The Dark Pictures Anthology wants to tell a different type of horror story
SUPERMASSIVE’S PITCH FOR A RETURN TO ITS UNTIL DAWN GLORIES…
“IT IS SUFFOCATING, A THRILLER THAT LEANS ON INCREMENTALLY INCREASING TENSION RATHER THAN STRAIGHT-UP JUMP SCARES”
FORMAT: PS4, PC, XBOX ONE | PUBLISHER: BANDAI NAMCO GAMES | DEVELOPER: SUPERMASSIVE GAMES | RELEASE: TBC 2019 | PLAYERS: 1
Did you know that it has only been three years since the release of Until Dawn? It feels like it hit a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? We can’t be certain as to why that’s the case, although if we were to hazard a guess it might be because Until Dawn threatened to redefine how stories could be told across interactive spaces – lessons precious few developers have embraced in the intervening years.
Instead, we’ve been forced to wait patiently for Supermassive Games to pick up where it left off and begin iterating upon the ideas presented in its experimental horror game. That patience hasn’t paid off either. The studio’s flirtation with VR has been divisive, to say the least, while Hidden Agenda (the title designed to take the Until Dawn model and apply it to a cooperative-driven Playlink adventure) failed to meet expectation.
With its latest project, it feels as if Supermassive is asking for another chance to prove itself in this space. Though, given its recent output, the decision to create something as broad in scope as an off-kilter anthology series has also been met with some trepidation. It’s a cute idea, but then all of the studio’s creative endeavours since 2015 have been in one way or another. That said, we could hardly pass up the chance to play through a handful of scenes from the first entry to The Dark Pictures Anthology, Man Of Medan. At its core, this is the first game to launch in a series of standalone, cinematic, branching-narrative titles that will span the sub-genres of horror; Supermassive is aiming to lean on its passion for cinematic storytelling within interactive environments here and we see that reflected in the setup to Man Of Medan immediately.
A group of young Americans head out to the South Pacific Ocean in search of a good time and rumoured WWII wreckages. It doesn’t go to plan – the expedition, not the party – and they get lost within a storm and eventually find themselves trapped aboard a ghost ship. You know, a typical weekend out at sea with the crew.
It’s difficult to not be immediately impressed by the visual fidelity; the interiors of the rusting ship are atmospheric and evocative, effortlessly establishing an undercurrent of tension throughout our time exploring the ship; the facial and body animation is among some of the best we’ve ever seen, too, further cementing the studio’s ambition to create adventures wholly driven by characters rather than inputs. The change, from Decima engine (used for Until Dawn, the propriety system engineered by Guerrilla Games) to the Unreal 4 Engine, has worked wonders in this respect.
The demo itself was something of a slow burn, which we believe will be indicative of the full, final release. You move from room to room under constant duress in search of your friends and a few answers, the walls slowly closing in around you as you do. It is suffocating, a thriller that leans on incrementally increasing tension rather than straight-up jump scares. Interactions are made much in the same vein as Until Dawn or Hidden Agenda, in that you are largely left to your own devices, free to follow your intuition and explore whatever oddities catch your attention.
It’s certainly interesting as a concept, but what this demo failed to showcase was the degree of choice and consequence that will ultimately run through Man Of Medan. Neither did it do a good job of capturing the degrees of variety that will be offered through play. Supermassive promises that there are more branching paths in this title than in any of its previous games – that there are multiple endings and scenarios that emerge based on the decisions you make – but we are yet to see that in action. Given that all of the playable characters can supposedly live or die by the decisions that you make, with the narrative bending around these inevitabilities, we’re eager to see this in action.
The Dark Pictures Anthology is an interesting prospect, but there are questions that need to be answered. Man Of Medan – from its presentation to its pacing – is slow and calculated. How this plays out across a full-length experience remains to be seen, but we’re certainly eager to see Supermassive give the format a shot.
Above: Man Of Medan has no release date but we’ve been assured that the studio is on track to get the game out in 2019. Below: the facial animations are particularly impressive. these characters are able to render a pretty impressive amount of emotion, which only helps to sell the terror of the situation they’ve been thrust into.