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Review: The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan Is a Fun, If Slight, Party Toy

One hopes Man of Medan will function similarly to a mediocre TV pilot for a series that only later finds its footing.

The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan
Photo: Supermassive Games

Working from the interactive, choose-your-own-horror-movie framework of 2015’s Until Dawn, Supermassive’s latest game opts for something smaller and shorter, as well as more easily replayed. The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is framed through a man known only as the Curator (Pip Torrens), who’s seen walking through a hallway of moving pictures, a kind of spooky version of the Eyewitness educational series, before coming to rest in his library and pulling one book from the shelf. Man of Medan is meant to be the first of several such short stories, though it gets The Dark Pictures off to a choppy start.

The game’s setup—a group of young divers are kidnapped by pirates and taken aboard a wrecked World War II-era vessel—is an excuse for players to steer multiple characters through a creepy place loaded with jump scares. And despite some irritatingly stiff character movement in many tight corridors, Man of Medan is otherwise adept at dreaming up a miniature house—or ship, as it were—of horrors. With severed heads dropping from out of nowhere and mottled gray hands withdrawing from the foreground to a particularly jolting soundtrack cue, Man of Medan is very much in the mode of “fun” horror.

Graham Reznick and Larry Fessenden’s dialogue is hardly either of the two’s best work, though the filmmakers supply appropriately cheesy, if forgettable, lines to augment an atmosphere that might make you jump or hold your breath but is certainly never meant to be overpowering with real dread. The tone works to keep things entertaining, though a late reveal torpedoes much of the tension even as it invites you to change the way you interact with the game.

The formal multiplayer component is perhaps the best example of Man of Medan’s rather light ambitions; after assigning characters to different players, you take turns passing the controller around when prompted to explore an environment and complete quick-time events. The story will change, with some characters even dying outright depending on which rooms you enter, what choices you make, and whether you miss certain button presses. There are also options to go through the story alone or in online co-op, where another person concurrently plays through separate scenes as other characters for an outcome ultimately shaped by both players.

Man of Medan, though, is more functional than it is particularly clever about implementing different play styles and branching story paths. The intro feels especially slow in a social setting where other people are waiting their turn, and the game’s reliance on reading documents in small font to learn the ship’s backstory doesn’t feel totally suited for communal play. Other problems are more general interface foibles. For one, while the game is quite short and notes pivotal decisions as “bearings” in the pause menu, there’s no easy way to experience different story permutations short of playing through the whole thing again, unskippable cutscenes and all. Likewise, a screen listing character traits and relationships seems to imply that the way everyone behaves toward one another may change certain outcomes, but how (or even if) this takes place is so poorly conveyed that the screen feels totally arcane despite near-constant notifications that traits or relationships have been updated.

If Supermassive’s latest lays out a respectable template for future horror dramas, it hardly impresses with its execution. Anthologies are often inconsistent in quality, and where The Dark Pictures and its post-credits sequel tease are concerned, one hopes Man of Medan will function similarly to a mediocre TV pilot for a series that only later finds its footing.

This game was reviewed using a retail copy provided by fortyseven communications.

Developer: Supermassive Games Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: August 30, 2019 ESRB: M ESRB Descriptions: Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes Buy: Game

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