|The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan|
|Publisher||BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment|
|release date||August 2018|
|Genre||Horror, adventure game|
A few years ago, Supermassive Games released the successful horror game Until Dawn for PlayStation 4, which stood out for its original concept of variable gameplay. The developers decided to develop this idea by presenting several frightening stories as part of a single The Dark Pictures series. The first game, subtitled Man of Medan, was released at the end of August, and the next part will be released in 2020. How good was the start of an ambitious horror series? Now let’s talk about it.
It all starts with prehistory, when we observe a strange tragedy on an American warship in 1947. Something breaks out of its confinement in the hold and drives the sailors crazy, wiping out their ranks. Years pass, the ship is lost and forgotten, but soon it will have to wake up from sleep in search of new victims.
Somewhere in the Polynesian islands, a group of young people are preparing for a fun adventure at sea. These are four friends and a girl-captain of a pleasure boat. Warm southern sun, large stocks of beer and diving to the bottom with scuba gear – the evening promises to be eventful.
But according to the laws of the genre, any fun adventure quickly turns into a tragedy. This is helped by the bad temper of the rich brother of the main character and disturbed spirits from the sea day. First, local bandits visit our company of friends, and then a ghost ship emerges from the storm and fog, the same one that disappeared with the team 70 years ago.
The plot does not shine with originality and is replete with stamps. The general synopsis resembles a standard youth horror movie, but the story is presented well, it has unexpected plot twists and intrigue. There is ambiguity in mystical motives, which is good, because it gives rise to different interpretations of events. Relationships between characters play an important role. For all its stereotypes, the game conveys the feeling of friendly gatherings in the initial stages well and makes you empathize with the characters in subsequent events.
The injection of the atmosphere occurs according to the standard scheme. We are frightened by noises, strange silhouettes and shadows, there are screamers and unpleasant encounters with the otherworldly. The game does not try to be inventive, but even such banal tricks create a tense and intimidating atmosphere.
A controversial solution is to present the story in the form of some kind of tale. In between acts, we watch scenes with a mysterious guardian who comments on our progress and hints at future events. An interesting artistic move, but it breaks the general mood of the story and not everyone will like it.
As the game progresses, we control different characters, influencing the overall outcome of the story. The gameplay itself basically comes down to walking around locations, reading notes and communicating with other characters. A key feature of the dialogues is their influence on the development of the character of the hero and relationships with comrades. They were rude to their brother, supported their beloved, or drank too much – they received changes in their characteristics and changed the course of further history. There are a lot of moments in dialogues and interactive scenes when the game gives a choice in actions. These are completely insignificant little things that change the circumstances of subsequent events, but sometimes they result in more global consequences.
For example, the heroes rise after diving and see something strange above the water. Hurry up or wait for the right time for decompression? Any option will end normally, but in the future this may affect the final scenario. The character managed to escape from the bandits and this guarantees a good outcome? Also not a fact. In some cases, the consequences are not always obvious, as is the impact of our actions on the ending of the story.
From the very beginning, the game shows that it is full of forks in the absence of opportunities to replay the last episode. Such unpredictability and the danger of losing heroes encourages repeated playthroughs to see different scenarios and different endings. And the ending here is really diverse – it all depends on how many heroes survive to the credits, and what actions you performed earlier.
Exploring locations in Man of Medan is easy. We move along gloomy corridors and interact with illuminated objects. The camera is trying to work in cinematic mode, but in reality it is like old console games with poor visibility and problems in choosing the direction when the hero is in the corner of the frame. These atavisms do not greatly interfere with perception, but some cause irritation.
Action moments are built on QTE scenes. The problem is that they often get out of the general pace and require a quick reaction. The game stage can begin with the communication of the heroes, then there is a long walk through the compartments of the ship, but suddenly something happens and a QTE appears, to which you do not have time to react. But when it’s a long action episode, you can easily catch the rhythm and perform all the actions without any problems.
Man of Medan is like a mixture of games from Quantic Dream and Telltale Games. But Beyond and Heavy Rain have all QTEs organically integrated into the gameplay, but here they sometimes go wrong.
In some aspects, the game is implemented too simply, but it is perceived as interesting within the framework of the story, where the variability and constant change of characters makes you a full-fledged participant in what is happening. Impressions are spoiled by an uneven presentation, the story sags due to empty episodes with walking along the same type of corridors. And this is felt even within the framework of a small overall timing.
Virtual actors work out one hundred percent thanks to real prototypes. The faces and animations look very alive, although Julia’s facial expressions are strange, at some moments these are not emotions, but antics. Under certain lighting conditions and with beautiful blurring of the background, what is happening on the screen resembles a movie – everything is so convincing.
But the environment is poor in detail. Therefore, the fixed camera, the ever-present darkness and blurring of the background hide the flaws in the graphics.
The game is based on Unreal Engine 4, performance is uneven. If in dark locations even budget video cards provide good fps, then in rare moments with sunny scenes there will be serious drawdowns. Feel free to reduce the quality of anti-aliasing and the effect of depth of field for faster performance.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan leaves mixed impressions. The game has a banal story, but it is played well, and the virtual actors look lively and convincing. With an abundance of cliches and banal screamers, the game manages to fray the nerves, but the tense moments are diluted with boring walking along the corridors, where you have to put up with an uncomfortable camera. The variability is implemented in an interesting way, but the game is not captivating enough to play it several times. The gameplay is simple, and the complexity is achieved through the surprise of the QTE and some interactive moments. But there is a cooperative, and the developers themselves position the game as entertainment for a noisy company, where players will interact and emotionally feed each other. In such a situation, the impressions will be much brighter. To the average horror fan who’s used to dark single-player stories, Man of Medan will feel like a secondary rustic game. But thanks to the production, acting and a nice picture, this project deserves attention.