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Review

The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan Review - Drown And Out

  • First Released Aug 29, 2019
    released
  • Reviewed Aug 28, 2019
  • PS4

Still finding its sea-legs.

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Man of Medan is set almost entirely at sea on an enormous, abandoned boat. Loosely based on the real-life mystery of the OSS Ourang Medan, which became a shipwreck in the late 1940s after its entire crew were lost under mysterious circumstances, Man of Medan is also the first part of Supermassive Games' proposed Dark Pictures Anthology--a series of short, branching horror narrative experiences in the vein of its tremendous 2015 surprise hit, Until Dawn. If you've played Until Dawn, you'll know what to expect. But despite a smart online co-op mode, Man of Medan's weak narrative ultimately makes it a disappointing first installment.

The game's plot jumps between five different playable characters who are all experiencing the same event. You'll determine their ultimate fates by making decisions for them, as well as responding to quick-time events. There are reportedly 69 different potential deaths you can experience (including those of non-playable characters), but it's also entirely possible that your whole crew will survive. Alternatively, they might all die. Man of Medan's main selling point is that your decisions will affect how things play out, how the relationships between your characters will develop, and what you'll uncover and experience along the way.

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In conversations, and at pivotal points in the plot, you'll often be given three options, one of which is always to say or do nothing. So focused is Man of Medan on its story, there are no puzzles to solve or combat systems to master outside of these choices, just lots of exploring and quick-time events. However, the game is plagued by a big central problem: a fundamentally weak plot.

The story isn't engaging, as the player is given little reason to care about the characters and the horror tropes being explored mostly feel hackneyed and uncreative. After a brief prologue scene set in the '40s, you spend Man of Medan's four-hour (give or take) runtime in the present day. The story opens with the crew planning a dive to a previously untouched sunken fighter plane from World War II, which ultimately leads to a series of events that sees them trapped on the Medan, a seemingly haunted abandoned ship, held captive by a pirate gang who are convinced that the ship--which is riddled with dead bodies--contains treasure. Naturally, things start going bump in the night, and the gang finds themselves dealing with various ghouls and terrors too.

There are plot holes and character inconsistencies throughout, some minor, some more blatant. It’s perhaps easy to forgive the questionable presence of rats all over the boat, still gnawing on hunks of meat that have been on the ship since the 40s, but it’s less easy to excuse how blasé the characters act about the horrifying situations they find themselves in. They're mostly unlikeable, too--There's the cool but insecure Alex, his dorky younger brother Brad, Alex's outgoing, wealthy partner Julia, Julia's obnoxious but well-meaning brother Conrad, and Fliss, the captain of the small boat the four have chartered at the story's opening. The dialogue is generally not very good; at times it successfully recreates the feeling of watching a fun-but-silly teen slasher, occasionally hitting that good-bad sweet-spot as a character awkwardly refers to something as ‘lit’ or flirts awkwardly, but it can also be annoying when the five central characters' interactions sound stilted and unrealistic. Without spoiling anything, the story also explains a little too much about what's happening on the Medan in a way that makes repeated playthroughs much less satisfying.

There's also an over-reliance on jump scares, which cheapens the horror experience. One standout sequence midway through the game that does a great job of getting under your skin, as Brad finds himself stuck in a looping hallway that grows just a bit weirder every time he travels down it, but otherwise Man of Medan is reliant on spring-loaded cats and lots of suddenly-morphing faces. On the plus side, it looks tremendous--the character models can be a bit waxy, but the ship is extremely detailed and creepy, and the game effectively communicates how unpleasant the act of exploring a creaky rustbucket full of dark corners and rotting corpses must be. The trade-off, at least on a base PS4, is that animations frequently stutter, breaking the mood as frames slip away.

There are pacing issues, too, especially with the extremely slow opening section that weighs down repeat playthroughs. While you can see different scenes or experience unique outcomes with each playthrough, some scenes will be essentially unchanged each time, which can quickly grate. You'll also occasionally have to check in on 'The Curator', an omnipresent suited man who is clearly meant to be the mascot for and host of the Dark Pictures Anthology. He's a pompous version of the Crypt Keeper (from Tales From The Crypt), but without any of the "good evening, boys and ghouls" merriment you want from a horror anthology host, and as a result, he doesn't quite fit.

Multiplayer is Man of Medan's big addition to the formula laid out by Until Dawn. There are two forms of co-op: Shared Story, in which two players tackle the game together online, and Movie Night, where up to five players can play together offline, playing through the chapters of whichever characters they are assigned at the start. Playing together on the couch is perhaps meant to evoke that "don't go in there" feeling of watching a fun horror movie with friends, but Man of Medan's relatively straightforward level designs, which never make it seem dangerous to wander off-path and explore the open doors and alternate pathways you encounter, don't particularly facilitate this. Death is more often down to a failed QTE rather than a dialogue choice you made or because you decided to investigate something spooky. In fact, right near the end, a mistimed button press can be the difference between everyone surviving and everyone dying--being responsible for that in front of your friends is more embarrassing than it is funny.

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However, so many of the game's issues feel like much less of a problem when you jump into the smart and innovative online mode. It is, without a doubt, the definitive way to experience Man of Medan, especially if you're playing with another person who is familiar with the material. Shared Story sees you both playing at the same time, taking control of different characters as their scenes play out simultaneously. You'll both, eventually, get a turn with every character (if they live long enough), and often your paths will diverge. Once the five main characters meet after the initial prologue, Shared Story immediately offers a more engaging experience than the single-player campaign can.

Early on, for instance, I played through a sequence where two characters dived down to inspect something underwater, while my co-op buddy stayed on the boat and experienced a different part of the story. In single-player, you'll still see both scenes, but one will be greatly truncated. In online co-op, some scenes are expanded, or you might occasionally see parts of the story, or make choices, that cannot be accessed in single-player.

This led to the two of us conspiring to make certain things happen, to bend the game's story to our will. We were more successful with some outcomes than others (a failed quick-time event led to an unexpected death early on), but working together to achieve dramatic satisfaction, and choosing when to reveal what just happened and when to let the other player try to figure out what we'd done in our scenes, was a delight. Each player won't see every scene when playing this way, and it's entirely possible to play without ever communicating, which makes the plot more unpredictable.

No matter how much or little you choose to share, though, Shared Story is absolutely the right way to play the game. It's very well designed; my co-op partner and I never found ourselves waiting for the other player to hurry up and trigger the next cutscene, and being able to see how your friend is trying to direct a scene, and deciding whether to help or hinder them in that, is excellent. It feels like you're working together to wring as many interesting outcomes as you can out of the game, and effectively doubling the number of potential choices leads to a much stronger sense of variety.

Man of Medan is still telling a weak story, though, as much as Shared Story plasters over this with its excellent take on co-op, which lets you plan things out and work together to craft the narrative you want to tell (and kill the characters you find the most annoying). If you can organize a session with someone else who owns the game and play through the whole thing together, it's an excellent experience; but if you're after another single-player horror narrative experience like the one offered in Until Dawn, it's very disappointing. As a show of the potential for the Dark Pictures Anthology, Man of Medan is largely a success, but as a first episode, it leaves plenty to be desired.

Back To Top
The Good
The ship is visually spectacular
A few fun jump scares and standout sequences
Dramatically better and more fleshed out in online co-op
The Bad
A fundamentally flawed plot, premise, and weak dialog, which make repeat playthroughs uninteresting
The single-player experience feels thin and repetitive when you try to play through more than once
Overly reliant on jump scares
6
Fair
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

James O'Connor has an urge to go back and replay the excellent Until Dawn now. He played through Man of Medan in single player and both multiplayer modes, going back through scene selection afterward to test out a few alternate possibilities. Review code was provided by the publisher.
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Avatar image for sacrilegious1
Sacrilegious1

How come the lights are working on a ship that has been abandoned for 70years?

Avatar image for Jasurim
Jasurim

I played the game single player and it's fairly fun. A few problems here and there, a little cheesy, but overall a fun experience if these choice based adventure games are your thing. But if you're only going to be playing it on your own, I honestly do not think it's worth its full price. Wait for a sale and a good discount. Co-op seems to be where it shines and adds a lot more, sp definitely worth it if you have some buddies with the game to play with.

Avatar image for jknight5422
jknight5422

I wish I had a friend that owned a boat to hang out on the middle of the night, telling stories.

Avatar image for johnny0779
johnny0779

Meanwhile Microsoft's exclusive title Blair Witch is getting plenty of great reviews!

Avatar image for justthetip
JustTheTip

@johnny0779: Lol. No it isn’t. It’s sitting at a 73 overall review score. GameSpot gave it a 5. If you’re gonna comment on this game getting a mediocre review, then you also need to acknowledge the worse review of Blair Witch.

Avatar image for aross2004
aross2004

@johnny0779: Cool?

Avatar image for J-007
J-007

A bit disappointed this review gave it other than a high score I think it deserves but it's good to find the criticism to make our decisions based on what we can expect and not to expect. If this is a weaker spinoff after Until Dawn but still enjoyable in other game modes but no better than single player then I can't do much about that as I have just got the game. A bit of a shame but I can't let that bother me if I liked Until Dawn

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

Some of the characters are just unbelievable. Like this guy here. Awful.

Avatar image for lower_case_dave
lower_case_dave

I hope they don't use that thing where you have to hold the controller completely still again. That mechanic was brutal.

Avatar image for pinkfloyd6789
pinkfloyd6789

@lower_case_dave: For my taste it was a good mechanic.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@lower_case_dave: No, but you get QTEs where you need to press buttons to match heartbeats.

Avatar image for gamingdevil800
gamingdevil800

@lower_case_dave:

Me: *Sets controller on the ground*

Controller: *Light bar randomly starts drifting*

Avatar image for gamingdevil800
gamingdevil800

Leaving the Guerilla Engine behind was going to be tough. I wonder what they are using now, unreal?

Avatar image for lostn
lostn

@gamingdevil800: For multiplatform development, that is the engine of choice. Guerilla's engine is only used for PS4 first party exclusives.

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

So is it actually a game or just an interactive movie? Doesn't look like there is any actual gameplay.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@deviltaz35:Barely even ten minutes into the first "tense" section of the game, there are already something like half a dozen jump scares, all within a linear stretch of walking around.

It's like the previous title from this developer, but with worse facial animations and lousier voice-over.

Avatar image for freedom01
freedom01

I'll still get it

Moderator
Avatar image for onehitta323
onehitta323

Of course other sites gave it a better review and higher score. Can't wait to play it.

Avatar image for aross2004
aross2004

I loved Until Dawn, so I'm all over this.

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

@aross2004: That game had the worst framerate issues and was almost unplayable too often. How could anyone love that pile of crap?

Avatar image for aross2004
aross2004

@deviltaz35: Huh? I never had any framerate issues, (other than a few occasional stutters that didn't even occur during actual gameplay segments). And I certainly never ran into anything that made the game unplayable in any way.

I have a Pro though, maybe base PS4 had framerate issues?

Sounds to me from some of your other posts in this thread that you're simply trolling.

Avatar image for pinkfloyd6789
pinkfloyd6789

@aross2004: Base ps4 goes down to around 21 fps in UNTIL DAWN and Pro barely improve that cause there is no patch on it. But hey, this is not a shooter. I never had a bad sequence on Frame drops.

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

@aross2004: Sorry i meant frame pacing issues . Not framerate as such. It was really jarring and yes i was playing on PS4 Pro. The game was never properly patched despite a massive overhaul supposedly forcing someone to download the entire game again even if they had the disc. However the frame pacing issues are still there today.

This game was never enhanced for the Pro which could have conceivably fixed these shortcomings too.

Please don't start this crap accusing someone of being a troll because they have a differing point of view either as it is extremely tiring.

Avatar image for stealthy1
stealthy1

@deviltaz35: funny how everyone else seemed to love it n loved it without frame rate issues but you.....? Ah what the heck...TROLL ALERT!

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

@stealthy1: See above i am not going to stoop to name calling and acting like a 5 year old.

Avatar image for gamingdevil800
gamingdevil800

@deviltaz35: I dunno maybe it's similar to how your Mother loves you.

*Sizzling

Avatar image for stealthy1
stealthy1

@gamingdevil800: yessssssssss

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

This always looked like a glorified movie. Hard to believe this is actually better than Ancestors though. Seeing reviews elsewhere for that game are fairly positive compared to Gamespot.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@deviltaz35: I suppose the problem with Ancestors is how opaque its systems are.

At first, I thought that it would be comparable to Spore, but Spore is a lot more simplistic because it used a progression system that simply gives perks on "level-ups" with few pre-requisites required. Ancestors... man. It's using something like Elder Scrolls' and a fantasy rogue-lite's potion-colour-to-effect matching.

Add to that some kind of movement system resembling the Assassin's Creed 2-like titles, and *whoo*, so many things can go over the head of any player that is not already a meticulous person.

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

@Gelugon_baat: I saw Ancestors preview quite a while ago with the developer and it looks interesting. Always a risk to do something quite different to everybody else. I have a feeling this game will end up doing really well for the developer when it inevitably goes to Game Pass in any case.

The original Assassins Creed is still the best yet it was never fully appreciated for the brilliant game it was aside from a few missteps towards the end anyway.

Avatar image for warmblur
warmblur

Steam Halloween sale.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

Oh man, "spring-loaded cats".

Some startled alley mog that makes a ruckus, e.g. knocking down things, and then glare and hiss at the nearest human character before scampering off. Then the next cut shows the monster/villain/nutjob bearing down on the fool while he/she is distracted by the cat.

Really, directors and producers are still using them?

Avatar image for jsprunk
JSprunk

Yeah, f*** this. Sounds like this is basically a multiplayer game with singleplayer as an afterthought. Coming off my wishlist now.

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

@jsprunk: lol was never on mine. This is the sort of crap you could just play with a VCR remote.

Avatar image for undeadzombie
Undeadzombie

@jsprunk: this little boi can't be serious

Avatar image for Utnayan
Utnayan

@undeadzombie: Sounds like a fantastic multiplayer 4 hour story fest. A lot of other review sites gave it a much higher score.

Avatar image for undeadzombie
Undeadzombie

@Utnayan: I'm glad

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

@Utnayan: lol IGN being one which are about as trustworthy as a rattlesnake.

Avatar image for TJDMHEM
TJDMHEM

I'll pass on it

Avatar image for undeadzombie
Undeadzombie

@TJDMHEM: so you going by review's instead of playing it on your own? Ok

Avatar image for ember_to_flame
Ember_to_Flame

Preordered, I really hope it is better then what is being said in this review. Been looking forward to this.

Avatar image for pinkfloyd6789
pinkfloyd6789

@ember_to_flame: Critical review says this one has plot holes. It doesnt mean that is a bad game, specially if you like horror games. Critical review is based on few criterias that is not relevant to personal taste. Respect both of them and play what you like.

Avatar image for videogameninja
videogameninja

Kind of disappointing to hear it doesn’t live up to the expectations of the studio’s previous work in the way of Until Dawn (an excellent single player horror experience.) but it still sounds like there is still some fun to be had in the way of co-op.

It’s just a shame that the same things that made Until Dawn such an amazing ride (a great single player component all centered around the backdrop of a slasher film.) aren’t as prominent here.

Still, I think given the great time that was Until Dawn gamers owe it to themselves to at least give it a shot.

-HEY…I HAVE AN IDEA. LET’S SPLIT UP! NINJA APPROVED-

Avatar image for undeadzombie
Undeadzombie

@videogameninja: play the game on your own instead of listing to other people's opinions

Avatar image for Utnayan
Utnayan

@undeadzombie: You missed the part where he said people should try it anyway.

Avatar image for undeadzombie
Undeadzombie

@Utnayan: on I see babe

Avatar image for supamastergamer
SupaMasterGamer

Still going to try this game

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

@supamastergamer: Wait for it to be given away as a monthly freebie. Would probably be within a few months at most. These games also tank really hard in price very soon after release when people realise there is not much to them.

The Dark Pictures - Man of Medan More Info

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  • First Released Aug 29, 2019
    released
    • PC
    • PlayStation 4
    • Xbox One
    The Dark Pictures - Man of Medan
    7
    Average Rating19 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate The Dark Pictures - Man of Medan
    Developed by:
    SuperMassive Games
    Published by:
    Bandai Namco Games
    Genre(s):
    3D, Action, Adventure, Survival
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes