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May 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

About Andreas Salmen

I'm sure this is all just a misunderstanding.


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

by Andreas Salmen on Sept. 5, 2018 @ 12:00 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.

The name Project Mephisto has been circulating in the gaming community for a while. We thought it was a mysterious game that may soon be revealed. It was revealed, except it isn't just a game but several of them at once. Namco Bandai unveiled The Dark Pictures Anthology during the GamesCom opening ceremony, a series of horror-themed narrative experiences developed by Supermassive Games. The developer had previously created a very similar fan favorite game, Until Dawn, on Sony consoles.

According to representatives of Bandai Namco, The Dark Pictures Anthology will be similar to the TV show "Black Mirror" in that it will tell self-contained stories that share a similar theme but don't overlap. That means players don't have to play all games in order or play them at all to enjoy any one episode on its own. The common denominator between the titles, however, is clear. They are all deeply rooted in the horror genre, incorporating its cheesy but entertaining tropes — just like Until Dawn did — but in a tighter package. Urban legends are the focus, so the titles will zero in on tense atmosphere and horror elements within its different sub-genres rather than excessive gore.

The first episode of the anthology, Man of Medan, will release in 2019 and contains four to six hours of gameplay (later episodes will be the same length), and it marks the first step in establishing this horror universe. New episodes should release in approximately six-month intervals.

At GamesCom, we got our hands on a 10-minute demo of the first episode, Man of Medan. We take control of a group of friends who are renting a boat for a fun, booze-filled diving trip, much to the displeasure of the young female captain of their vessel. Things take a turn for the worse — we assume, since this part of the story was only hinted at in the trailer — and we soon find ourselves in the shoes of the captain on an abandoned WWII battleship that's floating at sea. He's being held at gunpoint by a third party who appears to have ambushed the gang. Our captor drags us through the empty rusty interior of the ship, which seems uncomfortably empty and growing stranger by the minute. Along the way, if our captor lets us slow down a bit, we can find clues about where we are and what might have happened. Old corpses are littered everywhere, and looking closely, we even found a premonition. Similar to totems in Until Dawn, some items will give us glimpses into the future and portray possible outcomes of future decisions.

Moving further down the dark corridors of the battleship, our involuntary companion eventually runs into what seems like an unexpected dead end, starts screaming, and runs off — like everyone else does in a dire situation in a horror flick. As he vanishes, a shot is heard, and he is gone, leaving his flashlight behind. From here on out, we're on our own, or so we think, awkwardly reuniting with a friend from the ship and trying to find a way out. Without spoiling too much of the outcome, we have the option to find further clues and explore a little, but the whole experience thus far feels like it's on rails.

Over the course of the next minutes, we encountered a few jump-scares caused by bursting pipes and a few corpses that appeared to move in our peripheral vision. The whole session culminated into what was the big decision of the demo: saving yourself or our reunited companion, who's starting to show some rather erratic behavior leading up to the big finale. The demo ended shortly after, so there is no way for us to know how much we screwed up in the narrative, but according to Bandai Namco, those choices will be impactful and allow for a lot of branching. We were told that all of the characters in the episodes can die in any order, potentially offering various playthroughs and outcomes. The slogan, "Can you save everyone?" even suggested that it may be possible to finish the game (physically) unscathed, but that remains to be seen. Then again, that kind of branching is something publishers and developers have promised us for quite a while, and we still haven't been blown away by prior efforts. We'll have to wait and see what Supermassive can create, given that the episodes are of a medium length, where branching might be complex enough to matter for the player but not so complex that it's difficult to realize from a technical standpoint.

Taken in its entirety, the demo introduced us to the concept of the game. Graphically and from the overall production value, there's nothing we can really nitpick at. The game looks like it's going to be a polished experience from a technical standpoint. Supermassive and Bandai Namco are aiming for something similar in structure to previous Supermassive titles, but the short excerpt that I played was too predictable for my taste. It's difficult to judge the game's atmosphere in a fully lit room in the middle of the day in a busy convention center, but jump-scares seemed very calculated, and I was hoping for a creepier atmosphere that ratchets up the tension without resorting to cheap scares. Then again, those horror ingredients were the heart of Until Dawn, and we've only seen a small glimpse of the final product, so this may still change. It's going to be interesting where this episode and the anthology as a whole will stand in a year or two.

For now, Man of Medan and the Dark Pictures Anthology offer an intriguing concept that may click very well with audiences, marking Bandai Namco's determined push for more narrative games in their portfolio. The first episode will launch sometime in 2019 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

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