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June 2019

The Dark Pictures Anthology

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: Supermassive Games
Release Date: 2019


PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'The Dark Pictures: Episode 1 - Man of Medan'

by Adam Pavlacka on Oct. 30, 2018 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

The Dark Pictures Anthology is a series of stand-alone, cinematic horror games, designed to present a new terrifying experience on a regular basis.

Choices are at the heart of every story. How many times have you watched a movie or a TV show and thought, "You idiot!" as the main character does something stupid? Sometimes it's done for dramatic effect. Sometimes it's done because it has to happen for the plot to move forward. Regardless of the reason, a choice is made. Choose-your-own adventure books famously brought those choices to readers, and the recently closed Telltale Games made choices a core part of all of its titles. Now, Supermassive is doing the same with its upcoming episodic horror title, The Dark Pictures.

On a gameplay level, the first episode, Man of Medan, is pretty straightforward. You walk around, explore, and solve puzzles. Older gamers will find shades of Maniac Mansion here, but without any of the associated humor. You'll be searching the environment, inspecting items, and looking for clues while trying to stay alive because someone — or something — doesn't want you to get out safely.

Exploring the world appears to be at your leisure, with key items being discovered "hotspot" style. As you progress through an area, items reveal themselves to be interactive when you get close. Those that are key to the story are laid down along the main path and are nearly impossible to miss. Others are tucked slightly out of the way. Inquisitive players who poke their nose into every nook and cranny will find them, while more casual players could easily pass them by.

Unlike many story-based games, Man of Medan presents its choices as emotional selections rather than specific actions. You play through a sequence with full control of your character, interacting with the environment as you see fit. When you hit a key moment, the game asks you to choose from one of two options, such as "annoyed" or "hopeful." Once you make your selection, the action resumes, and you see the results play out.

Running through the demo multiple times reveals more than one way for the experience to unfold. Although the differences in the demo build were minor, they do hint at ways in which the story could diverge down important paths. Hopefully, these differences result in major story branches, as that would bode well for replay value. Being able to play through Man of Medan multiple times and getting a substantially different experience would be much more exciting than simply seeing multiple variants of what is essentially the same scene.

An element that wasn't really explained in-game was how the premonition feature works. It is possible that it is simply a tease of a possible future. It is also possible that it may make a specific future more (or less) likely. They could be anything from creepy collectibles, or they could be a core component of gameplay.

It's tempting to make assumptions on how Man of Medan will play out, based on Supermassive's prior work on Until Dawn, but it's quite possible that the developers will be using those assumptions to subvert player expectations. Given their history with horror, it would be foolish to have expectations set at this point.

What we do know is that Man of Medan will look good. Supermassive is no stranger to visual fidelity, and the character models are nicely done. Movement throughout the world can be stiff, but the detail is what makes everything stand out. Given that any fast action appears to be handled via quick time events, the movement issues shouldn't be a hindrance, even if they do persist in the final game.

Look for The Dark Pictures to debut sometime next year.

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