From the BAFTA-winning developer Supermassive Games, Man of Medan takes classic horror and throws in some crunchy decision making that will have you living through your character. These decisions may seem trivial but could end up saving your character from a terrifying attack or turn out to be their undoing. Much like its predecessor Until Dawn, Man of Medan tells the story of a group of characters as they fight to survive an unexpected horror at sea. This time, however, gone is the campy charm of Until Dawn and in its place is a serious, dark horror with a chilling sense of dread.
Man of Medan feels like a more grown-up horror compared to Until Dawn. Where Until Dawn went for a campy, American Horror Story-esque style, Man of Medan feels closer to a psychological horror. After getting going from its painfully slow start, the bulk of the gameplay takes place aboard an abandoned WW2 ship. This crawling start gives players time to familiarise themselves with the controls and the style of play. It also gives the game a movie feel.
Players get to know the characters a little and even see a glimpse of what happened aboard the doomed freighter as if they were watching a film. This is all useful, but without any real substance to the characters this early on the decisions feel meaningless, and the gameplay feels a little stagnant. However, as the game develops players are really immersed in the characters’ terrifying experiences, and the true horror can begin.
Once this horror starts it doesn’t stop, and players will find a horde of baddies (both natural and supernatural) waiting to get them. There are a host of nasties aboard and something to horrify every player. Here is when the decisions get really crunchy. Not every choice has an immediate life-or-death impact, but everything players do sways the balance of fate. Almost teasingly, throughout the game there are premonitions players can find across the ship. These little out-of-context snippets can mean the difference between life and death. Frustratingly short and difficult to place, these premonitions can come in very handy when your character finds themselves in a pinch with a pesky pirate or screeching spectre. Finding these adds to the psychological horror, as you get to watch characters die but you don’t yet know how to stop it in Man of Medan.
The ship itself adds to the sense of dread throughout the second half of the game. Filled with hiding places for ghouls, players never know what is coming round the corner. As the camera angles are fixed, players can never sneak a preview of what’s around the corner or hiding behind the lockers. While you can control your character’s destiny, you have no say in what they can see. This is a double-edged sword, however. While the camera angles keep the suspense high throughout, they can be frustrating, especially when they change unexpectedly as you round corners. This can slow gameplay slightly and take you out of the moment.
Given the mind-meddling nature of the story, the ship feels a little underused. Moving to find your destination feels linear. There is little room to get lost as you can’t go anywhere that would divert your path. It is understandable why this is the case. However, it would’ve been nice to see more instances where players get truly disorientated. While not always useful to the game, the ship is also littered with cuttings and bits of documents that players can use to piece together what happened all those years ago. This adds a little more depth to each room and builds the horrifying story up, but it still feels like the ship could have been better used.
Where Man of Medan really shines through is its decision making. While not every decision feels important, they all have the possibility of shifting the course of fate. Whether it’s choosing between running from a monster or fighting it or trying to attempt to seem cool to another character, everything is down to you the player. Not only do the choices you make impact your character’s outcome, but they also affect relationships between you and others. This can come in handy later if you find yourself in a pinch and you need a hand. This brings a huge sense of reality into the game as your character’s life is truly in your hands.
Each choice also changes your character’s personality as they develop attributes such as ‘altruistic’ or ‘guarded’. While these traits don’t seem to have any in-game impact, they do add another layer of reality, giving the characters more depth. To add to the sense of tension, there are also moments where players must rapidly press certain buttons in time. This happens in panicked cases where characters must run away or defend themselves. While this mechanic ramps up the tension nicely, it can feel a little disappointing. Especially if your character dies because of you missing a button. While the button smashing is often to build tension and has no real impact. It can feel underwhelming to see your character die after you couldn’t spam X quick enough.
Matters of the Heart
Man of Medan is an unnerving psychological horror that had me on the edge of my seat and, in one instance, jumping so hard I dropped my controller. While the first half is slow, the latter parts of the game are packed with crunchy decisions and a thrilling sense of dread. With the choices on offer, there are countless possibilities for how the game will unfurl. Despite the short playtime, there are plenty of ways to play the game differently. Playing with another person or a group in movie mode is a great way to enjoy some horror with friends. It feels much more captivating than a simple movie.