Released in late August, The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan came out just in time for the month of Halloween. Based on the legend of the SS Ourang Medan, a real ship said to be lost in the south Pacific, the game is a choice-based survival horror drama set on the high seas. Despite some problems with the writing or jump scares to back it up, Man of Medan is possessed with spooky atmosphere and some creative gameplay.
Man of Medan was developed by Supermassive Games, the same company that produced Until Dawn in 2015. In both games, one plays as a group of young adults going on vacation in a remote area only to find this location to be haunted by supernatural entities. In Man of Medan, the player controls five characters, switching among their perspectives and making their choices. These characters go out to sea and end up getting captured and taken to an abandoned ship — the Ourang Medan — where the ghosts of dead soldiers begin to haunt them. As the player, one navigates between escaping these captors and dodging the odd ghost, all while trying to keep all five players alive until the end.
Like Until Dawn, one of the major flaws of Man of Medan is that it doesn’t have very likable characters; none of them seem to have much heart and often don’t react the way any real person would — not to mention the poor acting at some pretty critical moments. However, one of the more interesting aspects of the game is how the player can change the five characters through their decisions. Different choices change the relationships between the characters and how they view one another. This includes anything from joking around together to saving another character’s life. Based on the player’s dialogue options, Alex decides whether or not to propose to Julia, Fliss either accepts or rejects Conrad, and other details that do end up affecting the game, albeit minimally. It’s satisfying to see even the little choices having at least some effect on the story.
There are more branching paths in this game than Until Dawn, despite the lower run time. There’s much more variation than just who lives and who dies in the end. In this game, entire scenes are cut out and different information is given to the player depending on what path they take. This leads to two entirely different ending outcomes and within those two outcomes, the player decides which characters make it until the end.
Writing aside, Man of Medan has some stunning graphics that make the ocean environments beautiful to look at, and create the haunted atmosphere of the ship, a nice change of setting for a horror game. The game play itself is about what one might expect from a choose-your-own-adventure style game — filled to the brim with quick time events and painfully slow walking sections. The fixed camera, while making the shots more cinematic, really only serves to make walking through doors and rooms needlessly frustrating.
The horror aspects could be much better developed than they are in this game. All things considered, Man of Medan is not a very scary game. It relies too heavily on jump scares instead of legitimately scary concepts. Once these cheap scares become the standard, the rest of the game isn’t scary because there is little variety in how it tries to scare the player. Other than the dozens of jump scares it throws at the player, the only thing this game really has going for it in terms of horror is a couple of well-placed gory visuals.
With the quirks of this game and the often campy horror, adding multiplayer was a good move on Supermassive’s part. The aptly-named “Movie Night Mode” allows up to five players to control the five characters and together determine the outcome of the story. This game is better enjoyed with friends, in the same way a cheesy, slasher horror movie is enjoyed with friends. Especially with the overly dramatic character group dynamics, it’s much more fun with the company of others than as a single player. The online multiplayer adds another fun dynamic, allowing players to learn information and see things that other players don’t — including the jump scares — then make decisions accordingly, adding another layer of complexity to the decision-making that is the heart of this game.
Man of Medan has many worthwhile elements that make exploring the world and decision paths a rewarding experience. Between the graphics and the consequences to the player’s decisions, there is some merit to be found. However, despite the new setting and characters, Man of Medan still falls back into many of the same flaws of its predecessor Until Dawn.
Man of Medan is rated M for Mature.
Genevieve Hankins is a pop culture critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl