dark pic­tures an­thol­ogy: man of medan

Hal­lu­cino­genic hor­ror shenani­gans on a creepy ghost ship, any­one?

XBox: The Official Magazine - - CONTENTS - Steve Boxer

On pa­per, Man Of Medan sounds like a throw­back – as a nar­ra­tive-led third-per­son hor­ror game, it’s es­sen­tially a point-and-click ad­ven­ture with mod­ern graph­ics. But Un­til Dawn, its 2015 pre­de­ces­sor from de­vel­oper Su­per­mas­sive (cru­elly un­avail­able to Xbox One own­ers as it’s a PS4 ex­clu­sive), showed that such games could still find a mod­ern au­di­ence.

Man Of Medan ad­heres to the blueprint es­tab­lished by Un­til Dawn, but it man­ages to in­no­vate by bring­ing in a clever two-player co-op mode to the for­mat. It starts with a flashback to 1947 that also func­tions as a tu­to­rial and story setup, in which two sailors overindulg­e dur­ing shore leave in Manchuria, be­fore board­ing the SS Ou­rang Medan as it sets off for San Fran­cisco. Be­fore long, an elec­tri­cal storm and a sin­is­ter cargo turn its voy­age into a disas­ter.

Man Of Medan then cuts to the real ac­tion. In present-day French Poly­ne­sia, four young Amer­i­cans – med­i­cal stu­dent Alex, his geeky brother Brad, his rich, ad­ven­tur­ous girl­friend Ju­lia, and Ju­lia’s ob­nox­ious brother Con­rad – gather on the Duke Of Mi­lan, a boat they have char­tered in or­der to go wreck-div­ing; feisty skip­per Fliss com­pletes the party. It’s a sim­i­lar setup to Un­til Dawn (al­though only the en­ti­tled Con­rad matches the brat­ti­ness of that game’s char­ac­ters).

Cheap chills

The group messes around on the Duke Of Mi­lan, get­ting to know one an­other and con­duct­ing a suc­cess­ful dive, which brings the prom­ise of an­other wreck to in­ves­ti­gate, while giv­ing you op­por­tu­ni­ties to af­fect the re­la­tion­ships between the char­ac­ters. But then the idyll is shat­tered by a nasty bunch of mod­ern-day pi­rates, and cir­cum­stances take the ex­tended party to the SS Ou­rang Medan, now a sub­limely creepy ghost ship, on which Alex and com­pany strug­gle to avoid death at the hands of their psy­chotic cap­tors, be­fore fig­ur­ing out how to es­cape to nor­mal­ity.

Game­play-wise, Man Of Medan ad­heres to a well-worn mod­ern, cine­matic ad­ven­ture model. So, you en­act con­ver­sa­tions between its char­ac­ters, find and use or col­lect ob­jects and, at times, work through quick-time events. One me­chanic sees you tim­ing but­ton presses to co­in­cide with heart­beats, and there’s even a mod­icum of very ba­sic shoot­ing. But those who de­mand fast, twitchy ac­tion from their games will find it an­noy­ingly slow and clunky. And it’s more or less sin­gle-path, of­fer­ing dis­ap­point­ingly few op­por­tu­ni­ties for ex­plo­ration.

The game uses a few other de­vices: at cru­cial points in the story, it cuts to a smug guy, who calls him­self the Cu­ra­tor Of Sto­ries, who as­sesses your per­for­mance so far and of­fers hints on how to pro­ceed. And in the

game’s var­i­ous dif­fer­ent set­tings, you en­counter pic­tures on the wall, which pro­vide pre­mo­ni­tions of events that might be­fall the var­i­ous char­ac­ters.

Man Of Medan’s over­all chal­lenge is to shep­herd all five char­ac­ters to safety, which pro­vides a con­sid­er­able amount of re­play value. Su­per­mas­sive claims – and play­ing the game bears it out – that Man Of Medan con­tains more branching op­tions than any game it has ever made. Given that a playthroug­h takes no more than five hours, you’ll want to re­play it un­til you’ve achieved that elu­sive per­fect out­come. Or you can cut straight to spe­cific se­quences to see what ef­fect your cho­sen ac­tions might have.

That has a down­side, how­ever: typ­i­cally for a Su­per­mas­sive game, Man Of Medan is all about hor­ror, and while it doesn’t skimp on the scares (some of which are great), once the ini­tial scene-set­ting is over and the ac­tion moves to the SS Ou­rang Medan it­self, where an agree­ably fetid and hal­lu­ci­na­tory air pre­vails, the hor­ror as­pect is in­evitably di­luted af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it for the first time.

Ship shape

To be fair, Man Of Medan’s branching is so ex­ten­sive that we were still see­ing new scenes on the third playthroug­h. And there are a whole lot of scenes that you will only get to see if you play it co-op­er­a­tively with some­one else. Via ul­tra-tight nar­ra­tive de­sign, Su­per­mas­sive Games has man­aged to gen­er­ate an in­no­va­tion to the genre, in which the char­ac­ters in the party split into two groups at var­i­ous points, en­abling two-player co-op. There’s also a couch co-op mode for up to five play­ers, which sees each par­tic­i­pant con­trol an in­di­vid­ual char­ac­ter, and is per­fect for pro­vid­ing a group of mates with some post-pub hor­ror in­take.

As far as mod­ern cine­matic ad­ven­tures are con­cerned, Man Of Medan is state of the art: its pro­duc­tion val­ues are fault­less, its branching story im­pres­sive and it im­presses with plenty of chill­ing hor­ror am­bi­ence. The temp­ta­tion of mul­ti­ple playthroug­hs is im­pos­si­ble to re­sist, and its short­ness is mit­i­gated by the co-op modes and mid-range pric­etag.

How­ever, in game­play terms, Man Of Medan fails to hide its some­what old-fash­ioned genre ori­gins, so it might leave some mod­ern gamers – bar those who en­joy a cin­e­mat­ic­style gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence – feel­ing un­sat­is­fied. It’s a finely crafted game, but by no means for ev­ery­one.

“You’ll want to re­play it un­til you’ve achieved that per­fect out­come”

left It’s full of hor­ror tropes, but that’s part of the schlocky charm.

above The real-life crew of the SS Ou­rang Medan per­ished un­der strange cir­cum­stances.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.