I didn't really know I wanted multiplayer in a game like Man of Medan until I saw it in action. When I did, my first thought was, "Oh geez, Telltale should have done this while it still had a chance."
What previously looked like a much lighter follow-up to Until Dawn is actually quite a bit more interesting than it looks. Basically, it takes the concepts introduced by developer Supermassive Games' previous effort—a story-driven horror game with a large cast and multiple choices to make—and adds cooperative elements to them. It's in some ways reminiscent of 2018's A Way Out, another co-op game in which two players could play two completely different scenes at the same time.
Its story features five extremely terrible people who get kidnapped by pirates and wind up on a haunted World War II-era ship. By far the worst of them is Conrad, a classic Masshole who introduces himself by saying, "I'm gonna ogle the captain like a grade-a creep." They're all classic horror movie fodder, and you're expected to have a bit of fun watching them die horribly, though you can save them if you try hard enough.
The actual multiplayer comes in a couple different flavors. In the main variant, two players cooperate to explore environments, interact in conversations, and attempt to escape a spooky World War 2 ghost ship via well-timed QTEs. In the local multiplayer focused "Movie Night" mode, up to five players can choose characters and take turns driving individual scenes. If multiplayer isn't really your thing, you can play solo.
Exploration once again takes the form of robotically walking through an environment together (the locomotion in Man of Medan reminds me of Alone in the Dark), examining objects and interacting with obstacles. Occasionally a conversation will start up, and players will take turns choosing responses or making decisions. At other points, players will be split up, leaving them to make individual choices that can have an impact on how the broader story plays out. For instance, where one player is underwater exploring a wreck, another might be up on a boat's deck talking to wandering pirates.
If you happen to be playing with a friend (you can also play with strangers), you will naturally end up interrogating them about their experiences. What was going on in the wreck? Did they choose to investigate the strange noise, or did they hide? Why did they make that one dialogue choice that nearly got you killed? It's a clear mark in Man of Medan's favor that I found myself having a lively conversation with my partner about our experiences after our session was done.
Obviously, Man of Medan's heightened ambition brings with it plenty of challenges for the development team. Despite being far shorter than Until Dawn, online multiplayer basically doubles everything. Where Until Dawn had about 30 deaths, Man of Medan will have 69 deaths across approximately eight playthroughs. The development team is also endeavoring to diversify the possible endings compared to the original game.
Series producer Dan McDonald explains, "We don't want just one ending to the game, we want a whole host of endings. But every time you get to do something, I should be able to do something as well. So that doubles it up immediately. But we've got some great tools within the studio that allows us to see that branching network, get the logic right, and follow it all the way through."
Until Dawn was able to find an audience thanks in large part to these branching pathways, so it makes sense that Man of Medan is more of the same in that respect. But it's the focus on multiplayer that gives it the unique twist it needs to stand out. Horror is always the most fun when everyone gets to be scared together.
Supermassive Games and its publisher, Bandai Namco, are clearly hoping Man of Medan will be a long-term hit. It's only the first episode in what it's calling "The Dark Pictures Anthology"—a Night Gallery-like series of horror stories that will clock in at around three to four hours each. Supermassive Games has already picked out some 39 subgenres to explore, all of which will feature connected multiplayer like Man of Medan.
With a dedicated fanbase, and now a unique twist, Man of Medan seems poised to get the series off to the start it needs. We'll have a full review when it's out on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on August 30.