Reviews - Updated on April 11, 2022

Until Dawn is the best example of the triumph of form over content. If you look at the genre, then this is a cheap youth horror movie with characters stupid enough to move the plot further. But from a gameplay point of view, this is an amazing teenage group relationship sim, non-linear, full of surprises and deaths so witty that the player often finds himself on the same side as the maniac.

As it turns out, Supermassive Games is not opposed to this interpretation of their game. And their next creation, The Dark Pictures, will continue the bloodthirsty tradition of Until Dawn.

Citizen of Sumatra

Like Until Dawn, The Dark Pictures takes an existing legend as its basis, on the basis of which it builds its story. More precisely, one of the stories, because several different interactive horror films will appear under the name The Dark Pictures.

The first one takes the player aboard the merchant ship Ourang Medan, which means “Man from Medan”. Medan is the largest city of the island of Sumatra, but for the game it does not mean much. The main thing is the legend about the mysterious disappearance of Ourang Medan and his no less mysterious appearances. Of course, the entire crew died, the rescue team went crazy, and the ship received the status of a ghost ship.

The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan review preview

The journey will begin on the peaceful and cozy deck of the Duke of Milan.

True, some skeptics explain the tragedy in their own way. Say, there was a cargo of sulfuric acid on board, the containers with which lost their tightness, and acid vapors killed the entire crew in a matter of hours. Wow, how realistic! The Dark Pictures sensibly discards this bleak theory and haunts Ourang Medan.

funeral flight

In the “demo” that I tested on IgroMir, they did not bother to explain exactly how a group of spoiled American teenagers ended up in the bowels of a ghost ship. From other materials, you can find out that the guys ventured in search of that same dead cargo ship, considering it a fun and carefree adventure. However, this is not so important for the plot, although one cannot help but compare the plot with how witty and cleverly they confused the plot at the beginning of Until Dawn.

The short level I got my hands on allowed me to explore the ship a bit. The Dark Pictures carefully guides the player along the chain of locations, while not prohibiting “backtracking”, throwing up either a small area to search for clues, or a cutscene with a choice of replicas, or a QTE where you never guess which button will light up in the next second. I don’t know about you, but I always thought that even the most unexpected QTEs should have a logical binding to the keys that are involved in the scene. That’s why I ruined one of the heroes of Heavy Rain, when the action “Grab the gun” was alternately indicated by a triangle, then a square, then a cross, although all three times the damned volley rolled along the dashboard along exactly the same route. I only met a couple of QTEs in The Dark Pictures, so I can’t judge their internal logic yet.

The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan review preview

It is unlikely that every QTE can become fatal – for this it would be necessary to cut the whole story into shreds.

Man of Medan is smaller in scale than Until Dawn – passing here for 4-5 hours, and the cargo ship is not so large as to unfold many hours of drama on it. But the flexibility of history, as I was told, will remain at the same level. Not a single hero is protected by “plot armor”, with sufficient dexterity and luck, you can bury all the characters, and the development of their relationship, of course, will depend on a tangled tangle of betrayals, help or ignoring in difficult times and other events inevitable for the heroes of the interactive horror.

There were almost no complaints about Until Dawn from this side, and there is reason to believe that Supermassive will cope with the task this time. More than that – The Dark Pictures promises more attention to the evidence, which will fundamentally change the perception of the situation.

Ghosts and hunters

The rotten interior of Ourang Medan, the mold and rust of a sunken vessel – all this creates a good environment for normal horror, and not just for a slasher with a brood of young idiots. But at the same time, you can see the lack of depth, and so far I can’t understand: are the skis not going or am I just imagining?The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan review preview

The facial expressions of future victims are on the same amazing level as in Until Dawn.

The mythology of the world that is shown in The Dark Pictures does not yet look very solid. In Until Dawn, absolutely all the events were explained by the pranks of one of the heroes, the secret intervention of a hermit with a flamethrower and the presence … Oh, well, I won’t say, what if you didn’t play!

What is happening on the screen in Man of Medan does not fit into the general outline. Strange visions, ghosts, crawling from God knows where, and it seems that you can fight them off with your bare hands, but for some reason a young girl has enough strength for this, but an athletic guy cannot escape from the arms of evil spirits. And what are these ghosts? In general, I really hope that Supermassive will be able to adequately put together a single universe from disparate screamers, which is not yet visible.

The illusion of choice

There is a fear that the dying Telltale managed to infect Supermassive Games with its generic curse – a disregard for the choice of the player. Yes, I was assured that there are many endings in the game and at every turn there are dilemmas that decide the fate of the characters. But it’s in words.

In practice, the principle fails. At the end of the demo, Fliss, one of The Dark Pictures’ heroines, has to make a choice that affects her moral compass. Rational – to escape from a mess when her friend Brad is being dragged away by the dead, or emotional – to rush to his aid. The result is essentially the same. In the first case, Fliss calmly locks the door, in the second, Brad, whom she pulls out of the clutches of ghosts, suddenly turns out to be evil himself, that is, he did not have to be saved.

Of course, there is an explanation for this – the same moral compass, which is presented as a factor that changes the impact on the plot depending on the player’s previous decisions. Again – sounds curious, but in the described scene, I did not see the influence of any compass. Well, that was a tiny fragment of a four-hour story, and with such a small sample, one should not draw ultimatum conclusions.

The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan review preview

The alignment of forces in this episode raises questions, but this is not a problem – we were simply shown a piece of the story taken out of context.

Perhaps the most tactile flaw in the future game is the inability to use all the benefits of DualShock 4. For me, the most intense moments of Until Dawn are episodes when you need to remain completely still and any movement of the controller is regarded as treacherous tremors in the legs or shaking hands. Alas, this degree of immersion is impossible when it comes to multiplatform – The Dark Pictures is released on both Xbox One and PC, and therefore cannot take advantage of the tricks of the controller.

But the game will be released on PC, as can be seen from the previous paragraph. Isn’t it wonderful?

***

It is very commendable that Supermassive is trying not only to repeat the Until Dawn experience, but also to reshape it: take at least the same moral compass. True, many would prefer one big and whole story instead of a handful of small ones that The Dark Pictures promises, but this format can be explained by the avoidance of risks – you can always change course a little if something goes wrong. Supermassive takes time with a margin, promising to release two parts a year – it’s not like you grind out another nonsense about Clementine every month! In such a race, the quality of the script inevitably falls, while in six months you can have time to test and discard several drafts until one of them seems worthy of the final version.

But what pleases me more is that the creators of the game have no illusions about their creativity. I asked Supermassive Games director and producer Pete Samuels how he feels about the fact that for many players Until Dawn is a teen extermination simulator and for such people the game is by no means a horror game. Pete laughed and replied that this way of passing is taken into account by them in The Dark Pictures. So, at least Man of Medan will allow you to kill a few more cheerful fools! Which isn’t too bad.

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