tale dating back to the post-World War II years. As mentioned in one of our previous Halloween features, Man of Medan tells the legend of the ill-fated SS Ourang Medan, a vessel which had all its crew suddenly die due to unknown causes, with the ship exploding (or vanishing) into the mists during the late 1940s.
Although the game itself is set in the present day and there are a few key changes, those familiar with the mystery and conspiracy behind the SS Ourang Medan would notice a few tidbits of information that align fact, fiction, and the unexplained. For starters, the word “Ourang” means “people” or “person,” which fits with the game’s title, “Man” of Medan. Obviously, references to the lore go a bit deeper than that.
Note: In this feature, we’ll take a look at the plot points and clues used to emphasize the SS Ourang Medan‘s legend, and how they’re presented in The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan. Since we’re taking a more in-depth look into the lore, there will be spoilers ahead. If you don’t want a lot of things to get spoiled, you can just check our official review and technical review.
For all other matters, you can go ahead and check our guides and features hub for everything you need to know about The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan.
The SS Ourang Medan
The video above from the YouTube channel Bedtime Stories explains the legend of the SS Ourang Medan in detail. You’ll also be able to gather information from various mystery and horror-themed websites and even a few books.
In the late 1940s, the SS Ourang Medan, a Dutch freighter, sent out a distress signal seeking rescue. Everyone on board the vessel had suddenly died, from the captain all the way to the ship’s dog.
The radioman spoke the ominous final words, “I die.” That’s when all transmissions were cut.
An American vessel found the hapless ship drifting in the open sea in the Indian Ocean. When sailors boarded the ship, they saw that every single crew member of the Ourang Medan was dead.
Rigor mortis had set in, and their faces were frozen in a mask of terror. They died screaming. They died fearful of something in front of them.
Death and decay were all over the freighter, and the engine room itself was filled with the carcasses of the damned. The American vessel’s captain told his crew to return immediately as the ship attempted to tow the Ourang Medan back to port. Unfortunately, an explosion started in one of the cargo holds, ripping the Ourang Medan in two and sending it to the bottom of the Indian Ocean.
According to subsequent investigations, all of which had leads that had gone cold, the SS Ourang Medan was not as it seemed. True, it was a Dutch freighter that transported goods, but those goods might’ve been dangerous chemicals used for warfare. Indeed, theories suggested that the Dutch crew was only hired to mask the ship’s true intent: smuggling goods from a defeated Japanese Empire for the benefit of the American military.
It was possible that these chemicals leaked in the cargo hold. Thus, the crew began suffering from hallucinations, not knowing that their bodies were slowly being poisoned.
Man of Medan – The SS Ourang Medan connection
In The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan, the story is reimagined for modern times. The World War II-era freighter didn’t vanish in the Indian Ocean. Rather, it vanished somewhere in the Pacific. Its route was from Manchuria to San Francisco. Your characters even note how the ship’s movements were erratic, as though it didn’t want to be discovered in the high seas.
As mentioned, the SS Ourang Medan sailed from Manchuria. The land itself was occupied by the Japanese Empire during World War II, turning it into the puppet state of Manchukuo. Reports have noted how the Japanese soldiers treated Chinese prisoners and dissidents with cruelty. Some even employed biological and chemical weapons, such as the dreaded Unit 731.
Man of Medan‘s story takes a more direct and even historically-grounded approach. Remember how the United States took in Nazi Germany’s scientists such as Werner von Braun after World War II to start NASA’s space program? It’s a bit like that, except what’s being transported is not a man, but several containers of an unknown substance which comes from former Japanese-occupied territories.
That substance is codenamed “Manchurian Gold.” It’s a bioweapon designed to be hard to detect, with only a gloomy mist presaging its existence. Its victims wouldn’t be going to the moon, but they would definitely get high… before they die.
There are also no Dutch crewmen to speak of. The SS Ourang Medan in the game is reimagined as an American military vessel, and the government didn’t hire foreign crews to do the clandestine work. You will, of course, find a hint that the vessel was made in a shipyard in the Netherlands.
What exactly happened?
The game’s story fits the post-World War II legend as it has been retold before. In a strange turn of events, the noxious gas seeped from crates into cargo holds and, eventually, the entire ship.
The prologue itself depicts these containers of “Manchurian Gold” being loaded on the ship and all hell breaking loose. As a soldier named Joe, you’d see numerous servicemen that are running amok, scared to death due to hallucinations.
Others, meanwhile, have been gunned down by paranoid and crazed compatriots. Many have suffered from heart attacks due to the sheer terror of unknown fears that have manifested.
Joe is one of those unfortunate victims. He sees an undead vision of his son. Then, he suddenly dies from a massive heart attack, his face contorted in a permanent scream.
Early in the game, you’ll be able to dive down to search a wrecked World War II-era plane. Decades prior, its pilots were actually on a rescue mission looking for the Ourang Medan. The military was looking for its golden goose which had vanished in the Pacific. When the pilots did spot the ship, the soldiers shot down their plane as they were suffering from mass hysteria.
As you progress through Man of Medan‘s core narrative, you’ll explore the eerie freighter with Alex, Julia, Fliss, Conrad, and Brad. You’ll see countless decayed and decrepit corpses. These are the bodies of the US soldiers and sailors that fell under the effects of the “Manchurian Gold” bioweapon.
Like the legends of yore, even the corpses are permanently stuck in a rictus of endless, silent screams. Something monstrous had killed them. That “something” was the breaking of the human mind, alongside all the evils you can dream of and cause towards others.
Man of Medan: It’s all in your head
The paranormal and supernatural events that your characters experience in Man of Medan are all in your head. In fact, The Curator even mentions this towards the end of the game — that, perhaps, what you’re seeing is more “scientific” than you thought.
Throughout the game, you’re reminded of soldiers who were freaked out by “ghosts” and those prone to infighting or running amok. At the same time, you’ll also notice numerous references to biological warfare, gas attacks, hazardous chemicals, and the like.
The gas from the “Manchurian Gold” is everywhere on the vessel that you board, and everyone’s susceptible to its effects. The concept is intricately woven with how your characters react to various strange phenomena surrounding them. Since “Manchurian Gold” makes their fears come to life, each character’s experience is different due to the terrors that manifest.
The three fishermen are all hallucinating and have gone insane due to “the mist.” They had no idea that the gold they were seeking was not a luxury item, but a deadly weapon instead. In Olson’s case, his greatest fear is not finding out where the gold is or that his own cronies are hiding it from him.
As for our Man of Medan heroes, well, Fliss might see a hooded figure from an occult ritual. Given that she believes in the spirits of the dead, it’s no wonder that she’d see the occult. The hooded figure is actually Brad and she doesn’t know it!
Brad, for his part, is quite timid and nervous. This means a number of moments aboard the SS Ourang Medan involve slamming noises, ghouls, and skeletons coming to life.
As for Conrad, he might see an emaciated, ghoulish woman who chases him. He doesn’t know that it’s Fliss who’s attempting to get him to snap out of it. He even mentions during one ending that he’s lived his greatest fear: being stalked by a woman and all he could do was run away.
Julia would think they’re being chased by Alex’s doppelganger, and that’s due to her love and trust for her man. Her deepest fear is that he’s out to hurt her.
Oh, and Alex might see a two-headed abomination that’s lunging for him. This happens while a rat bursts out of his torso. It’s not just because rats are icky, but because Alex might’ve opened a casket earlier in the game. The casket contained a deformed human skeleton with two heads, and this led to a more terrifying vision down the line. Otherwise, Alex might see a crazed Olson who’s out to get him, but that’s because the pirate leader is the biggest threat to their group.
Living your nightmares
You can act based on your impulses, fear, and terror, just like the ship’s crew 70 years ago. But, none of these apparitions and creatures are real. The only thing that’s real, narrative-wise, is that the military is looking for their weapon.
If you’ve checked out our Man of Medan endings guide, then you know there’s only one truth to the matter. It’s that the US military wants to keep its post-World War II “Manchurian Gold” bioweapon and the SS Ourang Medan a secret. This falls in line with the aforementioned conspiracy theory.
If your group can’t start the speedboat, the Duke of Milan, then you’re stuck on the freighter waiting for rescue. During one scene, you’ll have a chance to talk to the military via radio. If you tell them that you’re on the SS Ourang Medan, well, let’s just say that things don’t end well for our heroes and heroines.
Oh, and one last reference that you might miss? It’s the name of the diving boat, the Duke of Milan.
For a long time, mystery seekers have been trying to piece together the SS Ourang Medan puzzle. The story seems to have originated from an Italian author named Silvio Scherli. Scherli was no Duke from the city of Milan, Italy. He’s actually from Trieste, which is another Italian city that’s 400 kilometers away. Supermassive Games could’ve introduced a character named Shirley, though that’d be too on the nose, I guess. But, hey, at least you’ve got an Italian connection to the old legend.
The Dark Pictures Anthology – Unsolved mysteries
That’s the beauty behind Man of Medan‘s narrative and one of the reasons I enjoyed the game during the review process. Although the dialogue and character development may need some work, it’s the overarching story that stretches from an unsolved story (or hoax) from the post-World War II years, combined with conspiracy theories involving clandestine military operations and “Manchurian Gold.”
It’s not a typical “ghost story,” because these malevolent spirits are the ill effects of a hallucinogenic chemical weapon. That’s completely fine, though, since you’re seeing psychological effects being used as a thematic motif in a psychological horror game.
If Man of Medan‘s twist is any indication, then we might see more unexplained incidents and urban legends reimagined and retold as part of The Dark Pictures Anthology series from Supermassive Games.