by Johnathan Irwin
reviewed on PC
Supermassive Games impressed me a few years ago with the launch of the Playstation 4 exclusive Until Dawn, which followed a group of horror-movie inspired characters through a nightmarish plot on an isolated mountain peak. With its blend of gameplay and crafty camera work, it managed to blur the line between a game and a film in a way where every player had a different experience based on the choices they made. I actually just recently played through Until Dawn again, and it held up well.
When I was given the chance to review the PC version of Man of Medan, the first in a line of episodes in The Dark Pictures Anthology, I was excited to see what Supermassive had been up to. I wanted to see if they could pull it off a second time. To say I had high expectations, is an understatement.
A Different Setting, With Familiar Types Of Characters
Man of Medan takes players to a rarely ventured place in horror: the high seas. While some games and movies do venture out into the deep blue, such as the movie classic Jaws or the unsung survival horror game Cold Fear, horror is a genre that is landlocked more often than not.
A new group of characters, very much based on the typical horror film archetypes, are out on an expedition searching for a ship that went missing during the WWII, the SS Ourang Medan, after which the game is named. Things go about as well as expected. Soon the group is shanghaied by a band of pirates who are also interested in the same ship and what treasures it may hold. Once they find it, a bad situation quickly turns worse as they learn about the truths behind the ghostly vessel.
The setting is a solid stage for what could be a great horror experience. What doesn't lend itself to the experience, though, is the voice acting that has a fairly wide range. Some characters have voice actors that are putting their heart and soul into it, selling these as real characters in an awful situation. But then there are others that genuinely sound like they were picked up off the street and asked to voice characters, where they aren't really sure what their motivation is. It's just such an odd contrast in quality between some of the voice actors that breaks the immersion.
Be Quick, Or be Dead
Man of Medan is much like Until Dawn in how it plays. While there are some parts of the game that have you walking around, investigating the environment and searching for clues, other parts are much more action/horror oriented. In these moments, the game takes a more on-rails approach that leads you into a series of quick time events with choices to be made at key sections that will determine what happens next.
During these sequences it's really important that you don't even risk blinking, because one wrong move could spell death for the character (or characters) involved in that sequence. While quick time events are more of a loathed mechanic these days, in the context of games like this they work well. If you fail a sequence, you don't redo it; you live with the consequences.
Oh, you accidentally pressed the wrong button? Well, that character is as dead as a doornail. You made a wrong turn, and then didn't defend yourself quickly enough? Bye bye. When your game continues, and you just have to deal with the consequences of your choices or your mistakes, that's something truly special. It's something absolutely fitting of a horror game.
A Short, Wild Ride
Given that Man of Medan is meant to be the first of several episodes in the Dark Pictures Anthology, I already expected it to be short. I didn't, however, expect to complete the game in a little over three and a half hours. It was a wild ride and got a couple jump scares out of me and had me curious about the mysteries behind the SS Ourang Medan. For the most part, it was a compelling experience. What made it even more interesting, was knowing that the plot behind the Man of Medan is inspired by a real ship that went missing sometime in the 1940's although a specific date is hard to pin down. It may not be a game for everyone, but for fans of Supermassive's previous work it is definitely worth a look.
Great setting, intense scares, some incredible voice actors.
Incredibly short, some voice actors are poor enough in quality that they break the immersion.