At Gamescom 2018, Bandai Namco announced that they were working with Until Dawn developer Supermassive Games on a selection of horror titles known as The Dark Pictures Anthology, with the first release Man of Medan due in early 2019.
The intention behind The Dark Pictures Anthology is to release a series of stand-alone titles that all… well… scare the hell out of the player. It’s expected that two games in the series will release per year, and that they’ll be a few hours long but with extended replayability through the choices you make. They’re kind of like Until Dawn in that case, with the choices you make during gameplay and the things you say to other characters playing a big role in what ending you’d get as well as what events occurred during gameplay.
Man of Medan is the first entry in the series and I was fortunate enough to try out the Gamescom demo of the game at a recent Bandai Namco preview event. It tells the tale of a group of four Americans who head out on the Pacific Ocean to discover a WWII wreck and maybe even take part in a little partying on board (although there might not be any ‘maybe’ about it). Things take a turn for the worse though when a storm hits and everyone instead finds themselves trapped on a ghost ship that doesn’t only also have a few unsavoury characters on board, but even a few ghostly beings too. The worst part? Anyone who dies on the ship becomes a ghost on it.
In the demo I was put in the shoes of Fliss, the captain of the boat you originally headed out on. She has not only found herself trapped aboard the aforementioned ghost ship, but also taken hostage by an armed man named Danny who’s leading her along with a gun. I wasn’t given any idea of what’s happened or how Fliss has found herself in this situation, so I just had to roll with it.
Something that’s worth mentioning is that when I started the demo I was given an option regarding my ‘moral compass’ – did I want to be emotional and go for decisions that are made based upon my heart, or did I want to be rational and weigh up my options before deciding? I’m not sure how pivotal this choice would be in the main game (or even if it’s just there in the demo to make previous decisions for you), but all it did this time around was determine whether the additional character Brad would join me from the start of the demo or whether I’d encounter him a little further into it. Supermassive Games are known for including butterfly effect in their games though, so I imagine we’ll see a lot more of it in the full release.
Gameplay itself involved making your way through the ship, with a linear path and fixed camera angles leading me along. The fixed camera angle is something that was done in Until Dawn, yet the more confined setting that the ship offered made it feel more akin to the classic Resident Evil games than anything else – I’m a huge fan of the series though, so that’s a good thing in my eyes. The game also just so happened to look beautiful too, with some fantastic lighting effects and detailed textures showing off the ship’s dilapidated appearance and certainly giving the impression that you’re really on this run-down World War II freighter.
Whilst it looks pretty and it felt atmospheric to explore though, the more claustrophobic feel of the ship could be a bit too linear at times. Whilst there were little nooks I was able to explore, I never felt like I could head off the beaten track too much nor that there was much to see outside of what the game wanted me to. Granted, a lot of this could be down to the demo I played as opposed to it being a hallmark of Man of Medan’s design, but the fifteen-minute demo I experienced offered very little in the way of exploration or open areas.
That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t anything to uncover though, with plenty of items hidden in the environment that could be picked up and examined. These items stand out thanks to the fact that they sparkle on the screen, so it’d probably be pretty difficult to miss them whilst playing.
They were marked down as clues when I found them, so I’m not sure if they play much of a pivotal role to Man of Medan or if they’re simply collectibles. All of the items I found in the demo were neat though, and whilst they didn’t necessarily offer much to tell me what the hell was going on in the game I was always interested to find them and take a closer look at their tiny details.
During gameplay, you come to a point where your captor Danny runs off frightened, leaving Fliss to explore a bit more freely without the threat of a gun to her back. It’s here that you’ll come across Brad, provided that you went for the ‘rational’ moral compass choice at the start of the demo – otherwise, he would’ve been with you all along.
This is the only time where I could really properly interact with another character in the demo and make a choice of what to say, though it was limited to being suspicious of how he appeared from nowhere or simply telling him to keep out of your way as you find a way to escape. It’s clear that Fliss and Brad had shared a few earlier interactions and it’s implied they might not have necessarily been friendly ones, though without seeing any of that myself it’s hard to tell what exactly was going on. Still, there were a choice of attitudes to have towards him, so it’ll be interesting to see how that works in the full game and how much your relationship with other characters will affect each playthrough.
The demo for Man of Medan wasn’t a particularly long one, with it coming in at around the fifteen-minute mark when taking my time to explore my surroundings. However, it’s paced well and certainly kept up the tension throughout – the sound is on point and eerie, the camera angles often trick your mind into thinking you keep seeing something in the corner of your eye (spoiler alert: chances are you did), whilst little jump scares such as bursting pipes will keep you on the edge of your seat as you work through the derelict ship. However, despite oozing with atmosphere throughout, Man of Medan keeps its best scare for last.
You enter a waterlogged area with a puddle below you (and no, I’m not putting an already over-done and dreadful Spider-Man joke here), when all of a sudden hands raise up and try pulling you under. These aren’t just any old hands either, but ghostly hands of those who haunt the ship – spoooooky. This is where QTEs kick into play, with the player having to hit buttons in order to evade the ghost attack and make their way to safety. In fairness, the buttons are clearly marked on the screen and they’re there for a lengthy time too, so most players shouldn’t struggle to press them on time. Still, I had to try failing it once, and it resulted in me getting another two attempts to escape via QTE before I eventually succumbed to the ghostly threat and died. Demo over.
However, I played again and managed to escape them, but this left me with another dilemma when Brad was eventually caught by the ghostly figures: do I help Brad or do I run away and leave him behind. I won’t spoil the outcome of either choice for you here, but just know that one could have some real grisly repercussions in the full game…
I had fun playing through the Man of Medan demo, though that could possibly be down to me enjoying the tense atmosphere as opposed to the gameplay itself – don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t boring by any means, but there wasn’t a whole lot to do in my fifteen-minutes. It was neat to have a taster of the character interactions though, whilst the ghostly encounter at the end did more than enough to get me incredibly excited to play the full release (and maybe even feel a little frightened of it too).
I’m going to be a little biased since I loved the hell out of Until Dawn, but I’m personally really buzzed for The Dark Pictures Anthology and Man of Medan in particular. Whilst the demo didn’t show off too much, it gave me enough to make me feel hyped for what’s to come.
It’s an interesting thing what Bandai Namco and Supermassive Games are doing with these upcoming smaller releases, especially with two launching per year, but my early impression is certainly a good one. One of the reps for Bandai Namco described it to me as ‘like Black Mirror but for horror video games’ – from the evidence I’ve seen so far, he might have given it a perfect description, and man, it’s something that I’m VERY excited for.