The Quarry is Supermassive Games’ spiritual successor to Until Dawn, a brand new 10-hour horror game unconnected to its not-so-distant cousin, The Dark Pictures Anthology series. It heavily evokes classic teen horrors, sticking close to the path that made Until Dawn so successful. Also, like Until Dawn, this path branches off in various different directions, twisting and turning along the way until you reach one of its 186 unique ending variations. From the three hours I spent with its first three acts, I was constantly reminded of what made Until Dawn so enjoyable and fresh when it was first released. While The Quarry may not be treading as much new ground, it definitely got its hooks into me with its gorgeous cinematic presentation and overall affection for the horror movies it’s so clearly in love with.
The Quarry wears its influences on its blood-soaked sleeve; the summer camp setting of Friday the 13th, the teens vs monster nature of Cabin in the Woods, and the winking self-awareness of Scream. All of this occurs while the echoes of Deliverance’s banjo strings can be heard pinging off of the trees. My hands-on time included bursts of gore, heartfelt moments between characters, and a couple of jump scares to boot. It never once threatened to take itself too seriously though, firmly remembering to put the laughter into slaughter. Take one look at the casting and you’ll be able to see what Supermassive is going for here, with cult horror actors such as Scream’s David Arquette and The Evil Dead’s Ted Raimi giving you a not-so-warm welcome to Hackett’s Quarry Summer Camp.
After an unsettling, and ultimately gruesome prologue, Act 1 of The Quarry begins on the very last day of camp. The kids have all gone home and only the counselors and Arquette’s Mr. Hackett remain. You switch between controlling nine different camp counselors as they spend the next couple of hours preparing for one final big blowout party in the evening before heading home. What can go wrong? Well, inevitably, a lot. I won’t spoil the shocks here but rest assured there’s more than one threat to be wary of in The Quarry. I’ve seen glimpses of spooky supernatural stuff, snarling beasts of some sort, and a creature I have no idea how to describe that popped up right at the end of my playtime. Plus of course, the most dangerous game – man. It is hunting season after all…
It’s hard to not take notice of the stunning cinematography when playing The Quarry, which is without a doubt a graphical and artistic step-up over Until Dawn. It employs the age-old renaissance art chiaroscuro technique, which uses high contrasting areas of light and dark to allow for unexpected surprises to burst out of heavily shadowed areas. You’ll have seen this in all kinds of horror cinema, from old classics such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to modern films like 2017’s It. The technique is used perfectly in the prologue, when a wholly creepy cop played by Raimi appears from the darkness to startle a couple bathed in the comforting light of their car.
This impressive technical care is not just in the lighting, though. The improved camerawork makes The Quarry feel like Supermassive’s most cinematic game yet. Tight, claustrophobic framing ramps up the tension, which works hand-in-hand with the highly detailed facial animations captured at Digital Domain, the visual effects company behind the MCU’s Thanos. It’s not just a real step up from Until Dawn, but downright some of the most impressively animated faces I’ve ever seen in a game. They really bring the characters to life… before you choose to swiftly inflict death upon them, that is. Those demises wouldn’t mean nearly as much though without first having got to know the nine playable leads. This is where The Quarry’s first two chapters spend a lot of their focus – developing bonds between each of the camp counselors and, crucially, the player.
There’s a classic mix of teen horror archetypes to be found within the group. Jacob the overconfident jock, Emma the extroverted romantic interest, and Dylan the edgy oddball. At times they err a little on the edge of caricatures, but in all honesty, this is what Supermassive is going for – a fun ode to horror delivered with a chuckle and a tongue so far into its cheek it threatens to burst through. There are strong performances throughout too, with an impressive ensemble of established stars and upcoming talent. Early standouts include Detective Pikachu’s Justice Smith, Modern Family’s Ariel Winter, and my pick of the bunch, Brenda Song as the charismatic and quippy de-facto group leader, Kaitlyn.
Getting all of these playable characters right is crucial in a game like this, but the joy is that even if you don’t get along with them you can take pleasure in serving them with as delicious a death as you desire. While all of the choices I made during the opening couple of acts didn’t lead to any deaths, I was assured by director Will Byles that there are many, many to see. Choice really is the name of the game though. Play it sensibly and you could leave Hackett’s Quarry with all nine of your characters alive, but if you ask me, where’s the fun in that? A nice storytelling touch is an in-game podcast hosted by characters played by CollegeHumor’s Emily and Murph. Depending on the specific ending you get, the episode that plays over The Quarry’s epilogue will accordingly differ.
For those familiar with Until Dawn, the gameplay experience isn’t hiding any surprises of its own. Sections of exploration to gather clues are punctuated with conversations and dialogue choices that can both subtly and overtly alter the story. In tense situations, quick-time events will sometimes pop up, but these are often less of a test of reactions than they are another choice to be made. Maybe you just want to deliberately let someone smack their head on a tree to see what happens? As ever, The Quarry will react accordingly.
It seems that there really are no wrong decisions to be made, only the ones that feel the most enjoyable or beneficial to the story for you at that moment. So far, the best have been choices that seemed inconsequential but will inevitably lead to someone’s demise hours down the road. For example, I chose to climb down a ladder early on for nothing of significance to happen apart from being notified that the ladder is close to now falling off of the wall. I apologise in advance to whoever I’ve accidentally killed by doing this.
Beyond its improvements in choice-based storytelling and cinematic presentation, Supermassive is taking extra strides to make The Quarry as accessible an experience as possible this time around. An example of this is that QTEs are now simple flicks of the analogue stick instead of face button presses, so players unfamiliar with controllers won’t be scrambling to find the right button. Delightful 1950s-style animated tutorials are available for each gameplay mechanic, which are suitably narrated by the world’s foremost Rod Serling impersonator.
On the odd occasion that combat takes place, minimal accuracy is needed when aiming a gun, with a large flashlight beam replacing a small reticle. For players who don’t want to take control of any combat encounters at all, there’s the option to turn them off completely and let them play out automatically. The same can be said for each aspect of the game, ranging from quick-time events to exploration. All of these different gameplay mechanics can be toggled on or off at the start of your playthrough to tailor it specifically to your liking and ability.
In fact, if all you’re looking for is to put the controller down completely and watch the action play out, there’s even Movie Mode. This essentially lets you predetermine the behaviour of each of the nine characters at the start of the story before watching it all unfold. Will they be cautious or confident? Polite or standoffish? The possibilities are numerous and we’ll go into these systems in further detail later this month as part of IGN First.
Three hours with The Quarry gave me exactly what I expected from a spiritual successor to Until Dawn, for better and worse. Mechanically, it’s not moved on a bunch in the seven years it’s been since Rami Malek first freaked us all out. This is still very much an “interactive movie” and Supermassive makes no apologies about that. The love for decades of horror movies is on show for all to see, and the basic but effective gameplay of frequent tough decisions is perfect for the genre. You may only be making one significant button press every few minutes, but they each hold a huge amount of weight; it’s still hard to know what the repercussions will be, either immediately or six hours down the line. It’s that slow building of tension and sudden release of excitement that makes for a great horror movie, and a promising sign that The Quarry is heading in the right direction.
Simon Cardy will never visit as a summer camp as it never seems to end well. Follow him on Twitter at @CardySimon.
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Author: Simon Cardy