Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Release Date: Aug 30, 2019
ESRB: Mature / PEGI 18
Available Platforms: PS4 [Reviewed], Xbox One, PC
Genre: Cinematic Adventure
Man of Medan comes from the same developers “Supermassive Games”. It’s the first game in The Dark Pictures Anthology Series.
The game revolves around a “ghost ship” – the SS Ourang Medan, which was a real vessel that was found as a wreck in Dutch East Indies waters around 1947. All of its crew had died under suspicious circumstances (this happened in real life). The game is an imagining of what may have happened to the crew.
We, the player, are in charge of the characters and make the decisions for them. Just like Until Dawn, this is a “cinematic adventure”. Even if you’ve never played a game in your life, it would be easy to get the hang of it. You are mostly just walking, picking dialogue choices, and there are some QTEs (Quick Time Events) where you must press buttons quickly as they appear on the screen. There are even accessibility settings that remove the timer on dialogue choices to make it easier. If you played games like Until Dawn you’ll be familiar with the gameplay concept.
There is a bit of a twist, even though the real-life SS Ourang Medan was found in the 40’s, in the game we play in present time as 5 friends: Alex, Brad, Conrad, Julia, Fliss – who will end up on the ship and it’s up to the player to discover and figure out what happened. It’s really not obvious after the first playthrough either. It would be too spoilery to go into the details here, but I wrote a full Story & Ending Explained article if you want to learn more. Just know that this is NOT a horror game, it’s a mystery game. For me Until Dawn was a 1/10 on the horror scale and Man of Medan is a 0/10 in horror, meaning it’s not scary whatsoever.
What I noticed right away was that there are many more modes than in Until Dawn (or any cinematic adventure game). There is a local “co-op” mode called “Movie Night”. It’s not real split-screen co-op, rather you select at the start which person plays which character and then pass the controller around the room when it’s that character’s story sequence. 1-5 players (1 assigned to 1 or more in-game characters) can play this way. Then there is a “Shared Story” mode which is the new online co-op mode. However, it is not split-screen, you can’t see what the other person is doing. This is for story purposes as it would take all the mystery away if you saw what the second person did. There is no matchmaking, meaning the only way to play this mode is if you invite a friend who owns the game. There is no friend pass like some other games had, the joining player must have the game themselves.
Of course there is also a classic singleplayer mode where it’s just you playing, which will probably be what most people do.
I did 8 singleplayer playthroughs, 1 movie night run, 2 full co-op playthroughs. During this time I had a ton of issues. The game has the same lag problems that Until Dawn had. While it looks amazing graphically, sometimes it just stutters and the game almost “freezes” for half a second before continuing. This is not a rare occurrence either, it happens every few minutes. I had the exact same issue with Until Dawn so it amazes me that the same troubles have found their way into Man of Medan years later.
This is the least of all issues though when compared to the game-breaking bugs: I had all textures missing in some parts (could only see water as all walls went invisible). In co-op I had blackscreens at the start of some new chapters and complete freezes. Even after going back to the main menu and pressing continue to load up the chapter again it was still bugged and gave me blackscreens. The only way I was able to finish co-op at all was to back up my save every few chapters and if I got a corrupted save with these blackscreens I had to copy back my previous save and hope to be spared by bugs the next time. These aren’t isolated issues either, I had all of this happen constantly across 2 co-op playthroughs.
In co-op, there are also tons of connection problems. I tested with 2 PS4s sitting side by side so the ping would be as low as possible, and yet I kept getting connection warnings constantly. It also doesn’t create a Shared Story save game for the joining player, meaning their progress doesn’t count (it does however save collectibles at least).
From a technical standpoint, the game is not acceptable in 2019.
However, there is much good this game has to offer. The writing is really good for one. It’s not at all what it seems and it took me 2 playthroughs to understand what was going on for real. The game tells the true story through collectibles, similar to how Outlast handled its story. I absolutely love that way of story-telling. It encourages players to explore, and collectibles are of actual importance to the story. You could beat the game without looking at collectibles, but wouldn’t understand the story that way. Only after finding all clues it makes sense. The game is like a puzzle that you have to figure out for yourself.
What I didn’t like about the collectibles is that some are locked behind co-op (or Curator Cut, which lets you play what the co-op partner would see, but this is a pre-order only mode for now). It surprises me that an entire game mode gets locked behind a pre-order bonus, this locks out everyone else from that mode until it gets released for everyone, not ideal.
Getting all trophies and collectibles is extremely convoluted. On the one hand, the game is way more complex and each choice carries significantly more impact that it did in Until Dawn. There are a lot of paths and variations, way more than other games in the genre. While it’s shorter in length than Until Dawn (around 4-5 hours for a full playthrough in Man of Medan), it offers a lot more paths, ways for characters to die etc.
In total I’d say the actual content is more than Until Dawn when factoring in all the possible story branches and the replay value. After 10 playthroughs I was still missing a few collectibles because they were so well hidden and required utterly specific choices. Goes to show how complex this game is and that’s fantastic.
On the other hand, its complexity is also its hurdle for trophy hunting. There really should be a flowchart in future games of the series (just like what Detroit Become Human did), to allow players to see possible story branches they haven’t experienced yet. There are online trophies, online exclusive collectibles (unless you have the Curator Cut pre-order bonus), and 2 trophies for only picking the heart or head choices across an entire playthrough. Having to pick a specific choice completely defeat the purpose of the game (which is to make your own choices and write your own story). These trophies are just dumb as they force trophy hunters to play the game a certain way. These need to be removed from future games in Dark Pictures Anthology. Even the relationship trophy for Alex and Brad is only doable in Shared Story (where it only takes 2 minutes but it’s not possible in an entire singleplayer playthrough). All it would take is a flowchart, let us skip cutscenes in chapter select, and remove the choice-based and online-only trophies and it would be much more enjoyable for trophy hunters.
To sum up everything; The game has a fantastic concept, really good writing (not as predictable as you’d think), good graphics – but is plagued by technical issues (blackscreens, lag, freezes) and some horrible online-only trophies in a game that targets an offline audience.
*Overall Enjoyment Factor, Fascination with Game World, Level Design, Variety, Playability, User-Friendliness (Ease of Use / Readability / Controls / in-game Tutorials / Menus)
Choices carry a lot more impact than in Until Dawn, more paths, hidden chapters, replay value, great concept. Controls still feel as clunky as stiff as in Until Dawn. No way to skip cutscenes in chapter select.
*Quality of the Singleplayer Story, Cutscenes and/or Multiplayer Modes (whichever is available). If a game has no Story or no Multiplayer it won’t be rated (thus no negative effect on score).
Singleplayer 9/10: Fantastic writing, not at all what it seems. Took me multiple playthroughs and reading through the text collectibles to understand what was really happening on the ship. Lots of different paths, lots of opportunities for characters to die or survive. Really could use a flowchart though to understand what paths haven’t been explored yet.
Multiplayer 3/10: The online co-op is plagued by lots of game-breaking technical problems (blackscreens and freezes at start of chapters are especially bad in online coop and even after restarting the chapter the game is still stuck). Constant connection problems even with 2 PS4s sitting side by side.
*Graphics, Texture Quality, Character Details, Lighting, Weather Effects, Animations, Loading Times, Number of Loading Screens, does it run smoothly
Great graphics – but the game-breaking issues are unacceptable (blackscreens at start of chapters that leave no way to continue playing, sometimes had all textures/walls missing in entire chapters, game runs very laggy and freezes, over 50GB file size for a 5 hour game is crazy).
*Amount of Content, Production Quality, Replay Value, is there enough content to justify a purchase
$29,99 is a more than fair price for what you get. There is a ton of replay value here and 3 game modes, much more than Until Dawn for half the price.
*Rates how much fun the Platinum / 1000 Gamerscore is to achieve: Are trophies fun to do? Do trophies restrict freedom of gameplay? Missable trophies? Multiple playthroughs required? Luck-based trophies? Pointless farming/grinding? Glitched Trophies? Are stats/trophies tracked correctly?
Collectibles and Trophies gated behind online co-op (or the pre-order only mode “Curator Cut”) is not something that trophy hunters love. Trophies that force you to always pick the same choice defeat the purpose of the game for trophy hunters, or result in extra playthroughs in a game that already takes a minimum of 5 full playthroughs and some partial replays to platinum. One of the most convoluted and messy platinums I can think of.
|Extraordinary Score Increase or Deduction
*Reserved for extraordinarily good or bad features that the other categories don’t cover (such as game-breaking bugs). This score is directly added/subtracted from the final score.
Man of Medan does some things extremely well, particularly with its well-crafted story that offers great replay value, and choices having more impact than in Until Dawn. But then it completely fails on other fronts such as the many game-breaking technical problems, a horrible online experience, lack of a flowchart or cutscene skip in Chapter Select, and an absurdly convoluted trophy list.
Played on PS4 Pro. A Review copy was provided for free by the publisher. Completed 11 playthroughs (2 Online Co-Op, 1 Offline Co-Op, 8 Singleplayer), wrote a Story & Endings Explained article, full Trophy Guide, Walkthrough, and Collectible Guide.
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