Like so many others, I was smitten with Until Dawn in 2015. The PS4 exclusive was like a playable version of every dumb horror movie released in the '90s and early 2000s, combining 'slasher' scares with dialogue choices and quick time events (QTEs) that anyone, regardless of their experience with video games, could enjoy. Best of all, it could be played alone or with a group of friends playing 'pass the pad' whenever the perspective shifted to a different character.
Four years later, Supermassive is releasing a spiritual successor called Man of Medan. The game follows Rush of Blood and The Inpatient, two VR spin-off titles set in the Until Dawn universe, and Hidden Agenda, which swapped classic horror for rain-soaked detective work. Man of Medan is the first instalment of a proposed series called The Dark Pictures Anthology, which is being released on multiple platforms and published by Bandai Namco, rather than long-time partner Sony.
Earlier this week, I booted up the game with lowered expectations. I knew that Man of Medan was shorter and, most likely, made with a smaller budget than Until Dawn. Still, I was underwhelmed. The developer has added some intriguing multiplayer modes, but these aren't enough to mask some stodgy controls, a so-so plot and far too frequent technical issues. The direct-your-own-movie formula remains intact, but every part of the experience feels like a degradation from the still impeccable Until Dawn.
Man of Medan's premise is interesting enough. The story starts in World War II with two naval soldiers drinking on the mainland. After some brief fortune telling and boxing practice, they wander back to their ship -- which is now carrying some mysterious cargo -- and watch everything go horrifyingly sideways at sea. The onboard terrors trigger a narrative jump to modern day. You assume control of five youngsters who are setting off on a diving expedition. Like Until Dawn, the characters fit general stereotypes — the shy nerd, the stern captain, and so forth — and are often unlikable. Of course, that's a nod to classic horror movies and a bonus if you're playing the game with the intention of killing everybody.
The crew members do develop over the course of the game, however. The decisions you make will alter their relationships and, crucially, a handful of personality traits that affect subsequent cutscenes and dialogue options. In my game, for instance, the timid Brad grew in confidence and, through some truly heroic actions late in the story, earned the respect of his peers. The aggressive and easily-irritated Alex, meanwhile, learned to chill out and support his shy brother.