Until Dawn was one of the five or six Sony exclusive games that first made me invest in a shiny new PS4. Supermassive Games’ blockbusting horror game featured an all-star cast, incredible visuals and, most importantly, a heart pounding narrative driven gameplay. The studios next adventure in narrative is no longer exclusive to Sony’s console, Man of Medan. It marks the first installment in an anthology labelled “The Dark Pictures” and my goodness, does it have big shoes to fill.
Comparisons between Man of Medan and Until Dawn are inevitable, as are those with games from the same family, like Heavy Rain or Beyond: Two Souls. The reality is that Man of Medan isn’t even half the game that any of these others are, at least not when it comes to length. Clocking in at around four hours for a single playthrough and featuring a shockingly abrupt ending that feels rushed at best, Man of Medan feels less satisfying than any other AAA game in this genre.
Despite it’s brief running time, Man of Medan works hard to pack in both tension and jump scares, with roughly four distinct chapters (and a prologue.) The story focuses on five friends and acquaintances aboard a small yacht known as The Duke of Milan, and what begins as a cheeky but routine wreck dive soon descends into chaos, with the pals winding up on a much more sinister, potentially haunted and altogether abandoned 1940’s freighter.
The characters are likeable enough, but I found my time with them was so limited that I only saw them as stereotypes. The character tropes include a nerd, a joker, a tough guy, a girl with attitude and a girl with entitlement — each of them slim, muscular and beautiful. As the game goes on, their character traits are revealed, but they are rarely revelatory, and there are no shocking narrative moments of the magnitude that Until Dawn frequently delivered.
Once they make their transition from the Duke of Milan to The Medan, our cast find their situation worsening rapidly. The implied threat that takes them onto the ghost ship is nowhere near as deadly as what appears to await them, and soon they are separated. The mid-section of the game rapidly ascends from a sort of creepy walk to a crescendo of jump scares and QTE sequences that is easily on par with some of the best modern horror movies.
Unfortunately, like the overall proposition made by Man of Medan, this section is over quite quickly, and unless your button-bashing is very haphazard, or you make woefully poor choices, you’ll likely come through it with a full cast still breathing. Again, the difficulty level fails to live up to that of Until Dawn, but more importantly, the choices bear nowhere near the same weight, and there’s rarely a “wrong” answer that isn’t obvious.
There are other problems too, and as my colleague John wrote in his recent feature, the control scheme is bad enough that it will often distract from the otherwise excellent cinematography. The impact of shots and sequences that would otherwise be framed perfectly are often slightly marred by the fact that a character won’t pass through them in a sensible manner, forcing the player to wrestle with the controller until the plastic creaks as much as the hulky, titular ship.
As the game enters its final chapter, the characters show a sense of confidence that indicates that reality of their situation is landing — and it’s around this time that the game expects you to “get” its twist, but you’ll likely already have done so. Satisfied that it has nothing more to offer, Man of Medan ends pretty limply, without so much as a twist, let alone a false summit of the magnitude that Until Dawn delivered.
I still remember when, in Until Dawn, I thought I had it all figured out, and then a *spoilers removed* ripped off someone’s head. I most certainly did not see that coming, but in Man of Medan, the most surprising twist was that it actually ended when it did. There’s one thing you can be sure of, and that is that a sequel is almost certainly in the offing, and most definitely possible based on the way the game finishes.
I probably seem quite down on Man of Medan, but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. Its problems stem from the fact that it is sitting in the shadow of a much, much better game that has been available for almost five years and is now available at a lower price point. Man of Medan is a mid-priced game, and a good one at that, but it is brutally short, and unless you return for a second play and try to get people killed, you’re unlikely to miss much the first time you play.
There is, of course, one thing that Man of Medan does which Until Dawn doesn’t do, and that is offers a multiplayer experience. In this mode, the players each control a different set of characters and can be in different locations on the ship at different times. Both internet-based and local multiplayer options are available, with the local version a “pass the pad” mode called movie night, and the online mode being more about making shared decisions.
Both of these multiplayer modes are enjoyable enough in their own right, although to put yet another downer on what is a really nice feature, I don’t feel that they add a great deal over just playing the normal game and passing the pad, albeit without the prompts and structure that the official mode adds in. Make no mistake, however you choose to play it with friends, Man of Medan is capable of causing a few shrieks and shouts as the game unfolds, which I guess is what a good horror movie is all about.
I welcome more games like this because I love narrative driven games and rich cinematic experiences. Relatively speaking, the voice acting, graphics and story are all top drawer, and as predictable and brief as it is, the story of Man of Medan is a compelling one. If you’re after a modern survival horror experience on any device besides PS4, you should get it. If you have a PS4 but haven’t played Until Dawn yet, then I’d start there and see how you feel before coming back to Man of Medan for more.