#29: First Look at Man of Medan

TODAY: Take a step behind enemy lines with Commandos – Can Dark Pictures: Man of Medan deliver the perfect scare for Halloween – Don’t let those aliens bite in Professor Lupo And His Horrible Pets

Blast From The Past

One miss-click away from defeat in Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines

We’re used to storming the beaches at Normandy in first-person shooters, and maybe even ordering armoured columns and infantry to storm a fortified town or base, but what about the missions no-one’s meant to know about? Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines was World War 2 in a new light.

You couldn’t just go guns blazing and call on tank reinforcements in Pyro Studios’ and Eidos Interactive’s real-time tactical stealth game. Well, you could, but the goal generally speaking was to remain as stealthy as possible so you could achieve your objectives without calling half the German army down on you. Naturally things wouldn’t always pan out as you’d intend, and sometimes things could turn into a bullet riddled mess.

It’s a waiting game. You get control of certain highly trained characters; a Green Beret, a Marine, a Driver, a Sapper, a Sniper and a Spy. Each of these guys has special talents only they possess, which forces you to change up your tactics for each of the 20 missions. The Spy for example can wear enemy uniforms and walk among them, the Green Beret is strong to move objects and climb rough surfaces, and the Marine can traverse water easily and has a freaking harpoon gun!

Never was so much owed by so many to so few

It was a deliciously tense affair. You’d only get certain characters depending on what the mission brief was, and then you’d have to carefully try and spot the patrol routes of enemies. Of course it got complicated if there were many interiors because Hans could exit and catch you knifing Fritz. It demanded a real precision from the player if you wanted to be in-and-out without so much of a whisper.

Just crossing a dirt road could mean the difference between success and failure, and the game was quite brutal at times with its ever changing real-time puzzles to solve. Enemy vision was represented by cones that were segmented between short and long. Getting spotted wasn’t always a bad thing because unless you took an aggressive act they would try to apprehend you. This gave you another way to lure in sentries for disposal.

Oh yes, and the absolute best part about all this? It features multiplayer, so you can play co-op. You and your friends can take control of the commandos and try – really try – and co-ordinate your actions.

Commandos was a critical success at launch and went on to spawn an expansion called Beyond the Call of Duty a year later in 1999. It was followed up by Commandos 2: Men of Courage in 2001 and Commandos 3: Destination Berlin in 2003. Each carried over the core game mechanics, which would expand your options for missions, but also the enemies own counter tactics and threats.

Where to get Commands: Behind Enemy Lines today

This real-time tactical masterpiece, and its great follow-ups, are readily available from the usual suspects like Steam and GOG.com. They’re ridiculously cheap considering how many hours you can sink into them.

Early Look

The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan – a horror story with all your friends in it

(Supermassive/Bandai Namco – PC/Xbox One/PS4)

If you’re a PS4 owner who likes Heavy Rain (or Quantic Dream’s other games of that style) – or even something like Telltale’s The Walking Dead or Life is Strange – and being scared, you really should try Until Dawn. It’s a horror adventure where actions, dialogue, choosing which way to walk, or just faffing around examining objects can have consequences – sometimes fatal ones. It was a lot of fun.

Instead of making a sequel, developer Supermassive has joined up with Bandai Namco to create something brand new – and multiplatform – and yet in the same style. The Dark Pictures is the result, a similar horror game that plays in a familiar way to Until Dawn fans, except for two points. One, it’s an anthology series, so there are going to be multiple games with completely different stories – it’s a bit like The Twilight Zone or Tales From The Crypt, complete with weird presenter.

Second, it’s just been revealed that The Dark Pictures will be the first horror game of its type to have multiplayer. We got to try it out in the first episode, Man of Medan, and here’s how it went.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

We played the two-player co-op version of the multiplayer, and it worked really well. We started off as two soldiers in World War Two, at a carnival in China. A boxing game and a creepy fortune teller helped to get us used to the game’s controls – which are based on context-sensitive actions and quick-time events. Sometimes it’s just a matter of pushing a button, other times you have to move the thumbstick first – usually with good timing.

Dialogue always has three choices – two emotional reactions, and “say nothing” which can be the best way. Usually those two reactions can be divided into ‘nice’ or ‘angry’, but often Man of Medan flips the script and you’ll sometimes just get choices like ‘pompous’ and ‘belligerent’ (our favourite). And the great thing is, even just from the little we played, the ‘nice’ choice isn’t always the correct one. Later on, for example, we were nice to one character’s brother – and ended up pissing off his girlfriend. It’s really clever.

The Outer Limits

As for the multiplayer, two players take on the roles of different characters at a time, so you don’t get attached to one person – and often decisions you made as a previous character will affect you as the next, or you can react to them. Players can investigate and find things out on their own, or they can work together with their partner to solve things or take on problems together. There are consequences for everything, however – which is where the fun begins.

As for the story, it moves from the World War Two soldiers boarding the vessel Medan – where some sort of Ark of the Covenant-like object infects the crew and the ship, and things don’t go well for our first characters – to a group of friends investigating a shipwreck. One of them pisses off a group of sinister locals, who then come back later and threaten them. That’s when they encounter the ghost ship Medan, in the middle of a storm.

Sadly, that’s where our play ended. The game’s playing really well at the moment, with the multiplayer a really neat inclusion that seems to work really well. It actually adds to the tension, rather than relieves it – as you can’t communicate with your partner and you’ve no idea what decisions they’re going to make. The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan will be out August 30, and we can’t wait to play more of it. Even if we’ll be the first to die.

Indie Spotlight

Professor Lupo And His Horrible Pets

(BeautiFun Games — Nintendo Switch, PC)

This week’s Indie Spotlight focuses on Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets from BeautiFun Games, the studio that brought you the multi-award winning title, Nihilumbra. This is a puzzle game that’ll have you narrowly escaping alien ‘pets’ who are more interested in taking a bite out of you than taking on the role of a friendly household companion.

In Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets you’ll play as the professor’s intern – an unfortunate individual burdened with the task of trekking through the Aurora Space Station while the Professor’s aliens roam free. Having collected these strange creatures from all corners of the galaxy, the Professor plans to deliver the aliens back to Earth, in hopes of weaponizing and selling them off. Of course, nothing ever goes to plan when you’re ferrying a bunch of aliens across space, and your ship is unexpectedly attacked, releasing the aliens onto the station to wreak havoc.

As you work your way through each of the levels, you’ll be introduced to more aliens. Each species will behave in its own way, so you’ll have to learn their individual patterns and quirks, often using them to help you traverse each room. If you happen to find yourself struggling with particular puzzles, the infrared mode will activate after a few deaths, showing you the predicted path the alien will take to help you plan a successful escape. After you’ve finally mastered a particularly challenging level, it’s also incredibly satisfying to revisit it to pick up additional items, which will require you to find another safe route out of there.

You’ll need patience and precision to find the optimum escape route

If the story elements of this game have piqued your interest, you’ll be happy to hear that BeautiFun Games have gone the extra mile by including a voice-over for every character in the game. If you’re anything like me, you’ll grow accustomed to the strangled cries of the intern as he’s consumed by the pets, and you’ll appreciate the snooty tones of the Professor as he coaxes you to continue your journey through the spaceship.

One thing that really surprised me about Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets was the fact that it has touch-screen support. Opening and closing doors using the buttons on the JoyCons works well enough, and with many of the puzzles calling for tight and precise routes through each of the levels, I found that using a physical button was the most comfortable way to play. That said, if you enjoy using the Switch in handheld mode and can position the console on the arm of a chair or something similar, being able to tap on the screen to interact with things is a nice option.

Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets is out now on Windows, Mac (Steam) and Nintendo Switch. Priced at $14.99 on the eShop, this game feels as though it slots into the Nintendo Switch library perfectly. With so many levels and options for replayability, it’s nice to be able to pick up and continue from where you left off, whenever you fancy. While we haven’t tried the PC version of the game, we did really enjoy playing this on the Switch and thankfully, unlike other Switch ports, this game performs well on the console. If puzzle games are your jam then Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets is an easy title to recommend. Its fleshed out narrative makes all the puzzles feel like you’re working towards something and its music will keep you from pulling your hair out while you’re continuously gobbled up by that one, annoying alien.

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