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July 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 Thomas Wilde on June 24, 2019 @ 12:45 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.

It's not much of a surprise that we're seeing another choice-based horror game from Supermassive Games. In 2015, Until Dawn shocked a lot of people by being a success. By rights, given its lengthy development cycle, its status as a choice-based interactive "movie," and Sony shoving it out the door to die without giving it any real marketing to speak of, Until Dawn should've crashed and burned. Instead, it became a sleeper hit and was followed by a VR prequel and spin-off.

What is a surprise, then, is that Supermassive's next game, Man of Medan, is a cross-platform release. The developer intends to release a series of interactive horror films as an ongoing anthology, Dark Pictures, with Bandai Namco as the publisher, to the Xbox One and PC as well as the PlayStation. This is an unusual move for Supermassive, which is nominally an independent third-party studio and has only made two games that weren't PlayStation exclusives in its decade-long existence.

The Dark Pictures anthology is narrated by the Curator, a character played by English actor Pip Torrens ("Preacher"). The intention is that the games in the series will run the gamut of horror sub-genres and tropes, with Man of Medan in particular being both a haunted-house story and a home invasion thriller.

In Man of Medan, four Americans have hired a boat to take them out to the middle of the southern Pacific Ocean. Conrad (Shawn Ashmore) and his buddy Alex are World War II buffs and plan to go diving in an old shipwreck. They're accompanied by Alex's brother Brad, the ship's owner Fliss, and Julia, who's Conrad's sister and Alex's girlfriend.

Unfortunately, Conrad and Alex made some enemies at the last port they were in, and Brad accidentally let it slip that the shipwreck in question might also contain a cargo of old Manchurian gold. Three local fishermen, armed with pistols and knives, promptly show up in the middle of the night, capture Conrad, Alex, and Julia, and plan to shake them down for whatever money they can get.

The E3 2019 demo was mostly played from Conrad's perspective, and if you're familiar with Until Dawn, you'll be on familiar ground almost immediately. Every decision you make can influence your characters' relationships with one another, building trust or instilling dislike, as well as determining your plan for dealing with the fishermen.

Unlike Until Dawn, the E3 sequence in Man of Medan was largely a series of interactive cut scenes, entirely set aboard Fliss's boat as a thunderstorm began to close in. As the demo ended and the storm hit, the boat collided unexpectedly with a floating ghost ship, complete with a withered corpse rolling around on its top deck. That ghost ship, as per the trailer that Bandai Namco showed before the demo, will host at least some of the rest of the game.

The trip there, however, gives you a lot of choices to make along the way. You can opt to be cooperative, hostile, or silent to the fishermen, which in turn affects their reaction to you. Conrad gets the chance to escape at one point by kicking out a window, and you can try to duck into the fishermen's boat without a sound, or you can grab a fallen knife and try to hold one of them hostage against the others.

The E3 demo did have a slight problem with vague choices. In the previous choice, you can either "escape" or "grab the knife," without context or guidelines. I opted to grab the knife, on the pretext that I'd probably want it later, which made Conrad immediately poke it into a guy's neck. A bit more expository text would go a long way in a game where characters can presumably live or die based upon a single snap decision.

Man of Medan is slated for release in August, and based on what I played at E3 2019, it's basically another spin on the same formula as Until Dawn: motion-captured actors play through a swerve-filled interactive horror story with a creepy narrator and a high potential for sudden death. The big question on my mind is whether this'll be a distinct improvement on Until Dawn's weak spots — most notably how it sort of flips back and forth between two different plots in the middle before settling into a combination of the two.

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