When a small expedition trip takes the turn for the worst, decisions will have to be made in order to ensure you and your friends survival. Sending players out into the rough waters in which Man of Medan takes place is Supermassive Games. Following their well-received choice-based horror game Until Dawn, the developers have created a whole new horror adventure for players to decide just how well things are going to go for the group of friends that star in this game.
Before I begin the detailed review, I would like to start off with this suggestion: your first playthrough of the game should, in fact, be done as a single player run or in the Movie Night multiplayer mode. My first playthrough of the game was in the Shared Story multiplayer mode that lets two players play different roles at the same time. Because my first playthrough was in the Shared Story version, there are key story elements that were revealed to us much earlier than they were meant to be thanks to our communication on what we were doing and what was happening on our end of the game. Single Player and Movie Night mode keep the game to one character perspective at a time which, I believe, would aid in helping the big twist get figured out through exploration and events rather than discussion.
A group of friends hired Captain Fliss to take them to a specific diving location. This diving expedition brings them to find an uncharted, fallen World War II era plane. During this dive, some pirates come along and decide to change the course of events for them. Following a tip the friends find in the sunken plane, the pirates force the crew to head to the coordinates where they find an abandoned freighter ship. This is when things go downhill for the pirates and their captives as they begin to uncover the truth of what happened on this cursed ship.
Majority of the game is all about making choices. These choices will affect the relationship status between the group, the path that the story bearings take, and overall safety of the all characters in the game. These choices can improve the path laid out for a character just as much as it could lead them to their death. There are plenty of options that don’t do anything too impactful, but be mindful of your choices as you never know which one will end up taking note.
There is movement in the game as well, both walking and swimming. In these free roam sections you will find the controls are based on the camera angle. The camera angles are fixed based on your location in the map, so be ready for sudden changes when you enter a room or start heading to another part of a large room because when the camera flips, so does your forward motion direction. The only way to move faster is to hold L1 (for PS4, different for other platforms). This doesn’t make the player run but rather simply pick up the pace. Water movement feels pretty fluid though, but just be mindful of the sudden camera changes when going into new areas.
During the free roam sections of the game you can find the secrets and premonition pictures that are hidden around the game. Many of these can be found with simple exploration, but it will be impossible to get them all in one playthrough. Certain images can only be grabbed by certain characters and certain areas are only accessed by making specific decisions - leading back to the careful with the choices you make in this game mechanic.
Other than making choices, there are some quick time events as well. These options can either be a button mash, quick reaction time with a random button option appearing, or matching the rhythm of a heart beat to stay calm. They do a pretty good job introducing each of these options at the beginning of the game by making you do them for various reasons. Eventually these quick time events will be the difference in survival and path options, so get good at them quick!
Last mechanic to bring up is the fight back mechanic. This happens when there is a chance to land a punch, or lethal blow, to an aggressor. When these show up you have to move the cursor in the bubble and hit the action button. This mechanic is one of the first things the game shows you how to do.
Graphics and Sounds
Aesthetically speaking, the game does a great job. It is a bit better than they did with Until Dawn when it comes to overall textures while maintaining a CGI-movie style graphic level. This is a great visual choice to let the player feel like they are in control of an actual movie that is being played out.
All of the sound effects was fitting to what you saw going on, as well as fill the atmosphere with that dreaded horror feeling. The music was a bonus to the moments and brought out each sequence to feel like it was momentous, even when it turned out not to be.
Man of Medan is the type of game that is build around the idea of replayability. Giving players multiple modes to go back through the game with, a multitude of pathways and options to choose from, a bunch of different endings to see, and more. There is plenty of reason to go back through the game and, in fact, I beat the game a total of four times leading up to this review!
What Could Be Better
Despite the game being made for the PlayStation 4, I had a lot of performance drops where the game would lag or freeze for a moment. This happened both in my solo and multiplayer playthrough. If the graphics details are too high for the game to function properly, I would rather have less props and small atmosphere aspects than a lagging game. This can be patched, but as it stands, optimization needs to be done. I am sure a powerful PC will run this game without issue, but I can not say how it functions on the Xbox One.
There are a few choices in the game that feel naturally done in the first playthrough, but you find out in your second and third playthrough that they were more of an illusion of choice. While I understand there is a narrative to follow, it would be better that all choices that seem impacting to the characters (like being captured) should either happen or don’t. It was a bit bothersome to find that some choices I made really didn’t matter because it was going to happen regardless of what I picked.
On the same note of happening regardless of choice made, the parts with the Curator that lets you get a hint need to be changed as well. While saying “yes” when he asks if you want a hint he does give a different kind of hint, if you choose “no” or “say nothing” he still gives you a hint towards the story. These mandatory hints shouldn’t be given if the player says they don’t want a hint and to give it to them anyways is another illusion of choice in the game.
Man of Medan is a great game that gives a unique experience! It was fun to go through the game a few times and find out the different outcomes that come from the different choices that could be made. I was impressed to see that even the ending of the game can take place in a different place and a different way based on your choices and loved seeing that choices made in the very early stages of the game. While there is some things they could be improved on, it is an enjoyable experience; especially the initial playthrough.