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The Dark Pictures Anthology

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: Supermassive Games
Release Date: Oct. 22, 2021


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PC Review - 'The Dark Pictures: Episode 1 - Man of Medan'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 28, 2019 @ 7:00 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.

Buy The Man of Medan

I've always felt that the horror genre works best in short doses, where you can focus on the unknown instead of explaining things to the point that they stop being scary. That's part of why I was excited about The Dark Pictures Anthology. Supermassive Games, the developer behind the interactive horror movie Until Dawn, intend to release a series of similar titles, each with a different plot, narrated by the mysterious Curator, a Cryptkeeper-like omniscient being who sets the stage.

The first of these anthology stories is Man of Medan. The plot opens up on a World War II aircraft carrier that's bringing home something mysterious in the final days of the war. After a deadly cold open, we cut to the present day, where a group of plucky college students is on a diving expedition. An unfortunate run-in with pirates forces the group into the decaying remains of the ship, where they must confront both their would-be kidnappers and the mysterious entity that dwells within the ships.

Right off the bat, Man of Medan is the same brand of horror shlock as Until Dawn, and that isn't meant as a criticism. It's exactly the kind of cheesy horror movie you'd pull up on Netflix during a lazy day, and the core story is fun in the same way. I found it to be less scary than Until Dawn, but it hits many of the same notes.

One area where Man of Medan shines is that it is far better than Until Dawn about allowing for consequences. It's possible to have one or more characters die before you even reach the haunted ship, and the actual risk helps to sell the game in a way that Until Dawn's relatively limited death options did not. The only complaint I have is that the flexibility can sometimes be unsatisfying from a narrative standpoint. In a movie, certain actions fail because the actor needs to stay around for the plot to occur. Man of Medan lets you subvert that, but in doing so, you may also see characters vanish much earlier than expected.

Unfortunately, this flexibility is a double-edged sword and can leave the game feeling disjointed. Many scenes don't flow well into each other, and even on a first playthrough, it's easy to see how certain scenes are effectively independent shots slapped together. This is necessary, but I feel that Man of Medan is slightly worse about it than Until Dawn. With that said, I ultimately preferred the flexibility of Man of Medan to the rigidity of Until Dawn, even if it we could see the seams on the former.

Another issue is that the game has multiple "cuts," which seem to be designed with multiplayer in mind. The cuts mean that certain events occur off-screen, and if you're playing alone, you'll get no resolution about why or how they happened. This is probably the biggest sticking point of the game. You can replay it with the alternate Curator's Cut to see the other segments, but it doesn't feel good or natural. Watching complete events to their conclusion is a lot more interesting than off-screen shenanigans.

The result is a game that is stronger than Until Dawn in some ways and weaker in others. Playing with friends is built into the game's DNA, and that makes it great for a movie night or playing online with a friend, but it's weaker when you're playing solo or with friends who just want to watch. In essence, you get a better party game but a weaker solo experience.

Man of Medan plays pretty much identically to Until Dawn: same basic concepts, controls, interface and mechanics. It has support for multiplayer (with people swapping the controller for local co-op or two people online), but that's pretty much the only significant change. If you haven't played Until Dawn, Man of Medan is very easy to pick up and play, with simple movement and button prompts mixed with easy-to-complete QTEs.

One thing I have to note about the controls is play with a controller. The keyboard and mouse controls are a huge detriment to the experience. Moving feels awkward, the QTEs feel awkward, and there are a lot of times it didn't seem to work properly. I ended up having to restart and plug in a controller because the K/M controls did not work at all. On the other hand, the game does offer all of the welcome accessibility options that have been appearing in modern games, such as "hold button to complete mash QTE" and even a (single-player only) option that prevents QTE timing out for those who want to control the story but not fall prey to a mistimed button prompt.

A single playthrough of the story is about six hours long, but it's worth doing at least one more playthrough of the game using the Curator's Cut to see alternate scenes, in addition to succeeding (or failing) where you didn't in your first playthrough to see how the outcomes change. I was pleasantly surprised to see how much certain scenes could deviate between playthroughs, but a lot of the game is pretty linear. At the end of the day, the big differences are who survived (if anyone) and how they escape (if ever) from the evil ship.

Man of Medan looks amazing, especially given its $30 price tag. The graphics are top-notch and frequently look astonishingly good. Sometimes, the facial animation veers a bit into the uncanny valley. (In particular, Julia's teeth are scarier than any monsters.) By and large, it looks great and makes good use of cinematic techniques. The voice acting is iffy. While the individual actors can do well, there are a lot of stilted line deliveries, likely because variations in the story can lead to lines being said at very different times. It gives the entire thing a rather low-budget feel that is at odds with the rest of the presentation. When the actors are on, they do a great job, but when they're off, it can sour a scene.

All in all, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Episode 1 - Man of Medan is a worthy follow-up to Until Dawn. It hits a lot of the same notes, and it's clear the developers understood the group appeal of watching-slash-playing a cheesy horror film with friends. There are still some weak points, but Man of Medan shows a willingness to learn from the previous game's mistakes and leaves us curious to see the next part of the anthology.

Score: 7.5/10

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