Man of Medan Switch review – all that glisters is not gold

The first game in Supermassive's The Dark Pictures Anthology, Man of Medan, has sailed onto Switch. So how do the spooks size up on Nintendo's hybrid console?

Man of Medan Switch review - the Curator holding a candle stick

The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is the first in Supermassive’s popular series of standalone cinematic interactive drama and survival horror games. It’s seen much praise since its 2019 release and continues to thrive amongst a cult fanbase spread across PC, PlayStation, and Xbox. But Supermassive isn’t content with merely offering in-game jump scares, giving us all a shock when it shadow-dropped the Man of Medan Switch version out of nowhere in early May, 2023. So, how do the spooks size up?

Let’s begin with a brief rundown. In case you’re unfamiliar, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is a heavily cinematic and narrative-driven game in which your choices matter. It takes place in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean near French Polynesia and revolves around a group of young adults and their ship’s captain, setting out at sea on a small skipper to do a spot of diving in search of an undiscovered wreck. However, the tides soon change, as a group of modern-day pirates commandeer the ship and set out in search of a mysterious treasure called the ‘Manchurian Gold’.

Our unlikely crew of captors and captives soon find themselves aboard an abandoned WWII ghost ship which appears to be tied to this treasure. But, of course, not all is as it seems, and the tale soon devolves into one of chaos, fuelled by greed, fear, and even a pinch of an apparent supernatural threat.

As with the other titles in Supermassive Game’s repertoire, Man of Medan sees you take control of the five captives at different points, exploring the ship, collecting clues, and attempting to avoid peril long enough to escape. With heaps of key decisions on your shoulders and the lives of the protagonists in your hands, it’s up to you which branching paths your story takes and whether the characters live or die, leading to a great level of replayability as you explore all of the potential outcomes.

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Man of Medan offers a single-player mode, a two-player online co-op mode called ‘shared story’, and an up to five-player local co-op mode called ‘movie night’, which sees you and your pals taking control of the different characters, along with prompts to pass the controller at each turn.

Each playthrough lasts around four to four and a half hours, which feels just right for this type of game, and there are plenty more hours to pack in if you want to explore the different outcomes and collectables. Whether alone or with friends, every run can offer a vastly different experience, despite the overall linear path of the narrative – which is easily one of the main reasons why the game still manages to captivate its audiences to this day.

In terms of gameplay, the game mostly revolves around walking sections spliced with cutscenes, with the main crux hinging on those aforementioned choices, collecting key items and premonitions to supplement your knowledge or influence the outcome of certain scenes, and occasional QTE sequences (quick time events).

The control scheme in the Man of Medan Switch version is as simple and easy to grasp as on any other platform, and its button layout translates well to the joy-cons and Switch Pro controller. You walk around with the left joystick, interact with items using A and ZR, and hit buttons to align with prompts during specific QTE sequences. For the most part, I find inputs to be very reliable and responsive, with little to no delay, which is exceptionally important in a game where failing a QTE can have a massive impact on the outcome of your game.

Man of Medan Switch review - a screenshot of Fliss walking around the boat, with a corpse in the foreground

Camera angles are fixed and cinematic, which certainly adds to the interactive movie vibe, but it can sometimes make movement feel a little sluggish and clumsy, feeling closest to the first Resident Evil despite not being true tank controls. This isn’t an issue unique to the Switch version, though the lower resolution and, of course, a smaller screen in handheld mode, can make it a little trickier to work out where you are in relation to the objects and doorways around you. Luckily, I find this is pretty easy to adapt to, and once I got back into the rhythm of how the characters control, I had little trouble aside from the occasional hiccup.

Right from its initial announcement of the Switch version, Supermassive has been quite transparent about the technical limitations of this port, even noting the 24fps cap at the bottom of the Nintendo eShop page. I was initially quite pessimistic about how this low cap would look, but it’s important to note that Man of Medan is a very cinematic game, and 24fps is the universally accepted norm for a ‘cinematic frame rate’ – and it actually holds up pretty well here, for the most part.

The lower frame rate is hardly noticeable in handheld mode, though it does occasionally make the game look a bit stuttery in docked mode. This is especially noticeable in some of the late-game sequences that clearly push the Switch’s ageing hardware to its limits, such as while you’re exploring the stormy rooms during Distress Signal or running away in Revenge. Naturally, with the frame rate cap already being so low, any further drops do look particularly choppy – far more so than such a minor drop in a higher FPS tile.

Man of Medan Switch review - a screenshot of a 'keep calm' QTE

For the most part, this isn’t too problematic and didn’t particularly impact my enjoyment of the game. However, I did have a stumble towards the end of my first playthrough in docked mode, where the frame rate dropped dramatically during a keep calm QTE, causing me to fail and have to restart the chapter in order to keep everyone alive. Luckily, upon re-loading, the frame rate managed to smooth itself out – but that’s something to keep in mind.

Beyond the frame rate cap and occasional stuttering, Man of Medan’s Switch version is noticeably downscaled compared to versions on other platforms. This lower resolution does result in some visual hiccups, such as some pretty intense texture popping and inconsistent lighting at times – all of which is far more noticeable in docked mode than handheld.

However, I truly respect that Supermassive put in the work to make this port manageable on native hardware rather than slapping together a Cloud version. It’s clear that a lot of work went into bringing Man of Medan to Switch, and the game truly tests the limits of this six-year-old console, meaning it’s honestly quite impressive that it looks so good.

In addition to the desirable portability, the Man of Medan Switch version also offers a few additional features as the icing on the cake. These include updated gameplay features, such as a wider choice of accessibility options, improved UI and interactions, and even an extended playable chapter called Flooded – a climactic ending to the game that introduces brand new deaths. These additional features both sweeten the deal for new players and offer an extra layer of incentive for long-time fans of The Dark Pictures Anthology to give the Switch version a try.

Man of Medan Switc review - accessibility options page

The extended accessibility options are also a very welcome addition, offering you the ability to toggle single action buttons, hold to complete button mash, QTE timers, and more. There are also a nice variety of subtitle and text options, including size, colour, and a dyslexia-friendly font. Unfortunately, subtitles are off by default, and you need to go to the in-game settings to turn them on. I personally believe that subtitles should always be on by default, especially in narrative, choice-driven games like Man of Medan.

Though the Man of Medan Switch version is definitely a downgrade in comparison with the other ports, it still offers plenty of enjoyment. I can’t recommend it as the ‘best’ way to play the game, but it maintains much of the mystery and tension of the original, and, for the most part, its visual and performance issues are quite infrequent or minor, meaning it’s still an enjoyable experience.

The price point is also respectable, avoiding that all-too-familiar ‘Switch tax’ that seems to tack itself onto just about every third-party release and port. It sits at $19.99/£17.99, which is very close to its current full price on Steam, and roughly half of its launch RRP – a respectable cost for such a memorable game.

Man of Medan Switch review - a screenshot of the characters sitting together on the boat

In short, if you’re interested in the world of cinematic, choice-driven narrative horror, and feel you can overlook some of the shortcomings enforced by the Switch’s ageing hardware, then you should have a pretty great time with this little jewel of the sea, especially with the added benefit of portability and new content. Its winding mystery, believable characters, and impactful choice system makes for an all-around tense and atmospheric experience, and, like the ocean lapping at the edge of a shore, it’s sure to keep tugging you back for more.

If you’re on the hunt for even more terrific terrors, check out our list of the best horror games on Switch and mobile. We’ve also got a selection of the best visual novel games for your perusal, offering a variety of less spooky stories.

Our Verdict

6

The first entry into The Dark Pictures Anthology, Man of Medan still holds up as a tense, cinematic horror experience where every choice matters. Unfortunately, the Switch’s ageing hardware holds this version’s performance back, but it’s nonetheless an impressive port with some welcome additions, and still captures the souls of all who board this ship.