Hands-on with the gamescom build
Not every game developer hits it out of the park on its first try. Some take two, three, four, even ten attempts to find its place in the industry. Supermassive Games is one of those developers. Founded 10 years ago, the developer sort of meandered around the industry for the first couple years of its existence. Some DLC here, a port job there, a Wonderbook title – for some reason – all on PlayStation hardware. It had steady business, but it didn’t have a hit until 2015, when the company released Until Dawn.
This interactive horror game became Supermassive’s calling. Sure, it’s stepped out of that path a few times since then, creating Tumble VR and this year’s Bravo Team, but Supermassive has its niche: cinematic titles where player choice is everything. The team followed up its 2015 hit with the Sony PlayLink title Hidden Agenda and this year’s PlayStation VR game The Inpatient. In 2019, Supermassive will return to the Until Dawn formula once more with Man of Medan, the first game in The Dark Pictures Anthology.
Revealed at gamescom 2018, Man of Medan stars a group of five friends searching for a rumored World War II vessel in the South Pacific. Things don’t go as planned when they arrive and soon the group is separated, forcing players to fight through men and monsters to save everyone and make it out alive. Like Until Dawn, player choice will be the key factor in determining how the story plays out. Earlier this week, Bandai Namco had a hands-on session where I was able to check out the gamescom demo.
The Man of Medan demo doesn’t really do anything to set up the game. There are fleeting images of the five friends, one of whom is most definitely played by Animorphs and Quantum Break star Shawn Ashmore, before sticking me in this dilapidated ship. For the demo, I’m playing as Fliss, a young woman who is the spitting image of Victoria LaBoucher from The Inpatient. I’m being guided down a hallway by a man with a gun looking for a way off the vessel. Fliss’s movements are extremely lifelike, which can look odd in moments where I just dick around with the control stick.
In fact, with the exception of the rat at the beginning of the demo, everything in the demo looks like its starting to climb up from the deepest pit of the uncanny valley. On a PlayStation 4 Pro, it’s simply stunning. The dankness of the ship reeks off the screen, and the little details in the clothes, hair, and facial features are wonderful examples of just how far graphics technology has evolved.
Not too long into my journey, Fliss and the man with the gun start to hear noises. He freaks out and, in a moment of stupidity, runs guns-blazing down the hall never to be seen again. Fliss picks up the flashlight he left behind and continues to look for her friends. She soon stumbles upon Brad (Note: In other versions I’ve seen of the demo, such as on IGN, Brad is with her the entire time. He was not in either of the playthroughs I completed.) and the two journey together from room to room. As they walk and talk, I choose how Fliss responds to Brad’s antics. At the very beginning of the demo, the game asks me if I make decisions based on my heart or my head. All of the choices that follow don’t stray too far from that formula. I can either be cold to Brad, or comforting.
Man of Medan makes great use of dramatic camera angles with every room presented in its most menacing form. It’s extremely linear, though there are a few moments when I can stroll off the beaten path to find secrets – and a rusty knife that will be a great help to me in the climax of this session. The exquisite camera work also does a wonderful job of amping up the tension. Though I am playing in an overlit room without headphones on while two PR reps discuss the pressures people put on each other to procreate, I do manage to find one instance that sends a shiver up my spine. Just the slight movement of a head thought dead is all it takes.
The final moments of the demo give me the first good look at the creatures I’ll be facing on this ship as well as the be-fast-or-be-screwed quicktime events that make up the action sequences. I fail a few, but I’m lucky enough to have that knife I found earlier to make it out alive. Brad isn’t so lucky. He’s overpowered by these creatures, prompting the final “head or heart” decision I have to make: do I save Brad or do I save myself?
I play through twice to see how each action plays out, and while saving Brad brings with it a classic horror cliche, there is something so unsettlingly cold about just leaving somebody behind to die. That’s obviously the decision I shouldn’t be making in this situation. After all, the goal here is to get all of my friends out alive. And yet, choosing to leave him behind actually sits best with me. It’s wrong, I know it’s wrong, and yet it feels so right.
None of you should probably ever get stuck on a haunted ship with me.
Man of Medan is scheduled for release for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in 2019. Supermassive Games plans to release a new game in The Dark Pictures Anthology every six months and if there are able to keep up the pace and quality I’ve seen here, we’re going to have a hell of a run of horror games ahead of us.