When Supermassive’s cult-classic horror hit Until Dawn released on PlayStation 4 in 2015, fans were surprised by the tropey-but-fun take on decades of horror movies. The adventure game was for anyone that has ever yelled at a scary movie to scold the characters for making illogical decisions by placing those decisions in the players’ hands, more or less deciding who lives and dies. Supermassive’s follow ups failed to capture the same charm, with Rush of Blood, the fairly different VR prequel Inpatient, and social PlayLink initiative Hidden Agenda failing to hit the same notes that made Until Dawn well-loved.
At Gamescom this year, Bandai Namco announced Supermassive has begun working on The Dark Pictures Anthology, a series of games centered around scaring the player with the same gameplay style as Until Dawn. When I asked Bandai Namco for information on what exactly the anthology entailed, it took a few analogies and examples to clarify that The Dark Pictures Anthology is a game series and the first game announced for it is Man of Medan, which we got to take for a spin this week.
Man of Medan follows a small ocean excursion crew doing a little deep sea diving. The demo opens with a “Previously On…” collection of clips, edited like the game’s reveal trailer from earlier this week, which you can find below. This forces a certain lack of context in the demo, putting the player in the driver’s seat of a situation that is already designed to put them off-kilter. The demo begins by asking whether the player sees themselves as more emotional or rational, using the right analog stick to choose an option. It was not clear what effect this had on the game.
The demo shows a small group lost inside of a larger structure, seemingly a gigantic abandoned freighter. Fliss and Brad from the trailer are together with the player controlling Fliss, but an older man named Danny is pushing them both along at gunpoint. Danny seems to have little concern for their well-being and pushes Fliss around when the player takes a few seconds to observe the surroundings. The three move along the ship while Danny freaks out, apparently with good reason, as shadows dash around in the periphery of the camera’s frame. The camera focuses on a corpse that Fliss steps over and a single frame of its jaw moving accompanies Fliss stepping through a far door, completely unaware.
Danny’s fear eventually gets the best of him and he takes off running down a corridor with a gun in his hand, a few gunshots are heard, and Danny disappears. Fliss and Brad proceed down the same hallway and find Danny gone and have no choice but to continue along the corridor. The two banter back and forth a little, prompting the player to decide if Fliss’ responses to Brad are dismissive or hopeful, with the game noting that your responses will have an impact later.
The game is not shy about making the horror front-and-center, so it isn’t long until zombies begin showing up. Similar to Until Dawn, most of the action sequences involve reacting to button prompts on the screen. You must hit the right button or mash to the game’s satisfaction – do whatever it takes to escape from the undead threat pursuing you. After a short sequence that honestly felt a little abrupt and truncated, you’re given a choice to have Fliss escape on her own or save Brad from the wretched horde chasing him.
Saving Brad, because why wouldn’t you, ends the demo, but not before a quick surprise that leaves the player questioning how much of that scene happened at all. It’s hard to say without full context what the game’s story is, but it definitely leaves an impression. I can’t wait to see how the diverse cast interacts with each other and whether it will be possible to keep the character relationships balanced.
Man of Medan is graphically captivating, with characters whose faces move and twitch realistically as they talk, making it a title that excels at close-ups. It’s hard to get a feeling for the environmental artwork in the cramped hallways of the ship, but it already nails the tone and atmosphere it seems to be going for.
It is easy to simply want this game to be another Until Dawn, but it might be better painted as Supermassive returning to what it does best. While the demo was short, but it seems this will satisfy the same kind of unserved audience that Supermassive capably provided for before. I’m not only eager to see what Man of Medan can offer, but what the developers do with The Dark Pictures Anthology as a whole.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan will release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in 2019.
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We Go Hands-On With Supermassive’s New Horror Anthology, The Dark Pictures