Meaningful choices in video games are something we’ve always craved. What if I could leave this person alone, would that affect the story? If I let this guy die, will it come back to haunt me? Rarely do games let you make these choices, and if they do they don’t usually matter all that much. Enter Supermassive Games; the team behind 2015’s Until Dawn, a horror game which let you make huge choices. That development team are back with Man of Medan and this time, it’s available for us Xbox fanatics.
The setup is simple but the choices you make are anything but that. A group of friends are traveling to a dive spot in the ocean when things take a turn for the worse. Nefarious pirates show up uninvited, take the wheel of your boat and stumble across an old World War 2 ship. Things aren’t exactly as they seem on arrival for you and however many characters you’ve managed to keep alive up to this point. The vessel is scattered with corpses but no identifiable reason as to how they perished. From here, you will be trying to survive and escape, with some other questions being answered along the way.
The visuals on offer here are superb. From the rusty ship to the character models and animations, everything feels like it has that extra layer of polish. Just because this is a budget title (It’s actually part of an anthology) doesn’t mean there have been cutbacks. The facial expressions and voice acting are some of the best I’ve seen. This, along with the generally likable cast, make good company for the journey. There are a few load screens when transitioning from cutscenes, but the cinematics have the same level of quality as their in-game counterparts. The meticulous level of detail adds to the atmosphere, which is one of Man of Medan’s greatest strengths. On a technical level, Supermassive has done a splendid job.
Similar to Until Dawn, Man of Medan uses a fixed camera system that adjusts to character movements. It works like a more dynamic version of old Resident Evil perspectives, and does a good job of making things feel claustrophobic. At times the camera does work against you which can make finding secrets more difficult, but that didn’t happen often. The secrets and documents are worth looking for to flesh out the story of the ship’s origins but aren’t necessary in the context of the modern day story.
Focusing on choices and dialogue options is what will add to your characters’ stories. Whilst the overall theme is fairly cliché, character interactions make the whole premise feel much more interesting. You can flirt with characters, fall out with them and side with others, which can alter relationships. These choices can also help or hinder certain people’s chances of survival. When trying the local co-op mode in a 2nd playthrough, I had the chance to escape early on as one character. I opted to reach for a gun instead, in an attempt to perform some heroics. This kept him with his mates but ultimately got him killed down the line. However, keeping that character involved instead of an early escape unlocked some extra areas on the abandoned ship which I never got to see on my solo run. Neat stuff.
When it comes to gameplay, Man of Medan doesn’t offer too much. You’ll be slowly wandering around, finding hidden rooms with documents scattered about, but little more than that. Combat plays out through quick-time events as do certain escape scenes. Whilst the system is competent, there were times when the UI could have been clearer on what type of QTE I’d be getting. Button mashers and quick presses looked very similar, and the lack of clarity caused a character death in one playthrough. The game’s focus is clearly on story, but it’s also a shame that the scares don’t pull through very often. Man of Medan is tense and does well at building atmosphere, but is rarely ever properly scary.
All in all, Supermassive’s first Xbox outing is a good one, and is a great setup for the Dark Pictures Anthology. Yes, it’s a horror game light on actual scares or intricate gameplay mechanics, but it more than makes up for that with great characters and a moody atmosphere. It may not be as distinct or groundbreaking as Until Dawn, but Man of Medan shows more maturity and a serious side, which could certainly make the anthology more interesting in the long run.