On Man of Medan’s Multiplayer Narrative

In most multiplayer games you are able to see and communicate with the other player — or at the very least have a clear idea of who they are. In Man of Medan, this isn’t exactly the case. Not only are you unable to communicate with the person you are playing with, but you both swap characters throughout the story.

Man of Medan is a physcological horror adventure game that is also a heavily narrative experience. The game itself can be played in single player mode, in a “theater”-style local multiplayer mode, or as a two player experience. At a recent Man of Medan press event, I took on the two-player version with Dann

Now, in Man of Medan, you are not meant to actually be able to communicate with the other player, who you’d normally be playing with online. There is no in-game chat, there is no voice control, there is no little premade messages to send each other. You both are just two players, making choices based on exactly who you are and what you have seen. 

At first I just thought that the other player was one of the NPCs within the game, right up until I saw them walk into a wall. Once I started moving, and getting used to the tank-controls-esque analogue movements,  I figured out quickly that the character was my player two. We couldn’t interact with each other, but I knew they were there. The other marine was summoned over to me when I needed them, and they often tried to help me in their little slice of the scary story.

This opening scene became a bit of a tutorial wrapping up nicely before the game moved onto the real beginning of the story. Four people going on a diving trip along with a fifth person who was hired to drive the boat. Each player cycles through characters, switching at different points to play them. Due to the switching around, it’s a bit tough to keep track of who the other player is, but is it even needed? 

I found that I was just playing the game on my own, with a weird AI that runs to the same areas over and over again, and seems to be looking for whatever I was looking for. I’m not sure if actually playing with a second player felt like playing with a second player. When I play two-player games, it’s because I want to have fun with that player or use their skills to my advantage. When it came to Man of Medan, we were both people playing the same game, at the same time, but not together.

With no way to communicate, there didn’t seem to be much point with multiplayer, apart from being able to play at the same time as my friend, at the same pace as well. At the end of my session, I had played each of the characters — some several times — and didn’t particularly feel like my choices did change them. At the same time I was making choices to make someone a kinder person or make someone strong, a few minutes later the other player would take control and make decisions too. This means that whatever I did can be undone by a person not quite following the same game as me.

After playing through the demo of Man of Medan, it turned out that Dann had a very different experience to me. You see, the tutorial man tells you to explore the cruise ship and interact with paintings to learn more about the future. So, that’s exactly what I did — seeing bad guys come to our ship with a gun and seeing glimpses into the future, I made decisions based on this. Dann did not see any of the paintings or listen to the tutorial man, and instead just made decisions based on instinct. Because of this, we sometimes made our characters argue until a different, actual AI-controller character made up our minds for us. 

My biggest issue with the characters of Man of Medan, however, is the tropes.. You have the following archetypes; one spoiled, rich girl; one independent, take-no-shit, girl; one clueless guy; one misogynistic guy; and one innocent, geeky guy. These characters can be slightly tweaked over time with your decisions, but it feels like you’ll never been able to move these characters from the 90s horror-schlock which they seem to be ripped from.

For all of the negatives about the character writing, the story itself is well written. You start off on a little boat with a hope to do some  scuba diving. This little diving trip quickly becomes a scary, hostage situation on a boat in the middle of a storm. Characters are missing, the ship itself is flooding, there isn’t much that can be done to help anyone. Quick time events happen in lieu of fighting, decisions need to be made primarily in dialogue and the story also moves forward by finding random objects around to look at. It’s a captivating story with really good pacing.

Man of Medan has done something interesting with the idea of a multiplayer, narrative driven adventure game, but personally I remain unconvinced about whether this is a needed addition or if it’s just a gimmick. I do also wish the characters themselves were written less to the extremes of who they are meant to be and more to be like normal humans.

Men of Medan is coming soon to PS4, Xbox One and PC. You can pre-order the game now, via their website.

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