A group of teen camp counsellors spending the summer in the great outdoors cut off from the rest of the world, looking to party and get lucky, and some unknown evil waiting to pick them off one by one. All the horror tropes you can expect are in The Quarry, yet just because the ingredients are predictable doesn’t mean you can’t have a fun time with it when you’re the one in control.
Developer Supermassive Games has been mining all kinds of horror since the release of 2015’s Until Dawn, but after several releases under its Dark Pictures Anthology, this latest outing does its best to recapture what made that PS4 exclusive a sleeper hit, by playing on both nostalgia and familiarity in a setting that’s both modern yet retro. And there’s really no better vessel to do that than playing as a bunch of teens you’re trying to get to survive the night.
Billed as a bigger, better spiritual successor, The Quarry certainly boasts more advanced tech to nail its cinematic inspirations, a more recognisable star cast, and more choices that can lead to 186 different unique endings, but does that mean a more fun and frightening time?
The Quarry’s biggest strength comes from just how much more believably nuanced facial motion capture has gotten so that every subtle expression and eye movement comes across that honestly had us at times unable to distinguish its visuals from live-action. It’s also helped by the fact that there are some very strong performances from the ensemble, including horror veterans like Scream’s David Arquette and Twin Peaks’ Grace Zabriskie.
Of course, most of the screentime goes to our nine teens, who for the most part are an attractive and likeable bunch, except perhaps Jacob, the chest-puffing manchild whose desire for one last summer fling is how our camp counsellors find themselves stuck in Hackett’s Quarry summer camp for one more night when things start to go horribly wrong.
The setting may evoke Friday the 13th but the writing is genuinely smart and fun, and you get to see different sides to these characters, some who can also prove to be capable and resourceful, to the point that you’re not cynically edging them towards a gruesome or untimely demise, a refreshing difference from some of Until Dawn’s unlikeable characters or fairly obvious final girl.
That’s in itself a double-edged sword since you’re expecting deaths in a slasher flick, whereas The Quarry spends its first few chapters setting up these characters so that you become invested in their survival, not to mention a couple of their love lives. We say slasher, but it actually hints at multiple genres, from ghost stories to creature features, just to keep you on your toes on where its story is heading.
On the QTE
The narrative however can’t get past the fact that, for a game that wants to be two-hour popcorn Friday night horror fest, its plot drags out to the length of a Netflix series but without enough development and twists to justify it, especially once it’s shown its hand by the midpoint.
Partly, this is typical of games aping cinematic storytelling techniques but have a lax attitude to the editing process than in a film, but it feels more pronounced in The Quarry. This is especially the case when you’re given control of a character, wandering around an environment where you might find some interesting objects to examine but mostly move from A to B. But where a game like Uncharted or GTA 5 would use this as an excuse to have its characters banter or bring up some exposition, there’s a notable dead air that makes these sequences completely redundant. An exception comes from the collectable tarot cards that are framed so that they’re not actually discovered by the character but by you the player.
While the ability to make narrative choices remains the most compelling gameplay feature, with some choices subtly changing how certain characters feel about each other, while others have more dramatic consequences that won’t necessarily come to light until later, other interactive elements are hit-and-miss. Opportunities to interrupt dialogue or make another impromptu action is an interesting addition either for adding another wrinkle into a choice that’s been made or perhaps produce another unintended consequence, but quick time events (QTEs) where you have to press or mash a button to perform an action successfully remains as gimmicky as ever, and we also found prompts to push the stick in a certain direction would register the input incorrectly.
It’s probably why it’s tempting to just play the game in Movie Mode, which removes all the interactive elements and basically lets you watch The Quarry as a linear, non-interactive experience, though it does remove those interactive moments, resulting in a tighter edit.
At the same time, this mode also robs you of being able to make narrative choices, although there is a fun way of being able to play director as you preset each character to have a consistent behaviour for how they will react to certain situations before pressing play, while there are also preset options to ensure every camp counsellor survives or a path where they all die.
But however you choose to play, the fundamental issue with The Quarry is that, despite evoking classic horror vibes in its lighting or creepy camera angles, its scares rarely stick the landing. The death scenes that we came across during our first playthrough lacked the shocking or gorey impact of Until Dawn’s, let alone the memorable splatters from the genre’s best in decades past. But even when you’re trying to keep everyone alive, the tension-and-release of narrowly escaping death also often feels somewhat anticlimactic, more strangely inserting the game’s pop soundtrack just to remind you of its teen demographic. Of course, there might be more interesting paths we may have missed but it was only in one late sequence in a scrapyard where The Quarry truly had us on the edge of our seat.
As much as the script may boast multiple branches and 186 unique endings if there’s a good chance that many of those result in a boring playthrough where some characters’ paths just peter out without a satisfying finish, a second playthrough is less enticing, especially when there’s no fast-forward button.
Much like its predecessor, The Quarry wears its teen horror inspirations on its sleeve resulting in a fairly fun summer romp where relationships and choices are key to how you survive Hackett’s Quarry.
Yet despite winning and playful performances from its cast, bolstered by ever more incredible performance capture technology, its ambitious narrative threads seem to do more to dilute the fear factor while there’s not enough new elements introduced to prevent the interactive movie formula from getting old. It can be as smart and funny as it wants, but if a horror game isn’t scary, does it even matter?
A fun and well-acted teen horror that’s not nearly as scary or as well-executed as it could be.
Excellent face capture
A rootable cast that makes you consider choices carefully
Not particularly scary
Interactive elements feel redundant
Many scenes (good or bad) just don’t pay off