I loved Until Dawn until its last five minutes. A perfectly-pitched take on the teen horror genre, Supermassive’s choose your own adventure tale had me hooked up to the very end… until a character I’d struggled to keep alive for hours succumbed within the final few seconds. To be fair, I messed up – something to do with the game’s motion controls, I think. Clearly, four years later, I still care enough to be annoyed.
It’s been a long four years for Supermassive, too. Since Until Dawn, its creators have never quite had the chance to top its success – instead filling time with a raft of spin-offs, PlayStation VR games, and experiments for PlayLink. The Dark Pictures, the studio’s new horror game anthology, is something of a fresh start for the developer, then – and Man of Medan is its first chapter.
Due 30th August for PlayStation 4, but also PC and Xbox One, this new series will see Supermassive take its Until Dawn formula multi-platform (and to Unreal Engine, where Until Dawn and its VR spin-off used Guerilla’s famed Decima tech). Every game in the semi-regular series will tell its own story, with its own set of characters. All can live. All can die. I’m having flashbacks already.
Man of Medan’s E3 demo opens with its group of teen protagonists stranded at sea in a small boat as they bunker down for the night. Of course, there’s ghost stories, flirting and bro talk. Of course, there’s a storm brewing. And then, out of the gloom, something much worse appears on the horizon – a boat manned by armed pirates, who quickly overpower the gang and take them hostage.
By this point, and in really just a few minutes, Supermassive’s script and the game’s performance capture have already imprinted its cast upon you. Of course, this is because our heroes play into typical teen horror stereotypes but, as in Until Dawn, this shorthand works well. Immediately there will be some you like and some you just want to throw overboard.
The ensemble cast’s standout is Shawn Ashmore, most recently of Quantum Break fame, as the beer-swigging fratboy Conrad. His sister, Julia, is dating nice guy Alex, whose younger brother is the quieter Brad. And then there’s Fliss, captain of the boat and the most mature of the bunch.
What happens next, as the group are divided up and questioned – some more forcefully than others – is up to you. Do you want to resist capture? It’s not a great idea. It’s always hard to gauge how different situations can play out when you’re only able to see one set of outcomes during a particular playthrough, but on leaving my time with the demo I was told that, already, one of the main cast would be dead and written out of the rest of the game if I’d played things just slightly riskier.
The demo ends as the teens and their captors end up facing the full force of the storm together – which is the point where Man of Medan’s main setting comes into focus: a great hulking, rusting tanker ship full of horrors. It’s here the teens will flee to for shelter, but find there’s much worse than the pirates waiting for them on board.
I didn’t get to see Man of Medan’s supernatural side kick in, but trailers suggest fans of Until Dawn’s creepier moments will be well serviced in this regard, and the tanker itself has a Resident Evil Revelations-style vibe. I’m still curious to find out how substantial an offering Man of Medan will be – whether Supermassive’s planned six-monthly timetable of The Dark Pictures releases will still provide enough to satisfy players each time. But I’m curious to take these characters further on their journey – and make sure, this time, there are no more accidents.