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The Dark Pictures: Man Of Medan Review (PS4) :: All Aboard The Horror Cruise

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The Dark Pictures: Man Of Medan

DETAILED REVIEW


I should probably preface this review by saying that I hate horror as a genre. I don’t understand people paying money to be scared. Case in point Silent Hill Shattered Memories, a game that I abandoned after about an hour in and completed the rest as a backseat gamer while my brother did the heavy lifting. I was determined to do the same with Man Of Medan and convinced my wife (a self-proclaimed horror buff; I know we are just made for each other) to play the game with me. Multiple sessions and about 10 hours later, we have emerged on the other side with mixed feelings. Let’s find out why.

Story & Narrative

Man Of Medan is the first stand-alone story in an anthology of horror games called The Dark Pictures. Set to be released bi-annually, no two stories are connected to each other and act out like flashbacks/conversation between you and The Curator. This specific story focuses/based on the real-life mystery of SS Ourang Medan (Ourang translates to Men in Malay, and Medan is a city, hence the name) lost in 1947, and follows a group of young adults who find themselves on the haunted ship along with some greedy fishermen turned pirates in present day.

The main thread of the game involves making sure that most of your 5 playable characters survive the trip (which I have READ is completely possible). But do a bit of exploring, and you would be able to find out more about the haunted ship. Do a bit of choice and decisions Tell Tale style and you would be able to develop or disintegrate relationships between different characters, which can, in turn, affect their chances of survival. There are multiple branches to explore, and while the main thread remains the same (5 friends caught on a ghost ship) its the effect of different choices that Supermassive games think will have you coming back.

For me it kind of falls in the middle. I liked almost all of the 5 characters I could control, so I was invested enough to try and save them. But it’s difficult to pull off a highly synchronized effort to save everyone when half of your cast is controlled by your wife who is determined to miss all the QTEs. It’s also hard to hold her interest after a couple of playthroughs once the novelty of branching storylines and alternate endings has worn off.

 

Gameplay & Mechanics

I still think I can keep her involved until the run where we save all of them, but the lack of a restart checkpoint option and the utter lack of responsive control make the effort strenuous. I know it is a technical feat when your story can keep moving forward even though a character died in the first chapter. But I am really not interested in starting over if one of my characters dies midway.

The gameplay itself is roughly divided into 3 parts. Exploration, Decision Making, and Quick Time Events. You would have thought that a game with so little gameplay would have finetuned the controls to a T, but that’s unfortunately not the case. The control feels sluggish and unresponsive. The movement feels heavy and clumsy and its a chore to move around. And while decision making and QTE are not game-breaking or even poor individually, it’s the way one follows the other which feels jarring. 2 or 3 conversation branches (with way more time to decide) would be suddenly followed by a QTE which needs Reddit-time responses, resulting in you in getting caught off-guard and more often than not the death of your current character.

Fortunately, exploration plays out the best. With static camera angles, the game is able to deliver excellent views whenever you make a turn or enter a room. The camera pans and follows you enough to not make it frustrating but it feels like a page taken right out of Resident Evil 2, giving the game multiple opportunities for pop shock moments.

 

Graphics Sound & Performance

What makes the exploration even more enjoyable are the detailed and beautiful pictures that Man Of Medan is able to create. My wife was blown away by the realistic graphics and the detailed facial animations of the characters, and noted multiple times during the game, how it looks and feels like a live-action movie. I was similarly impressed by the game’s ability to capture the dingy creepiness of the claustrophobic alleys of a haunted ship. The sound of waking on a rusted iron platform, coupled with the eerie silence of a haunted ship mingled with far squeaking critters, creates a tense atmosphere way better than any soundtrack could. Even the puff of dust that collects like a cloud in abandoned rooms adds to the effect.

I played the game on a PS4, and with Supermassive’s experience in the platform (Until Dawn) the game performed decently. It never stuttered, and I never experienced a crash which is rare in review copies since they are missing the day 1 patch updates. The game was consistently able to deliver its pixels, and I ran into no issues with tesselations or texturing.

 

 

Game Modes

Which is handy, because this game is supposed to be played with people, and so it would have been sad if the performance was not up to the mark. The game can be played in multiple ways. You can finish the game solo, taking control of the various characters one by one, or you can play the game in online co-op mode. The online co-op mode is interesting because that involves 2 players on 2 different screens experiencing 2 different facets of the story at the same time (a good example is when one player is underwater while the other is atop the boat, both making choices which affect the experience of the other).

There is also a Movie mode, which supports up to 5 players and is a glorified couch co-op where a character/s is assigned to each player, and each player passing the controller around whenever they are up. This is the mode that I and my wife played the game in, with her controlling all the girls, and me controlling all the boys. You also unlock a chapter select mode once you complete the game once, allowing you to navigate to different chapters and change your choices.


VERDICT

Man Of Medan is an entertaining affair. As a horror movie, it might have been judged as formulaic, campy and stereotypical. But as a horror game with multiple ways to play, it comes out as innovative, social and fun. Highly recommended if you can find someone to play it with.

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