The Quarry Review (No Spoilers)
Horror has been a staple videogame genre for decades. Creating a truly movie-like horror experience, well, that’s another matter entirely. Supermassive Games released Until Dawn back in 2015. A PlayStation 4 exclusive, it raised the bar for performance capture and immersive, scary storytelling. A spiritual successor to Until Dawn, The Quarry refines and expands the potential hinted at in the earlier game. Simply put, The Quarry is a masterful example of cinematic, interactive horror fiction.
Films like Friday the 13th, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deliverance, Sleepaway Camp, and I Know What You Did Last Summer are obvious inspirations for The Quarry. Like Until Dawn and countless slasher movies, The Quarry assembles a group of teens for the express purpose of picking them off one by one in the most horrific possible ways. If that’s all it did, The Quarry wouldn’t be all that remarkable. It’s the ways in which the game transcends and tweaks the template that make it fantastic entertainment. Of course, The Quarry traffics in horror tropes — jump scares, red herrings, increasing peril and tension, misdirection — but those elements are what define the genre. They’ve worked for Shirley Jackson, George Romero, Sam Raimi and Stephen King. And they work especially well in The Quarry.
Truth or Dare
The Quarry begins with a classic setup. Teens Laura and Max find themselves lost on a spooky backwoods road as they head to summer camp, where they will be counsellors before heading to college in the fall. Think Brad and Janet, minus the light in the Frankenstein place. They swerve to avoid a mysterious something in the road, end up in a ditch, surrounded by spectral images, weird remnants of a carnival and woods that seem to whisper. They’re rescued by the World’s Creepiest Cop (Evil Dead’s Ted Raimi), who warns them to avoid the camp that night at all costs. Which, of course, they absolutely don’t do. Things end very badly. The story is set in motion.
This prologue is a masterpiece of storytelling and cinematic game direction. It does an amazing job of introducing two important characters, setting the tone and giving us hints of the mysteries that will unfold. Laura and Max are much more than horny teenagers. Well, they’re that, too. But they’re also fully drawn characters with believable backstories and personalities, and this will be true of all The Quarry’s cast. Sure, most of them are familiar types, but none of them are one-dimensional.
Following the Prologue and title card, we arrive at Hackett’s Quarry just as the campers are leaving at the end of summer. We meet Chris Hackett (Scream’s David Arquette), whose family has run the camp since 1953, and the other seven playable characters. The first two chapters are leisurely, but they give us an extended chance to learn the mechanics of the game, to get to know the cast, and begin to anticipate what’s to come.
Ride the Coaster
If you guessed that a group of older teens placed in close proximity for two months might develop some complicated emotions and fluid relationships, congratulations. Stranded at the camp for one more night, the group disobeys Chris Hackett’s admonition to stay indoors and instead has one last party around the fire pit. A game of truth or dare quickly escalates into something more emotionally manipulative and several group members storm off. A vicious animal attacks one of them. Others go missing. The tension and terror begin to build into a crescendo that lets up for only brief periods over the next eight or so hours of gameplay, which shifts between both characters and overlapping timelines.
If you played Supermassive’s prior games, you will be comfortable with The Quarry’s mechanics. The game alternates between performance-captured cinematics and sequences where you control one of the characters. At various points you make conversational choices or take actions that impact the game both immediately and many hours later. There are many, unforgiving QuickTime events that have life or death consequences. The game’s mechanics are not complicated. But the way the player’s choices ripple through the game are astoundingly complex and interesting.
The Quarry only gets more interesting and layered as it develops. At heart, it’s a take on a classic monster story, but to say more would spoil a lot of what makes the narrative compelling. The developers have said that there are 186 possible endings. While the main story will always hit the big beats, there are many ways in which the smaller plot points or character arcs can play out. It’s possible to play the game in a way in which no one dies. It’s equally possible to reach the end with everyone dead, and every permutation in between.
Theatrical Release Quality
Until Dawn had remarkable performance capture and excellent acting, but The Quarry takes both to a new, high level. Subtle facial expression paired with spot-on acting results in characters that are entirely believable. There is one late-game character that is jaw-droppingly realistic but with few exceptions, the quality extends to the entire cast in every frame. There are a few places where realism falls away, primarily in those parts of the game where animation takes over from motion capture. Those moments are pretty rare. Player-controlled movement is also a little janky, and mapped to the joystick in a slightly awkward way. Also, all the choices and plot permutations sometimes lead to puzzle pieces that don’t perfectly fit.
While player choice has a large influence on whether the characters are sympathetic or not, they’re all written well. Friendships and romantic complexities dominate their web of relationships. But characters are also dealing with sexual identity, family history, murky futures and uncertain dreams. Kudos to the writers and actors for delivering a cast of distinct and memorable characters, which of course extends to the adults. The dialogue is sharp, witty, and only occasionally sounds like smart adults writing for young characters of a different generation.
The quality of the production goes beyond writing and acting to the game’s cinematography, sound design and music. Using both licensed songs in a variety of genres and an original score, the music is masterful. It’s often understated but never fails to deliver an emotional gut-punch or tension-inducing cue when needed.
The Quarry feels a lot like an interactive movie to begin with, but it’s also possible to play the game in Movie Mode. This allows players to sit back and simply watch the narrative unfold. There are three options: everyone lives, everyone dies, and a Director’s chair version. In this mode, you set the parameter for each character’s personal traits. This allows the game to make choices in much the same way as a player would. It’s a brilliant addition, and possibly the ideal way to experience the game. The downside is that the choppy transitions between cinematics and player-controlled sections and choices are impossible to disguise. It’s far from seamless but still enjoyable. There’s also a Gorefest mode for fans of over-the-top, explicit dismemberment and, well, gore.
Although not included in the first playthrough, later journeys through the game allow for limited do-overs to change up decisions and prevent character deaths.
The Quarry also includes a multiplayer option, where the entire cast can be controlled by different players, plus visual filter overlays that change the look of the game to different horror cinema genres. There is a decent selection of graphics, sound and accessibility options. In terms of performance, there were some framerate stutters and quite a few small graphical glitches, but no show-stopping crashes.
Best Ticket in Town
The Quarry is a significant evolution of the formula established with Until Dawn. This time around the performance capture, cinematography and complex branching story are even more impressive. The game’s biggest achievement, though, are its setting, narrative and characters. While they don’t entirely transcend the stock tropes of genre fiction, they are far and away some of the best in any videogame and absolutely the equal of big-budget horror films. The Quarry is a must-play for horror fans. Gamers who enjoy great narratives, memorable characters and intriguing choice-driven mechanics will love it too.
***PC code provided by the publisher for review***
- Impressive performance capture
- Memorable characters and setting
- Meaningful choices
- Highly replayable
- Great pacing
- Minor performance issues
- Some awkward controls and janky movement