Man of Medan review: Fight pirates in a ghost ship, or die trying

 has an urge to shout warnings at horror movie characters, even though we know they can’t hear us.

Developer Supermassive Games is very aware of this compulsion, and used it well in the underrated Until Dawn. The developer’s latest game, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan, also lets players exercise that part of their brain by giving them control of a fantastic and (mostly) likable cast of characters as they make their way through a horrific ghost ship.

Like Until Dawn, Man of Medan sits somewhere on the line between a Choose Your Own Adventure book and a horror movie. The game gives you control over its characters, allowing you to choose where they go, what they do, and what they say. The decisions you make for them will help them survive … or get them killed.

a dark ship floats in the middle of stormy waters at night
The Ourang Medan.
 Supermassive Games/Bandai Namco Entertainment

The vessel is filled with corpses. Dead soldiers are posed in grotesque ways, with horrified faces, as if some unknown terror has literally scared them to death. Every corridor and cabin contains a victim, frozen in fright and mummified mid-scream.

But these scenes aren’t just meant to shock the player; what’s truly haunting is how gorgeously Supermassive presents the terror in each room of the Ourang Medan. The camera cuts to the interior of each room as characters enter, and it mostly remains in a static wide shot as you guide them around the room.

These moments of stillness lead to fantastic and unsettling images, including a shot in which the camera seems to peer at our characters from behind the head of a corpse that slowly turns to look at them, or a rusted chain and hook looming in the foreground as people explore the room behind it. Static cameras can be frustrating to the player if used poorly. But Man of Medan’s camera follows your movements just enough to let you explore the room while allowing the developers to show you exactly what they want you to see, in the most effective way possible.

The constant unease made me excited, and nervous, to explore each new room as the game found new ways to increase my discomfort. The story of the Ourang Medan, and how it came to be a ghost ship filled with these bodies, is told in pieces found throughout the cabins. The papers, letters, journals, and official memos you discover reveal the mystery of the ship — although, as with many mysteries, the solution is much less exciting than the hints.

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