One of my favorite exclusives back on the PS4 is Supermassive’s horror trope-filled adventure Until Dawn. The premise was something I was all too familiar with, as a group of teens met up at a cabin in the mountains to not only “party like fucking pornstars” but to remember two of their friends that died there a year prior. Player control switched between the ensemble cast and you were met with various dialogue choices that had lasting consequences. Otherwise, you had to endure some dated quick-time events and motion control garbage. It very much felt like playing a late-90’s horror film, like Scream, and had a ton of replay value.
A few years later, Supermassive decided against continuing the Until Dawn universe and instead put their proven formula into a brand new series called The Dark Pictures. Their goal with these was to create shorter stand-alone experiences that could be shared with friends. Watching a horror film is always better with friends and they wanted that feeling to transition into their games.
The first of these, which released on multiple platforms (not just PS4 like Until Dawn), was Man of Medan — another ensemble cast horror adventure that sees a group of friends get into all sorts of crazy situations, consequences be damned.
Our story begins with Alex and his younger brother Brad hiring Fliss, the captain of the ship Duke of Milan, to take them and two of their friends on a diving trip with ulterior motives. Joining them are Alex’s girlfriend and fellow wreck divers Julia and her brother Conrad (played by Shawn Ashmore of The Boys TV show and Microsoft’s excellent time-bending Xbox game Quantum Break). Their plan, unbeknownst to Fliss, is to investigate the site of a crashed warplane.
Nothing is ever easy because that’s just boring, so one thing leads to another and the five playable characters find themselves making enemies of a trio of pirates. During the hijacking, though, they run into a storm and spot a massive abandoned military ship within the fog, where they all hop aboard to seek shelter. A few clues lead to something stored below deck called “Manchurian Gold,” where greed overtakes reason, and this is where shit gets crazy.
There’s not a lot to unpack with the narrative, as the game mainly focuses on the playable captives and their attempted escape and rescue. Spooky things are afoot on the ship as well — this is a horror game after all — and clues are spread about that point to an entire naval battalion experiencing something before mysteriously meeting their ends.
Man of Medan is very much just a fresh coat of paint over the Until Dawn formula, and that’s just fine. It worked. When I experienced this game at release I found it disappointing in that the cast wasn’t as strong and the ship setting overstayed its welcome. I also found it way too easy to kill off the survivors by making decisions that felt unclear. I get that the point of Supermassive’s games is to be experienced multiple times, which is why they’re on the shorter side at 4 hours long. They want you to play with friends (solo is available too) and make different choices. Just don’t expect to save everyone (or anyone) on your first go.
Now here we are in 2021 where Man of Medan has improved visuals and framerates on the Xbox Series X, so I wanted to give it another go. The performance boost certainly made the experience feel better (thirsty people on the internet will no doubt be into Fliss’s sweaty abs with HDR lighting) and the load times are virtually non-existent. And since this is a game meant to be played in different ways, I chose all of the dialogue options that were either exciting, funny, or made whoever I was controlling the biggest asshole of the group. Certain events I vividly recalled from the initial release didn’t even occur, relationships were downright ruined, and a poor choice toward the end of the game saw Fliss stop a bullet with her forehead. It was a good time!
I do still have a few of the same complaints, mainly in terms of how easy it is to lose someone, the ridiculous frequency of jump scares, and how the setting gets kind of dull as time goes on, but Man of Medan is still a pretty exciting adventure. I think I was disappointed before because I wanted more Until Dawn, not a more condensed version with half the runtime and uninteresting cast. I wouldn’t say I’ve warmed up to it entirely (again, same complaints) but I’ve grown to appreciate Supermassive’s vision with their Dark Picture series. It’s more about experiencing an interactive horror film with friends as opposed to playing a longer horror TV series by yourself. And that’s cool.