The thing I liked best about Until Dawn – Peter Stormare’s pop-eyed turn as your personal psychiatrist aside – was that it kept you guessing about the kind of horror game it was. Teen slasher flick or Paranormal Activity wannabe? Creature feature or Machiavellian revenge fable? Cabin in the woods, or mountain of madness? The game’s red herrings are as plentiful as the branching plot’s butterfly effects, and it’s a delight to sift direction from misdirection as you slowly divide the offensively photogenic cast into victims or survivors over 12 hours of play.
Man of Medan, the first in Supermassive’s biannual Dark Pictures anthology series, tries its hand at similar intrigues. Is the new setting just your garden-variety ghost ship, hold creaking with lost souls, or something less… by the book? Like Until Dawn, the game parades a variety of phantasms before you, some hovering like dust motes in an unfocused corner of the screen, or illuminated for a heart-stopping instant near a hatchway. It also clots your path with archive material from the ever-popular Dear-Diary-Argh-Argh-Argh subgenre, all in a bid to mislead its player as to the precise terrors at stake. This may seem like absolute catnip to any Supermassive devotee, and there are some smart, if slightly broken new multiplayer features to amplify the thrill of playing as a group, but Man of Medan has one elementary problem: at three to five hours across, it’s a little too scanty to make the most of a very ominous premise.
Following a brief, nerve-rattling trip to the 1940s, Man of Medan begins on a launch out in the South Pacific. Here you meet stars Alex, Julia, Conrad, Brad and Fliss – respectively, the jock, the rich girl, the lech, the nerd and the lone adult in the room, all caricatures plucked from the annals of horror cinema, all on some level absolutely begging for a harpoon to the neck. The cast are here to investigate a sunken plane wreck, but complications ensue and the scene shifts to the corridors of a spectral long-forgotten warship.