A favorite common memory that Until Dawn players surely share is the experience of sitting together with friends and collectively choosing paths for their presumably doomed characters. That title from Supermassive Games took familiar horror film tropes and somehow blended them into something fresh and novel—and the studio’s next title, Man of Medan, appears to be continuing where Until Dawn left on, from a thematic perspective.
This is the first entry of The Dark Pictures, a horror anthology game series, with plans for two entries every year. If Until Dawn took heavily from the “cabin in the woods” subgenre of horror cinema, Man of Medan is a “ghost ship” take on the Until Dawn formula. While my hands-on demo for Man of Medan at PAX East 2019 didn’t feel as fresh as my first experiences with Until Dawn, I can certainly imagine The Dark Pictures entering the same audience’s Halloween game party line-ups.
Like Until Dawn, Man of Medan is overtly a choose-your-own-adventure cinematic experience. This particular demo started with a “Previously On” recap, with brief flashes of a story—a group of friends embarks on a diving trip in search of a wrecked ship. Upon arrival, some supernatural and fatal hijinx ensue. The recap didn’t help too much in defining any of the characters, which I felt was a key aspect of Until Dawn, but I imagine the final game will go deeper into relationships and dynamics.
The demo was very in media res, with the character of Fliss escorted by an armed character through the depths of the wrecked ship. There’s a sense of fear and paranoia in this dark and rustic environment, but while I imagine the sound design would add further to the atmosphere, the particular demo I played appeared to have some volume issues. Additionally, some lip-synching was off, further adding to an uncanny valley feeling.
There weren’t too many mechanics demonstrated, rather than the familiar element of character choices. Players select between options through a compass that appears in the HUD, with the player using the right analog stick to point in the direction of one out of several choices. Before jumping into the action, I was prompted to choose between emotion versus rationality—do I think with my heart or with my head? As I only played through this demo once, I’m curious to see how that early choice permeates through the game’s story.
It was a demonstration of atmosphere and tone rather than gameplay, with nothing as deep or puzzles or the like. Instead, the demo walked the player as Fliss through a number of rooms, finding and interacting with clues—an abandoned hat, a trail of bodies, and a dog tag, all suggesting something sinister at the end of your path. The end of the demo presented a choice, the familiar “save yourself or save someone else” choice that one would see in a Telltale-like game, followed by an obligatory jump scare.
Like Until Dawn, Man of Medan seemed to take inspiration more so from films than survival horror games. I briefly spoke to Supermassive’s Head of Marketing James Scalpello, who cited the film Ghost Ship as an inspiration for this entry. I asked Scalpello about what subgenres of horror The Dark Pictures would invoke, and while he was not specific, he did mention that Supermassive found at least 39 subgenres to take advantage of. Judging from my brief conversation with Scalpello, the future entries of this anthology should very much play the same, with a new setting and cast of characters for each game but the same focus on multiple characters, choices, and the possibility of any of the characters living or dying by the end of a playthrough.
While these games are said to be about four to five hour-long experiences, I was ensured that the number of choices would encourage multiple playthroughs. During my brief demo, I glanced at some other demo stations and noticed very subtle differences, such as a character accompanying Fliss who had not yet appeared at the same point during my demo. That character met a rather unfortunate end on my end—so I remain curious about how I can avoid having him befall that fate if I were to try again.
Otherwise, expect the same quick-time events from other games of its ilk. While I would have liked to see other features in this demo, say a puzzle or two, the atmosphere and the similar “butterfly effect” from Until Dawn may be enough for me to give this anthology series a go.
My primary gripe might be that as of now, it doesn’t appear that Man of Medan implemented anything that serves the audience who played Until Dawn with friends on the couch, or even going further with that audience with say, a feature for streamers to allow viewers to weigh in on choices. Still, those who crave for more Until Dawn-like experiences will be satisfied enough, if the final game can deliver on the characters.
The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan will land on PS4, Xbox One, and PC sometime this summer.
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