For what was an out of the box single player game, Supermassive’s Until Dawn was a surprisingly robust multiplayer experience.
Sat on a couch together, passing the pad between one another and making decisions – good and bad – as part of a team was surprisingly engaging for both players. One was actively playing the game, pulling off QTE events and moving around the areas while the other got to enjoy a pretty solid horror movie and wait their turn to have a say in its outcome.
It’s clearly something that Supermassive have looked at and taken to heart, because this sort-of follow up ‘The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan’ offers a raft of different ways to play with your pals through this narrative horror adventure. The first part of a horror anthology, this title explores the trope of the ‘ghost ship’ and has your five protagonists trying to survive a night about an abandoned World War 2 aircraft carrier that is carrying a dark secret.
There’s ‘movie night’ mode, which allows you to disperse the plucky group of survivors out amongst up to five players and pass a single pad around when prompted, and there’s also a full online co-op mode. Both players, controlling a part of the same scene simultaneously, with choices made and actions taken (or not taken!) affecting the situation and, sometimes, the other player in real time. It’s a brilliant idea.
Multiplayer basically turns you and your mates into a much more macabre Scooby Gang, trying to uncover the plot but trying to stay alive until the end, however, this new focus has come with a few issues of its own. Man of Medan – especially in Movie Night mode – appears to be a brilliant way to involve less experienced players, with QTEs and decision being easy enough to understand and use for all (including a few accessibility options for those that struggle) but the actual controlling of the characters is, at times, a bit of a chore.
They feel sluggish, like you’re trying to navigate a fridge freezer around the claustrophobic corridors, and even experienced players will find themselves walking into walls and doubling back on themselves when a camera angle changes. It’ll almost have you pining for tank controls.
“Man of Medan appears to be a brilliant way to involve less experienced players… but the actual controlling of the characters is, at times, a bit of a chore.”
The actual moment to moment gameplay is also, unfortunately, a bit boring. All you actually do for the most part is wander around linear sections, finding the odd side room where there’s a collectible to look at or a bit of lore to read, which fleshes out the backstory, but there’s no action here, you’re just moving between cut-scenes – which is where the game is at its best.
No one is here for meandering around, we’re here for quicktime events that have genuine repercussions and making decisions that can radically affect the plot for you and the others playing. That’s where this game shines. It’s not like you’re looking for keys or solving puzzles – like you do in a Resident Evil game – you’re just killing time between the parts that actually matter. Nothing kills the horror and jump scares more than, frankly, being a bit bored.
Although it is a stunning game to look at in stills, Man of Medan is sadly a bit of a technical mess. Texture pop-in is rife and there is constant framerate stutter, with the game jerking and pausing on almost every camera transition. During a playthrough, three characters met their demise because the game would stop and start during precision QTE sequences, with one particular standout being the visuals completely freezing up, whilst what appeared to be a crucial QTE taking place behind the still image, only moving again after the character had died.
It’s not a total horror show, of course. It is possible to get to the end of Man of Medan and be absolutely non the wiser as to what exactly was going on, and this is a good thing! Upon finishing a run, it’s extremely tempting to dive straight back in and pick up from a point where you felt the timeline could radically change and perhaps find out more about this horrific mystery.
There’s a real weight to each decision and, much like Until Dawn, there’s some radically different scenes that play out just because of something you said earlier on. Characters now develop traits that affect their decision making and relationships with others, that can have a huge impact on where the story goes.
“Tighten up the technical side and bring another cracking, short ghost story to the table and this might be an absolute must for any horror fan. As it is, it’s merely a glimpse at the potential of the Dark Pictures.”
It’s all woven together by a gentleman called ‘The Curator’, essentially the Dark Pictures’ version of the Cryptkeeper, who you check back in with throughout the tale. He comments on how you are doing and even offers the occasional clue – if you wish to hear them! It’s going to be interesting to see whether his opinion of you and your survival instincts carries over to future Dark Pictures releases, but even in this as a standalone title, it’s a cool point to anchor the whole thing around.
It’s also short. You can knock through the whole thing in a couple of hours, maybe a touch more if you go through areas with a fine-tooth comb, which means the idea of replaying sections or even the full story doesn’t feel like a particularly intimidating task. It practically encourages you to try new things, make different calls and even screw up in ways you may not have done before. At its best, Man of Medan lets you direct your own ‘monster of the week’ episode of a horror anthology – a brilliant concept, albeit one that doesn’t quite stick the landing.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is definitely a step in the right direction for Supermassive’s narrative horror titles. The multiplayer aspect is a huge plus and the scope for some truly unique playthroughs is a great thing. Future entries need to be more focused on the good stuff, though.
Less wandering around in the dark looking for text documents, more decisions, more moments of peril, more situations where your own silly mistake can end up getting your partner murdered in an extremely violent way. Tighten up the technical side and bring another cracking, short ghost story to the table and this might be an absolute must for any horror fan. As it is, it’s merely a glimpse at the potential of the Dark Pictures.
Man of Medan seems like a good start for the Dark Pictures Anthology, but as a standalone title it somewhat stutters out of the starting blocks.
- Visually impressive
- Proper multiplayer support a brilliant addition
- Genuine choice and consequence allow for unique playthroughs
- The minute to minute gameplay is quite dull
- A technical mess, and one that needs patching immediately.