With the release of The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope coming up on October 30, I felt the need to replay Man of Medan. The two games aren’t connected, they’re each standalone stories, but they share the same type of gameplay.
After my second playthrough, I was left with the same feeling of appreciation that I had after finishing Man of Medan the first time. It’s a phenomenal horror game, one that dramatically improves upon the formula Supermassive Games became known for with Until Dawn.
Before the release of Little Hope, I thought I’d talk a bit about why I like Man of Medan so much, and how Little Hope can potentially surpass Until Dawn and Man of Medan thanks to the familiarity of its story and setting.
Warning: This piece includes spoilers for Until Dawn and Man of Medan. If you haven’t played these games, I highly recommend checking them out before reading this.
Tales of Terror | Revisiting Until Dawn and Man of Medan
Whether you love or hate it, Until Dawn from developer Supermassive Games is an accomplishment in the realm of narrative gaming experiences. It brings you in and makes you feel like your choices really matter.
More than that, it toys with your emotional response to certain characters to the point where you almost become one of the game’s unseen villains. You're like a puppet master pulling the strings, keeping some characters safe, and others less so.
If you don’t like a particular character, you’re less inclined to want to side with them and keep them safe. It’s an unconscious bias that forms as the game shows you one side to a particular character rather than the full picture of who they really are.
It’s only after something horrible happens that you gain new insight and realize the character you thought was terrible wasn’t so terrible after all. Unfortunately, what’s done is done in Until Dawn. You can’t undo the mistakes you’ve made which causes the guilt to set in.
How could you just let them die? What kind of a monster are you? You can't help but sit there in stunned silence wondering what would have happened had you saved them, and it's hard to resist the urge to want to play the game over and over again until you get the ending you want.
It’s simple, clever, and compelling.
As exceptional as Until Dawn was, it wasn’t perfect. In my personal opinion which you may or may not agree with, I felt like Until Dawn was bogged down by having so many unlikable characters and by its strange mixture of realistic murder mystery and supernatural wendigo story.
I felt like those things kept the game at a 9/10 instead of the 10/10 it could have been. Fortunately, these minor issues are addressed and corrected in Supermassive Games’ next title, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan.
I’ll start with the characters, then talk about the gameplay, and then segue into the game’s story and how Little Hope will likely take a similar approach and why this matters.
First, I felt like most of the characters in Man of Medan were likeable, or at the very least, understandable. The only one I didn’t really like, Julia, was still one I really wanted to save because I liked Alex and I didn’t want him to have to suffer the loss of someone he loves.
The same goes for Alex’s brother Brad. I feel like Brad is one of the easiest characters to like in Man of Medan because he’s the least arrogant and the most cautious. You can’t help but want to protect him, and as a result, you also want to protect Alex.
Having most of the characters either related to one another or in a relationship with one another helps balance out any feelings of dislike and disinterest you may have towards any of them at any point in the game.
What's even more interesting to me is how the game gets you to empathize with potential enemies like Junior. You’re given the opportunity to save him and you may be surprised at that point that you genuinely want to keep him alive. This is because he’s not a one-dimensional bad guy.
He feels like a real person who’s done some bad things but isn't a bad person. At least, he’s not on the same level as his older brother, Olson. You get the feeling that Olson is the leader and Junior just sort of tags along. To be fair, Olson also has moments where he can be compassionate to the game’s main characters. It’s not often, but it’s there.
I feel like if Olson had been given the opportunity to apologize and redeem himself, and if I'd been presented with the opportunity to let him die or keep him alive, I probably would have kept him alive as well.
Adding to this, you have to disregard the way some of these characters behave while they’re on the ship (including Olson) as they’re all suffering from the hallucinogenic effects of Manchurian Gold.
Sometimes when they look like they’re coming to attack you, or they’re acting scary and weird, it’s because they’re seeing things that aren’t really there.
Wanting to protect more of the characters in Man of Medan helps raise the stakes and makes the game more terrifying. You don’t know if the ghostly enemy coming towards you is a real threat, or a figment of your imagination.
Even worse, the ghost could be a friendly character that only looks like a ghost because you're hallucinating. If you stab the ghost, you could end up stabbing your friend. As much as you'd like to, you can't undo any of the mistakes you make in Man of Medan.
You have to choose what you say and do wisely, that includes times when you purposefully ignore both options and just stand there waiting to see what happens next. All of this is similar to Until Dawn, though there are differences in some of the other actions that you take.
For example, in Until Dawn, there are times you have to keep your PS4 controller still in order to keep characters alive. In Man of Medan, you're forced to complete quicktime events to keep the characters alive.
I absolutely hate quicktime events. Not because I think they’re inherently bad, but because I’m terrible at them. Seeing quicktime events pop up onto the screen instills a sharp sense of panic in me where I lose all sense of what it is that I’m supposed to do.
Playing the game on Xbox One, I found myself shouting at the screen because I couldn’t find the B, A, or X buttons in time. I’ll never forget how utterly defeated I felt after getting Conrad killed when I pressed the wrong button. It was the very last button too, he was almost there, and I failed him. I'm terrible.
Man of Medan does mimic the “stay still and avoid detection” aspect of Until Dawn to a degree but instead of holding the controller still, you have to press buttons to mimic the timing of a heartbeat.
It’s like a mini rhythm game. In the event you mess up, you're given other opportunities to help keep yourself alive. You aren’t automatically screwed, which is nice.
Having a bit more leeway in certain situations doesn’t make the game any less terrifying, though. It’s not the actions or inactions that drive the scares but rather the setting itself and the way in which the story is told.
The dark, cramped corridors of the old ship fill you with dread and anxiety.
You worry every time you round a corner because you have no idea what you might find on the other side whether it’s a hallucination (that you don’t know is a hallucination at first) or one of the antagonists like Olson.
You also worry about the structural integrity of the ship because it’s literally falling apart. It’s rusty, clunky, moldy, and who knows what the long-term effects of Manchurian Gold are when you breathe it in for an extended period of time.
If you’ve gotten any of the bad endings, you’ll also know that “rescue” isn’t always the rescue you think it is.
As much as I liked the wendigos in Until Dawn, the realistic nature of Man of Medan (once you find out you’re hallucinating) makes the good endings all the more believable and satisfying.
It also helps that the ship is based on a “true” story. Essentially, the SS Ourang Medan was a ghost ship whose entire crew perished. The dates of discovery are placed at different times during the WWII era and post-WWII era.
According to stories, a lone survivor from the Ourang Medan was discovered. He said the ship was carrying containers of sulphuric acid in the cargo which ended up breaking, releasing toxic fumes that killed everyone on board.
You can find a number of articles and videos talking about the story of the Ourang Medan that go deeper into whether there's any truth to the story that I highly recommend checking out.
The game embellishes upon this story, but the basis in potential truth is what makes the game scary.
You could happen upon a ghost ship floating along and should you need to board in order to take refuge for whatever reason, you have no idea what you might find. Bodies, rotting internal structures, sulphuric acid, etc.
Another game took the “based on a true story” idea and embellished it in a similar way. I don’t have time to get into Kholat since it isn’t a Supermassive Games title. All I’ll say is that it’s based on the Dyatlov Pass incident and it’s creepy as hell.
Anyway, the way Man of Medan got so many things right has left me optimistic for the next entry in The Dark Pictures Anthology, Little Hope.
Similar to Man of Medan, Little Hope takes inspiration from real-life events such as the Andover Witch Trials and embellishes upon them.
Little Hope is set in a fictional town in Massachusetts and follows four college students who get trapped there by a mysterious fog. The fog idea makes me think of Silent Hill, but it also makes me think of Stephen King’s The Mist.
What lurks in the fog?
Well, it looks like these students will be confronted by ghostly apparitions. It’s unclear whether Little Hope will go the route of Until Dawn with its supernatural wendigos, or if it’ll try to add more “realism” like Man of Medan did with the ghosts being explained away by the hallucinogenic Manchurian Gold.
I haven’t played Little Hope yet so I can only speculate. Everything that pops into mind is supernatural in nature, so I have the feeling Little Hope will pull an “Until Dawn” by making its ghosts real.
Or, at the very least, it'll have a supernatural explanation when it comes to why these students are seeing these apparitions.
I don’t imagine Little Hope will play with hallucinations in the same way Man of Medan did because each game in The Dark Pictures Anthology is supposed to be a standalone. Plus, the developers won’t want you walking in knowing exactly what to expect.
One thought that comes to mind when trying to explain the apparitions in Little Hope is the TV show Castle Rock (again with a Stephen King reference, I simply can’t help myself).
Castle Rock has a time/dimension travel element to it that’s reminiscent of the “Thinny” from The Dark Tower series. Could it be possible these students are being transported back in time to the 1600s and the ghosts aren’t ghosts at all but real people?
The fact that I’m walking into the game blind with no idea as to whether it’ll be supernatural or based in reality is a good sign that if anything, the game won't be boring. It'll have some twists, turns, and surprises thrown in that you won't see coming similar to Until Dawn and Man of Medan.
I loved the final "Manchurian Gold" reveal in Man of Medan because I wasn’t expecting plain old hallucinations to be the reason behind the ship’s ghosts.
I think the reason for that was because Until Dawn had wendigos that, as far as we know, don’t actually exist.
You could say that “Manchurian Gold” doesn’t exist either, but there are drugs in the real world that can make you hallucinate.
It’s not outside the realm of possibility in the way the wendigos were in Until Dawn, or seeing actual ghosts in Little Hope if that’s indeed what’s going to happen.
Little Hope may have the exact same gameplay mechanics as Man of Medan, but I have no doubt that it'll be different enough to keep you scared right up until the very end.
All in all, I have high hopes for Little Hope and I’m really looking forward to playing it on October 30.
If Supermassive Games continues to build upon the ways in which their stories are told way Man of Medan built upon the foundation of Until Dawn, I think Little Hope could potentially be GOTY material for 2020.