The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan may not have found extensive critical success, but it did help the horror genre find its modern day footing through interactive storytelling.
Horror games have had a difficult time in the past decade of finding their rightful place. The horror aspect is often left to the wayside in favor of other features. Since the release of Haunted House in 1972, horror games have evolved from simple pixels being murdered by other simple pixels to full on blockbuster action sequences as seen in the Resident Evil series. Sure, these games scared the ever-loving nonsense out of us, but the method has started to grow tiresome.
Too often horror gets tied to action, leaving only cheap jump scares and an invariable storyline often ending with the player feeling rather mediocre. Resident Evil, Silent Hill, The Evil Within, F.E.A.R., Dead Space, Left 4 Dead, and several others are considered some of the greatest horror series in the industry, and rightfully so, but they all seem to follow the same tired format with a different story slapped in. Too much of the game relies solely on killing zombies, infected, witches, or whatever other similar enemy the developer comes up with. The story is often static and predictable, which completely kills the sense of fear meant to come from the unknown.
With Until Dawn, Supermassive Games brought horror back to the forefront by putting the player in charge of the outcome. In Man of Medan, that grows to an even more intricate level. Not only is the game psychologically torturous, but players feel the stress of every decision from the beginning all the way through each branching possibility. This interactivity adds a layer of depth that can only be experienced in this genre blend.
While Man of Medan has a limited number of endings, each has dozens of story paths to achieve them. Despite getting the same ending twice in a row, you may have experienced different passages to get yourself there.
For example, early in the game you have the option to let Conrad steal an antagonist’s boat and leave for help, or grab a knife — providing you made an earlier decision to allow the knife to be in position — and attack the antagonist. On top of those two somewhat difficult options you have other factors weighing on you. Such as what are the other characters doing at this moment? What outcomes do each of these bring? In the short amount of time you’re allotted to try and make the decision you also have the looming threat of death hanging over your head. If you take the knife and attack can Conrad be killed in retaliation?
The weight behind these choices makes the player feel an increasing sense of dread that is typically absent from traditional horror games. A scenario will provide a more visceral and substantial feeling to the player when they are the one guiding it. This is contrasted to a conventional, predetermined horror experience, where the story is written with the intention of making the player feel a specific emotion. In a situation where anything can happen due to the players own action, a sense of gravity is present that makes the relief of saving somebody actually genuine, and the dread of losing someone truly devastating. Ultimately, everything that happens is the player’s fault.
The interactive storytelling we have seen from other games in recent years tells us that ‘our actions will have consequences’. Studios such as Telltale Games and Quantic Dream have helped push interactive storytelling to new heights in the industry, and thanks to trailblazers like them, Supermassive Games has been able to help the horror genre find new life.
While Man of Medan may have flaws, it certainly helps carve out what may become the new standard of horror games. Supermassive Games has promised more entries in The Dark Pictures Anthology which will likely mean better, more refined games that strike in the same vein as Man of Medan—and I can’t wait.