Through a picture, darkly
Review: The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan
Supermassive Games had a fascinating debut back in 2015 with the unforgettable Until Dawn. Taking the branching storylines and dialogue options from adventure games and mixing them with quicktime events and other gameplay elements, the game essentially took the formula of David Cage’s games (Heavy Rain) but delivered on it better (Cage would perfect it later, with 2018’s Detroit: Become Human). The title also worked to subvert a number of established horror film tropes.
The Dark Pictures Anthology is a new series of horror titles from the developer. These games will tell shorter, self-contained horror stories in a similar vein to Until Dawn.
The story sees a group of spoiled adventure-hungry partygoers
rent a boat in the Pacific, overlooking a mysterious world war two ruin. After
diving down to the ruins to investigate, they run afoul of a group of murderous
pirates. While at first, it seems that their agenda is merely to hold them for
ransom, a more sinister secret emerges from the depths.
Much like the crypt keeper or Until Dawn’s analyst, Man of Medan’s story keeper is a fourth-wall breaking character who analyses the player’s choices and offers some cryptic clues regarding upcoming story twists. These segments serve as a fun way to break up the action sequences and keep the player anticipating what is to come. The titular dark pictures are a number of visual hints, literal dark pictures that appear in the game’s world and foreshadow what will take place, giving the player the chance to make potentially better choices later.
It should be noted that Man of Medan’s story is a little on the short side, clocking in at around thirteen hours for a single playthrough. This is not necessarily a negative aspect, however. The game is priced accordingly, and is meant to be played through a few times in order to experience the full story.
Plenty of games emphasise how player’s choices determine the experience, but Man of Medan gives the player the ability to make choices in a manner that seems unique in how nuanced it is. Players make seemingly small dialogue choices and actions that go on to shape characters’ relationships with one another and their individual’s character traits. For example, choosing to confront the pirates early on can lead to a preppy, smarmy character becoming a tougher and more assertive person, but at the cost of him brutally attacked.
Graphically, Man of Medan is something of a mixed bag. The character models, textures, and facial expressions are all uncanny. However, there are also a number of niggling complaints. Reviewing the title on the original PlayStation 4, Insights encountered choppy frame rates and times when the animation had visible glitches. This is a title that may be better experienced on a PlayStation 4 Pro, Xbox One X, or high end PC. Nonetheless, the core game remained functional and was often impressive looking. Despite some noticeable faults, Man of Medan is an impressive first entry for The Dark Pictures Anthology that sets up the series well.
Man of Medan is now available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor
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