You may be unfamiliar with Supermassive’s work as of late, as it predominately was exclusive to the Playstation. So while you may not have had the chance to play the brilliant Until Dawn (or it’s excellent VR adaption, Rush of Blood), trust me when I say that you’ll soon be glad we get their wares now too.
Man of Medan – the first in a planned anthology of horror titles – focuses on a small group of teens, heading out to sea to explore some some sunken wrecks, hoping for a big discovery – or at least, some cool stories to tell. However, what starts out as a simple dive for adventure soon turns into something quite different. I’ll not go into any spoilers here, of course, but it’s safe to say from the pre-release material that there’s some spooky goings on. There was more than once occasion that I let out an audible noise at a jump scare, leading to some funny looks from the wife watching tv next to me. Generally though, the atmosphere is more creepy than scary, with things skittering around in the shadows, or brief flashes of something you’re not really sure was there. It hardly ever lets up either – rare is the horror game that can maintain that sense of dread throughout.
Our plucky cast are, for my money, well written and performed. Each come across perfectly arrogant, cocky, shy or all manner of traits that found me picking sides early on. Though to be fair, the more you dig in, the more well rounded they become, so be prepared to find yourself caring about saving someone you may not have thought you would down the line.
And man, if nothing else; they all look incredible – and I’m not just talking about their youthful appearances. The tech on display here is something else, with amazingly captured facial animation allowing the actors to really get across every little detail. Even on my launch model console, the detail in the faces – as well as the environments – is astonishing. There’s the occasional dose of uncanny valley, with some facial animations defaulting to a resting state after speaking and before a camera change, almost as if every thought they’d ever had just evaporated from their head at once. But it’s a minor slight to some stunning work by the team, and only shows here and there.
But that tech is really there to serve the story, of course. Anyone who’s played either Until Dawn, or something alone the lines of Telltale’s The Walking Dead will know what to expect. It’s all about dialogue choices, and trying your best to manage (or ruin) relationships amongst the characters. Choose wisely, and you may yet live to see another day.
This time around though, Supermassive have really taken things up a notch. The attention to detail, and repercussions of you’re choices, are a step above most other titles I’ve played. A seemingly innocuous decision early on can have dramatic effects on the characters mood later on, possibly leading to an all together unwanted outcome. You can keep tabs on their mood, as well as relationships with the others, on the menu screen. Here, we see the stronger traits in large text hovering around a close up of their head, whilst lesser ones are there in smaller font. This will change as you go, depending on your actions.
Using an on screen compass, you can decide between two dialogue options throughout each scene, or remain silent. The others will react to your decisions, and alter your play through. While there are some short QTE’s to play, and a little exploring here and there, the majority of the game will be this. Thankfully, each scene is well written and presented, always keeping you on your toes and forcing difficult – and pressing – choices upon you.
The game also keep you up to date with key developments in the form of bearings. At certain points, a decision will be large enough to alter an entire arc of the story, and we’re informed of what we chose after – though not what the alternate would be. That’s for another play through. These aren’t as obvious as you may expect though, with something as small as picking up an item (or not) affecting a scene later on that you could not have predicted. While I tend to only play through these types of games once – a canon run, if you will – here I’ve no doubt I’ll be back in there several more times yet to see different outcomes. Man of Medan also sees the return of helpful premonitions; this time located in picture frames dotted around the environment. As in Until Dawn, these give very quick snapshots of a possible consequence down the line, though it’s up to you to interpret them and the possible cause. And it’s not as easy at that may sound, either.
We’ve also got the Curator – the anthology’s overseer, and valuable adviser to the player. After a frankly brilliant intro – that theme tune is awesome – we see him at various points throughout the game. He’ll give us his opinion on how we’re thus far, offer “hints” as to what to expect next, and generally just give you the creeps every time he appears. He will be a constant through the anthology, and I for one am interested to see how this develops going forward.
The main new feature of Man of Medan though is the included multiplayer mode. After noticing people playing on Twitch, or having groups of friends over to play, Supermassive have incorporated this feature directly in to the game. And what a brilliant move it is too. First up, we have the online two player mode. Each takes on the role of one character in a scene, and makes choices without the others input. Aside from being a chance to check out the brilliant rendering again while they decide, it adds a really authentic feeling to the story. Whereas in single player it’s all your own doing in shaping the direction of the narrative, handing off the reigns to a friend -and dealing with their choices as well as your own – brings new life (or death) to the experience.
We also get to see more of the story at points too. An early example (within the first few minutes) was when Alex asked his younger brother Brad for some advice. On my first play, I was left guessing as to what Alex was talking about as he was very vague. Playing with a friend though, and controlling Alex, I got to see him holding an item that clearly laid out what he was referring to as he shouted down to his brother below to to ask him. There’s plenty of other examples too, but I’ll not go into them, obviously. Needless to say, there’s no doubt that this mode feels like the primary way to play, even going so far as being the first option on the menu.
The other multiplayer mode requires a group of 5 to be in the same room. Here, each of you take the role of one character, shaping their destiny alone. While I couldn’t get 4 people round in time for this review (sad face) I can see it being a highly entertaining evening of play. It’s perhaps a little long to complete in one night, but get some dedicated mates together and you’ll have a blast.
Despite my glowing tone thus far, I did have one or two issues with the game. Again, I’m playing on an OG machine (so the issue may not present on an X, for example), but there was rather a lot of screen tearing and stuttering during scenes, especially the faster, action segments. These often feature QTE’s, and at one point I actually lost a character due to the game freezing as I pressed the button, only for it to suddenly snap back into action as they got clouted around the head, killing them instantly. Mainly though, it started to become a distraction – hard to be captivated by the creepy goings on when the whole thing is stuttering about the place. This seemed especially prevalent near the end, where all your actions are coming together.
Also, while it’s no doubt a limit to the tech and style of game, there are some instances where a characters actions or words don’t feel like they align as they should. Some smaller sections almost change their personality completely for a moment, or as mentioned the resting faces kick in too early, giving them a slight robotic vibe. Of course, depending on how you play them, you may not find this so much.
Overall then, Man of Medan is an absolutely brilliant take on the interactive horror genre, with excellent acting and story telling, amazing visuals and plenty to warrant multiple plays. The fact that you can now also do this with friends adds to the experience greatly, lending an extra air of uncertainty to proceedings. Some slight technical and presentation issues aside, I’m glad that more people get to experience Supermassive’s work. Here’s hoping the rest of the anthology can keep up the good work.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.