Before I began my Man of Medan demo I was asked specifically if I wanted to make choices in it with my mind or with my heart. I realize now that the question was only asked so the PR rep knew what t-shirt to give me, which featured a graphic pointing to whatever I had chosen, but the question was pertinent throughout my playthrough.
In Supermassive’s most prolific game, Until Dawn, I made a lot of decisions based on my emotional attachment to the characters. Supermassive’s gameplay hook certainly relies on how endearing/wicked its characters are, and fortunately, Man of Medan appears to deliver on strong, pulpy personalities; there’s the flirty jerk, the nice guy, the nerdy brother, the rule-abiding captain, the adventurous girlfriend. I was drawn to them and appalled by them in equal measure; a good sign when any of them could die at any point in my playthrough.
But it wasn’t just me who was controlling their fates. I played through the first 90 minutes of Man of Medan with a co-op partner. With Until Dawn, Supermassive realized that the ‘choose your own fate’ horror genre was a lot of fun with more than one person making the decisions, so the option is now there to play through with someone else, as well as play through a ‘party mode’ that sees you pass the controller between a larger group.
Playing with another person made for a lot of conversation after the demo ended, as our experiences differed significantly despite being in such an isolated location. The first 90 minutes of Man of Medan takes place on a small boat, where the aforementioned ragtag group is on a costly adventure to find an undocumented wreck.
As my co-op partner and I played, we would inhabit different characters based on how the story flowed, which would often place us in very different scenarios. At one point I was playing with Conrad on board the boat as he flirted with the Captain, while my co-op partner played as Alex, proposing (or not) to his girlfriend Julia under the water. Of course, I wanted to know what happened during that sequence with Alex and Julia, and a big talking point after our demo finished was how our individual experiences played out.
Despite awkward facial animations to fill the time as your co-op partner made a decision, interacting with them also promises to be fun. More often than not you have the choice to be kind to them or be a real dickhead, so conversations can go completely differently depending on who you’re playing with. In this instance, my partner played nice and so did I; I can imagine playing with people who wouldn’t be so generous, and the hilarity that would ensue.
Like Until Dawn, a combination of your decision-making and quick-time events will determine whether or not characters live or die. At one point I made the decision to help save the rest of my friends from a threat (which I won’t spoil here) by escaping on a speed boat; each step that I made had to be timed, as did a duck to avoid a bullet. It was thrilling – I’m looking forward to more of that desperate scrambling that Until Dawn did so well – and there was a lot of pressure in the knowledge that if I killed a character, I killed that character for my co-op partner, too.
Which leaves the question: is Man of Medan scary? It definitely had its moments of sudden shocks and a sense of escalating dread, and appears to tread that fine line between horror and black comedy that Supermassive has already proven it can nail. But the first 90 minutes were an exercise in building towards what promises to be the truly horrific meat of the game, so there’s still plenty more to explore when it’s released on August 30.
Lucy O’Brien is Executive Editor of Features at IGN. Follow her on Twitter.