If you had told me that one day it would be possible to turn ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books into deeply involved, and absorbing game narratives, I would have found a way to build a frickin’ time machine in order to reach said future all the faster. The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan is that future, and accomplishes that Choose Your Own Adventure brought to life in pretty mesmerizing ways.
Supermassive Games is the team behind 2015’s sleeper hit Until Dawn. Much like Dawn’s meticulous branching story lines based on choice, Man of Medan is deeply involved and ever revolving.
Man of Medan follows a foursome and their boat captain as they head out for an underwater diving expedition to sculp a sunken WWII plane. Brothers Alex and Brad paired with Alex’s girlfriend, Julia and her brother Conrad make up the cast of main characters and are what brings the familial and relationship drama into the fold. All this while, Fliss captain’s the boat and tries to remain as neutral (but headstrong) as possible. When the crew is eventually hijacked by pirates who believe there is gold to be found, our group of characters are forced to board a WWII ghost ship that hides some terrifying secrets.
The story setup is straight out of something that is half 90s horror and half JJ Abrams. It definitely has familiar, fun b-movie tropes but it also pushes into the mysteries that would have fit in with Abrams’ Lost series.
Much like Until Dawn the dialogue and its many splitting trees are written by horror alum, Graham Reznick and Larry Fessenden. They clearly speak the genre lingo and do a great job of bringing that horror movie experience to the cast of characters in exceedingly creative and swell ways.
The voice acting is on par too and with a game so focused on the characters, it really had to be. Conrad played by Shawn Ashmore is no stranger to the world of acting in games following his starring role in Remedy’s Quantum Break. Mannerisms and mocap magic really work to create fleshed out and a believable set of characters.
The Dark Pictures Anthology clearly signifies that we are going to have many genre titles coming out of this world. The totem of the series being The Curator, a mysterious sort of guide who unfurls the story to you allowing you to make choices for the characters their in. Think of The Curator as the Rod Serling to Twilight Zone or the Crypt Keeper to Tales from The Crypt. Save for, he allows you to write the story and choose characters’ fates.
Since everything you say and certain actions you take have constant consequences, Man of Medan comes with several different endings. These endings are based on the lives you save during your play through. There is a way to have everyone survive and there is a way to have everyone meet their grisly end. Now, the goal might be to have everyone come out hunky all hunky-dory but there is significantly more fun and a lot more frights from allowing your characters to die.
Man of Medan offers you the choice to play alone to enjoy the experience via co-op. The multiplayer section breaks into playing online with other and a movie night couch party mode that allows you and your friends/family to play through using one controller. In this mode, each person selects which character(s) they will play as, when it comes to their turn a prompt comes up that lets you know to pass the controller. When I first heard about this mode, I thought it would be kind of intrusive and break the spell, but it comes off nice and organic and doesn’t interfere with gameplay at all.
Much like Until Dawn, this one is told through a variety of static third person angles. Instead of letting this format strictly be the angles we are watching a story unfold, Supermassive Games uses these angles as a way to scare the absolute soul out of you. Some of the best scares in the game take place in the periphery of those points of view. Either eluding to someone watching you, spooky things existing in foregrounds as well as backgrounds and to just throw something directly at you. On one occasion while walking through one of the ghost ships corridors I, saw a woman facing the wall in an odd spot. When I went back to look she was gone. It was an instant and could have easily been missed. But the care was there to put her there anyways. I really love how the team fully understands not all gamers are going to be looking in the same spot, so to take advantage of that they place different subtle scares throughout the game.
The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan is a great start to this anthology. It’s characters and story consumes you whole. I absolutely didn’t want to stop playing the game, like a good book, I couldn’t put it down. The team at Supermassive Games has carved out a very special niche in the genre by bridging what we all love about horror with everything we revere in gaming, all while not having any problem with keeping it weird and terrifying.
The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan is out now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.