Five Big Takeaways From Our Hands-On With Supermassive’s Man Of Medan
For our latest, just-launched issue, we got exclusive access to a new demo for Man of Medan, the first game in Supermassive’s Dark Pictures anthology. This is the studio’s first big project since its cult hit Until Dawn, and it’s going all-in by telling standalone stories in five games, each exploring different subgenres of horror. Man of Medan is up first, and it tackles the home invasion and the ghost ship tropes. A group dive to explore a historic World War II site is supposed to be a vacation to remember, but it ends up being that for all the wrong reasons. Here are some brief takeaways from our discussions with the team and hands-on time. You can learn even more new details by reading our 6-page feature in our June issue, which is now live digitally.
The Branching Paths Are Ambitious
While Man of Medan may be half the length of Until Dawn, it isn’t lacking in content or replayability. The team upped the ante in the amount and variation of the branching paths. I did a few playthroughs of my demo and experienced different relationship states, information, dialogue, and events based on my choices. In one playthrough, I had a happy newly engaged couple; in another the proposal was denied, which was a total mood-killer for the trip and made things awkward. In one playthrough, I even got one of the main characters killed. One simple choice about going peacefully or struggling with kidnappers ended up determining if I knew the whereabouts of a certain character.
Supermassive fully committed to this much variation and created its own in-house tool to keep track of it all. “It is very ambitious in terms of the branching,” says game director Tom Heaton. “We worked really hard to make sure we had a blend of long-term, short-term, medium-term branches and consequences. In this game, the whole chapter and scenes may or may not play out depending on what you do at various parts of the game and within those scenes they can play out dramatically differently. We have to keep track of everything the player has done, every decision they’ve made, everything they’ve said. Sometimes those are quite inconsequential things, but you know, an hour down the line we can pull back on that and remind the player what they said earlier, and that’s really satisfying to the player. It says to the player, you’re being listened to and what you do matters.”
A Bigger Focus On Relationships
Supermassive quickly realized that the relationships between the various characters were one of the most popular parts of Until Dawn, making the team put even more effort into giving them more depth and reward here. If you invest the time and min/max certain relationships, you unlock bonus scenes. You also can have unique relationship states depending on how you foster your characters, opening up different dialogue and scenes. “One of the things that’s really important is the relationships between the different characters and [maintaining them] under extreme tension and duress,” Heaton says.
Exploration Is Rewarding
In my demo, I was not disappointed in taking the extra time to search and revisit every nook and cranny, in fact I was rewarded in an array of different ways. Sometimes this meant having an extra item that came in handy for a sticky situation later on. Other times, it meant finding out more back story and how the characters came to be in this precarious situation. Man of Medan is based off a famous legend about the ship Ourang Medan, where its entire crew perished under suspicious circumstances in the 1940s, so it’s interesting to see how Supermassive incorporates it into its fiction. You can find out more by finding “secrets,” mysterious objects that provide insight into the past and the characters’ certain situation. “You can’t really work out much from just one of them,” Heaton explains. “You make connections and start to piece them together for the backstory. It will unlock scenes where characters will talk about what they know and it can help you as a player. If you find enough, you get hints allowing you to make better decisions for the rest of the game.” Additionally, if you were a fan of Until Dawn’s totems, you can discover so-called “premonitions,” which show how a character could potentially die, acting as a heads up so you can take caution with that scene as you play it.
The Split-Second Decisions Are Intense
If you thought Until Dawn had some difficult choices and interesting consequences, you are going to feel right at home here. The decisions often come fast and have unpredictable consequences, making you wonder when it’s worth taking a risk or playing it safe constantly. After all, any of the main characters have the potential to die at certain points in the game based on your choices. “We find it’s quite easy to come up with an easy decision, something that’s an obvious good and an obvious bad,” Heaton says, “That’s no good to us at all because people can navigate that very quickly. We want pros and cons for [all our choices]. You have to take a risk; you have to jump into the unknown.”
The most tense scene I experienced was where a kidnapper armed with a gun wanted me to call the coast guard to find out more about the current storm and its duration. He firmly warns you there will be consequences if you try anything. You have the opportunity to say something immediately or play along. Later the coast guard asks if everything is okay and says reach out if there is an issue. It’s almost like the game is daring you to take the risk. I didn’t, though. Instead, I chose to stay silent as he said one last time to let him know if something is wrong. I figured silence might indicate that something is awry, but I won’t know the larger ramifications of that choice until I play the game in its entirety. I still think about this moment and where it may lead.
Expect The Unexpected
If we learned anything from Until Dawn and its big twist, it’s that Supermassive loves to take you by surprise. The team uses tropes and stereotypes to build out the world and its characters, but then it turns them on their head for some intriguing and shocking outcomes. Man of Medan looks to be following suit, but just because the team is using the home invasion and ghost ship subsets of horror doesn’t mean they’re going to be used in a way you’d expect. For example, while Supermassive plays on the home invasion aspect, it’s not the typical strange men breaking into your home. After all, the group is on a boat far out in the South Pacific. How Supermassive brings the invaders into the ghost ship and along for the bigger mystery is even more clever. I’m still wondering how it will all come together due to the various elements at play.
Man of Medan launches this summer on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. For more information, you can read our previous preview here and be sure to check out this issue of the magazine.