Movie Night is Here and You Better Bring Your Friends (or else)
One of the biggest arguments against cinematic interactivity in gaming is that, if a game wants to look like a movie then it should just be a movie, and if a game wants to be a choose your own adventure novel then it better have every choice ever thought of or it’s not worth playing. These are common viewpoints that I hear almost every time a choice based game that’s more quick-time events than actual action get’s brought up. And yet, Supermassive Games, alongside a pretty small group of other studios, are still determined to make interactive media breakout into the gaming realm. This is nothing new, the genre has been around arguably since the beginning of gaming, primarily with PC choose your own adventure titles, but since TellTale and Quantic Dream made ripples with “The Walking Dead” and “Heavy Rain” it seems like the gaming world is finally ready to give these game a more legitimate shot. That’s where Supermassive Games is looking to come in with “The Dark Pictures Anthology”, a new series from the makers of the sleeper hit “Until Dawn” that looks to put the player (and their friends) into the terrifying setups of the Horror Genre, each one more intense and panic inducing than the last. Why watch a horror movie when you can play one instead, right?
First up for “The Dark Pictures Anthology” is “Man of Medan” and it certainly leaves quite the impression for what is to come from the rest of the Anthology (the good parts and the not so good parts). Overall, it’s a very impressive title considering the price point ($30) and the fact that they’re supposedly going to be releasing a new entry into the Anthology twice a year, with the next game “Little Hope” due to come out in the Spring-ish of 2020, though for anybody who follows gaming and the consistency of developers being inconsistent with their release dates that probably means the Summer or Fall of 2020 more realistically.
The biggest strength that “Man of Medan” has going for it is that you can actually play it with other people. Multiple characters have been a thing in the past with choice-based games like “Heavy Rain” and “Until Dawn” but this is the first one I’ve really seen (aside the soft-boiled attempt in “Beyond: Two Souls”) to actually bring friends into the mix. For my first play through, I played with a buddy and each of us controlled 3 of the games 6 characters (though it’s really 5 and I got the short end of the stick but I’m not trying to give away too much info here) and it was exactly the kind of experience that I’ve always wanted from a game like this. It’s like having a scary movie night but we were actually engaged instead of just texting on our phones while off-and-on paying attention to “The Cave” (it’s a terrible movie what can I say). Bonus, the multiplayer mode is even called movie night!
Being able to play through “Man of Medan” with a friend is obviously the intended experience and it’s certainly my recommendation as well. Having to deal with the anxiety that your friend could get both their characters, and even your characters, killed off added a ton to the tension of the game and, because the narrative is meant to be played in one sitting (running only 3-4 hours at most), there wasn’t any room for things to become stagnant. “Man of Medan” is a pretty straight forward horror title, it has it’s fair share of jump scares (some work but a lot fall short too) and the cast is relatively one-dimensional but where “Man of Medan” falls short it makes up for it in replay-ability, variance, and vision.
If you’ve ever played a choice-based game before, you probably know all too well that the first play through is great and your choices really feel like they matter but the moment you go back for a second time, it becomes pretty easy to see that, while the game might’ve tried to look like there were a lot of options, there’s usually only a few main modules that change outcomes and the rest becomes circumstantial. "Man of Medan" is one of the few games that actually does have more variance after more than one run and while it still does adhere to some choice-based runarounds every now and then, it’s a pretty varied experience. For example, after beating it with my friend and coming away with 4 out of 6 characters alive, I went back in to save everyone and instead, beat it solo with only 3 out of 6 alive. Even though I thought I knew all of the beats, just the act of saving a character that I lost early on in my previous play-through threw enough of the things that I had already experienced on a different path that led me to actually do worse my second time around and that's something very rare to find in replaying anything.
“Man of Medan” certainly isn’t my game of the year, and it lacks some polish and uniqueness that could’ve made it stand out as more than just a lower priced game to play with your friends on a Friday night but it accomplishes what it set out to do, and it’s a great start to an anthology series that will hopefully breath new life into a genre of gaming that is in dire need of some new adventures.