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E3 2019 Hands-on: The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan

14 Jun 2019

In the chaotic and noisy environment of a gaming expo, it’s not too often that you see a demo for a darker, narrative-heavy game. Titles that want to immerse the player are going to struggle to present themselves against a backdrop of flashy lights and loud music…although that’s not to say that it is an impossible feat. After all, I got to try the enthralling Gris at PAX West last year and got totally sucked in, in spite of the environment around me.

With Man of Medan, Bandai Namco takes their shot at presenting an immersive narrative game against the chaotic backdrop of E3. While I did have the chance to go hands-on in a private press area, a few thin walls did little to stop the sounds of pop rap from flowing into the room. The publishers also had public demos available, so they must be confident that the demo would be able to reach players despite the environment.

Coming from Until Dawn developers Supermassive Games, Man of Medan is set to be the first entry in the “Dark Pictures” anthology, a series of narrative horror games. The series is intended to be one of those where the choices you make carry over between entries – every character can live or die in each entry.

In a pre-demo meeting, we were given a bit of story background for the demo we were about to play: four friends are out partying on a boat in the South Pacific, telling ghost stories, before turning in for the night. Y’know, a pretty standard horror setup.

Moving to the demo itself, the boat is raided by pirates/bandits/thugs/what-have-you, with three of the aforementioned friends and the boat captain being tied up. The fourth friend is nowhere to be found, and the ship is drifting into a massive storm.

When it came to actual gameplay, I was heavily reminded of Quantic Dream’s games: heavy reliance on quick-time events with the occasional dialogue choice, all playing out in a cinematic style. Through my choices I led one of the friends into busting out a window on the boat to sneak along the side of it and take one of the bandits hostage, to try and get a gun from another bandit.

In my attempt to grab the gun, though, the tables were turned and I ended up under the bandits’ control again. Oops.

While the gameplay was similar to Quantic Dream’s style, the visuals didn’t feel quite up to par. The game is still quite attractive as a whole, especially in still images, but some of the character models felt rough around the edges in action. Characters would occasionally change stance and position completely between camera cuts, and the lipsynching was just plain off at times.

Despite the graphical issues, cliche horror movie setup, and sounds of E3 chaos around me, though, I still found myself getting pulled into the atmosphere of the game. Notably, much of the voice acting and sound work was excellent, helping me to overlook the occasional graphical oddity.

Does the demo for Man of Medan signal this Dark Pictures anthology’s potential as the next big narrative series in games? Well, no, that would be hyperbolic. However, despite some of its cheesiness, the demo has caught my interest enough that I look forward to the full experience.

The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan was developed by Supermassive Games and will by published by Bandai Namco on PC, PS4, and Xbox One on August 30th, 2019.

Screenshots courtesy of Bandai Namco.