Review

Developed by:Supermassive Games Published by:Bandai Namco Genre(s):
  • Survival Horror
  • Platform:
  • Microsoft
  • PC
  • Sony
  • Cost:$29.99 ESRB Rating:MATURE Players:1 Release date:August 30, 2019 Reviewed on:PS4
    8.3

    The Dark Pictures Anthology – Man of Medan

    One of the first images from Man of Medan is from a ship’s cargo hold, circa 1943. Soldiers bring caskets of America’s dead, draped in flags, while the camera pans over to put a Christian cross in the foreground. It’s haunting.

    That’s the set-up for a contemporary story of sin and sinners willing to desecrate the dead for their own wants. Man of Medan – the first game in The Dark Pictures Anthology – reaches for a number of the seven deadly sins. Lust, greed, envy, pride; include beer, and gluttony fits too. Committing five of the seven takes guts.

    One set of characters is out for a leisure dive. They sink to an underwater WWII tomb, a plane that was shot down, the pilot’s body still at the controls. They find promise of gold. There’s greed. On the surface, the smug, rich kid taunts the poor with a cash wad, hits on the captain, and downs more booze than anyone else. Lust, greed, gluttony – that’s just one character.

    The others, the antagonists, seem like fishermen – really modern pirates – who seek the riches below too. Plus, they see an easy score from the pompous rich kids in their waters. Envy, and greed again. The breakdown becomes protagonist pirates versus antagonist pirates; no one in Man of Medan wears the badge of heroes. That morality play comes to a head aboard a newly surfaced World War II shipwreck, stranding everyone in its halls.

    Man of Medan uses distance, even naivety, to propel the characters through this story. They all see the drowned. They all nudge desiccated corpses. When investigating used bullets scattered around the hull, never does anyone mention the wartime context of these deceased men; it’s as if they don’t know.

    Characters scream (enduring far too many jump scares) and mentally breakdown, but never in consideration of what the men were fighting for. Man of Medan’s central relationship is of a mixed race couple, and yet the penance soldiers paid for that right is an afterthought. Indifference potentially dooms them all. The lack of dignity and reverence paid to American military becomes a national sin, doubly deadly when being a citizen from a nation in awe of its service members.

    Clichés roll in – insert, “It was a dark and stormy night” here – but do so with an avalanche of atmosphere. A claustrophobic ghost ship rots. Leaks sprout everywhere. Rats thrive. The use of shadows is absolutely splendid. Plus, digital cinematography creates superior mood. One shot puts the feet of a hanging corpse in the foreground, the controlled character deep in the back. Switching angles create havoc with controls, but without the need for reactive action, the disorientation feels organic rather than irritating. Twitchy. Awkward. That suits the panic everyone experiences.

    Man of Medan bests Supermassive Games’ prior Until Dawn, the latter made for a deluge of slasher genre nostalgia. Fun, but empty and hollow. This follow-up appreciates the thematic, doing so with bite and purpose and fervor. That’s then layered with a splash of meaningful historical fiction that speaks to those forgotten and the price paid when not giving them due.

    Gameplay:

    10

    Narrative focused beats keep things simple, accessible, and smart. It’s what video games can be when they pay attention to story rather than empty open worlds.

    Graphics:

    9

    At times too dark and stunted in animation, the reality isn’t complete but the sense of dread is marvelous.

    Sound:

    6

    Inconsistent performances hamper the drama and jump scares reach ten decibels too high for an unnecessary shock effect. Keeping the volume down to compensate means missing out on ambiance.

    Gameplay:

    8

    It’s short enough to replay, and a multitude of possibilities radically alter the narrative. Plus, there’s multiplayer to bring in friends to make those split-second decisions.

    Final Score:

    8.3

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