Man Of Medan, the first entry in Supermassive Game’s “Dark Pictures Anthology” is the tale of five people who get themselves trapped on a pretty eerie ship in the middle of nowhere. You guide these hapless folks through the interactive, highly-cinematic drama and, hopefully, at least one of them lives to tell the tale. Whether or not they do is up to you. Or you and a few pals, because hey, what’s more fun than horror on the high seas with friends?
So. Cinematic games. That genre of extremely varying mileage. This was the core part of Man of Medan that this player firmly believed the game nailed: in terms of the cinema half, the cinematography is frequently brilliant. Visual flair is present throughout, with interesting and clear framing frequently employed, and a loving need to hide tiny, horrible details just on the periphery. Maybe a hand slipping away, a gorgeously realised figure, a ghost. The kitchen sink, too. But, wow, visually Man of Medan excels in aping the style of a film without totally compromising gameplay, or ripping away control when you need it most.
And yet? It still clunks. Controlling one of the five cast members is a sometimes awkward affair, which gave me a true chill: I caught myself missing the tank controls of old-school horror games. Perhaps that would solve this player’s severe inability to walk through a door, or in a straight line. Perhaps that is the true horror.
No, the true horror is that Man Of Medan simply isn’t scary.
Amusing, frequently, and in the best ways — the levity lands far more often than it falls.. Enjoyable? Extremely. Creepy? Once or twice. The string section is usually thoroughly abused whenever yet another limp scare filled the screen. Across the 4-5 hour run time, this player lost count of the Doom 3 ‘monster closets’, the Insidious face scares. It just didn’t work.
But, goodness me. The potential for a group to run with it. It felt that these scares were not created for a player like myself, with a long and storied love affair with all walks of horror, but to make that one pal jump out of their skin and for the rest of the group to get fired up. In the dark, popcorn shared out? I can absolutely see it working.
Yet, the characters that you make utterly miserable are all rather… bland? Ho hum, even. The nerd, the jock, the guy you really want to die first (lovingly played by Shawn Ashmore), the sensible one and the… other jock. Stereotypes, yes. Familiar, yes. Fun? Kinda! The Curator, the Peaky Blinder by way of Rod Sterling who chats to you in a lovely voice about the tale steals the show. He waxes lyrical, quotes Shakespeare, really knuckles down and chews the scenery. Just a magnificent character, and a constant delight both when addressing the player and when he decides to rock up in the background.
It’s all fun. That’s what Man Of Medan succeeds at. It’s a horror anthology in of itself — created by people who clearly love the genre. They want to take you along for a wild joyride on a ghost ship, throw everything from bleeding walls to pentagrams to zombies, for the sheer joy of chasing a good solid scare chord.