The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan
Not too long ago, Supermassive Games was bound by contract to develop exclusively for Sony. Therefore, the only way to play their successful horror game Until Dawn is to own a PlayStation 4. However, the British developer from Guildford has entered a new partnership with publisher Bandai Namco and is now working on The Dark Pictures Anthology, a new horror series that will be available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. At gamescom, we checked out the demo of the first game called Man of Medan.
Like many horror movies, the story of Man of Medan begins with a group of five young adults. These people spend their holiday on a boat, right in the middle of the South Pacific, diving for a legendary sunken treasure. Unfortunately, this hobby expedition soon turns out to be ill-fated and life-threatening: A storm is about to break loose, and to make things even worse, they find out that they are not alone on the high seas. To come right to the point: it's not the nice kind of company.
The playable demo (on PS4) didn't start right at the beginning, but some time later: Fliss and Brad, two of the main characters, are exploring the innards of a strange ship, while another guy is holding them at gunpoint. Slowly we get an idea of what kind of enemy we are actually dealing with and what might have happened in this place. Of course, it also gives rise to many other questions which will hopefully be answered next year once the game is done.
Man of Medan is meant to be just the start of The Dark Pictures Anthology. During the gamescom presentation, we were told that every game in this series will be entirely stand-alone, with different characters and stories. This may not come as a huge surprise, considering that every playable character will be able to die during the course of the story, which would make any continuation rather difficult.
The common denominator of this anthology is the fact that every part will be based on an existing urban legend. That being the case, the title Man of Medan already suggests a connection to a myth: In the year 1947, the ghost ship Ourang Medan was supposedly wrecked when the whole crew died under unexplained circumstances. Unsurprisingly, Supermassive Games doesn't rely much on facts and science, and apparently the story takes a very supernatural turn.
Bandai Namco hopes to release two games each year, starting in 2019. Compared to Until Dawn, these games will be a lot shorter (4-5 hours long) but the developer is certain there will be more story branches and choices with consequences than in all of their previous games. Of course, that remains to be seen, but even if it turns out to be somewhat like their last big horror title, the replay value should be fine.
Those who know the studio’s previous works will immediately feel like you’re in familiar territory. The core gameplay seems to be everything you would expect from Supermassive Games, which is decisions, exploration and Quick Time Events – all of them closely linked to the story and the psychological type of horror. Even the console controls are pretty much the same. We move around freely and explore the environment; as soon as we are close to a hotspot, it gets highlighted, and if we click on it we get to see the object up close. Still, many objects are easy to miss if you don't deliberately examine every corner of each room.
Careful exploration might even save lives – or lead to sudden death, as some of you might remember from Until Dawn. It can also give you a better idea of what happened on the ship, and the more clues you find, the closer you get to the whole truth. However, it is best not to expect any puzzles or many other deeper mechanics, or else you might be disappointed.
Basically, the horror takes the same approach as we’re used to from this developer. It focuses on slowly triggering a very psychological type of fear, with a few jump scares here and there. Definitely not the gory kind of horror, and most likely easier to handle than, for example, Scratches or Amnesia. Besides, sometimes there may be characters that are very annoying, kind of like Brad in the demo. Occasionally things like that can even make it amusing when certain characters end up in very awkward situations.
Fitting the very well-implemented cinematic presentation, each character is played by a real actor or actress. In the official trailer, we already recognize Shawn Ashmore, who is known as Bobby Drake in the X-Men movies and also stars in the TV series The Following. He already has experience with video games, since he played the lead in the costly action-adventure game Quantum Break two years ago. It is also noteworthy that compared to previous games, the facial animations are more expressive this time; on the other hand, the graphics in Until Dawn felt slightly more detailed.
We had a lot of fun with Man of Medan and are looking forward to the finished version. Most likely it will not be the best choice for fans of the more traditional adventure genre, and it's a bit too early to say much about the quality of the storytelling, but those who are looking for a cinematic horror experience in the vein of Until Dawn should definitely watch out for this upcoming title.
Close to the Sun
Judging from the first chapter, Close to the Sun by Storm in a Teacup (N.E.R.O.)) could be a title to watch for fans of the psychological horror genre. This dark first-person adventure game from Italy is set at the end of the 19th century, when Nikola Tesla is at the height of his career. This is an alternate reality, however, so there are many deviations from history.
In this story, the smartest scientists in the world were invited to Tesla's gigantic ship complex, but things went south. Our protagonist is the reporter Rose, who is desperately looking for her sister on site and hopes to find out more about this bloody catastrophe.
Close to the Sun gives the player a lot of time to explore. In the beginning, there are already a few not-too-complex environmental puzzles (for example, getting the power back on to reach restricted areas). Rose doesn't carry a weapon so she can't kill, but this is the type of horror-adventure game where you better watch your step. In some situations, hiding and running are required to survive. We were told that completing this game will probably take around six hours.
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Overall, we enjoyed the demo. A lot of inspiration comes from games like SOMA and Layers of Fear. The visual style, on the other hand, is reminiscent of steampunk, Art Deco and Art Nouveau, which gives it a similar look to the popular BioShock series. One point of criticism is the motion sickness we experienced. There are slight distortions when looking and moving around, which can be unpleasant after a few minutes. Of course, there's still time to address this before Close to the Sun launches on Windows PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in early 2019.