In the latest horror adventure from the people behind titles like Until Dawn, Man of Medan and Little Hope, blood, guts and lots of bad choices are on the menu.
Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the very definition of insanity. Supermassive Games doesn't do that, though, instead doing the same thing over and over again and assuming the result will be the same. The British studio has been doing this ever since its acclaimed debut with teen slasher adventure Until Dawn, and while it may not quite qualify as the very definition of genius, the concept has nevertheless worked surprisingly well. Granted, The Dark Pictures trilogy didn't quite reach the same height at its debut, but it was still interesting and exciting enough to attract and hold the interest of an acceptable number of gamers. Although the studio obviously wanted to make Man of Medan, Little Hope and House of Ashes, the spiritual sequel to Until Dawn was the goal all along, and now we're finally there. The Quarry has been released and unsurprisingly it's exactly the same set-up again, for better or worse but mostly for better, thankfully.
Like its predecessors, this is an interactive love letter to the genre and anyone who has played at least one of the aforementioned games will instantly recognise it. In Until Dawn, the setting was a deserted ski resort, but this time Supermassive has chosen a different setting, namely an American summer camp, which is particularly popular in the horror movie context. You know, wooden cabins, dense forest, a small lake with a dock, and a family that can be described as a little off at best, batshit crazy at worst. There are, of course, plenty of reasons why this is a setting that works just fine for impending youth slaughter. It's remote, it's superficially idyllic, and there are plenty of opportunities to at least try to hide when something villainous is breathing down your neck. Unlike its inspirational sources, which were often set in the 80s with rock blasting, leg warmers worn by all, and lots of hair, however, The Quarry is present day with all that that implies. Mobile phones and podcasts and a dialogue where a lot of it is about real problems, like alienation, ghosting and worries about the future but of course with the same kind of cheesy one-liners and puns. If Until Dawn was a teen slasher inspired by films like Friday the 13th, Halloween and Scream, this new adventure is clearly influenced by the Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, and without spoiling it, it screams Stephen King.
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The premise, as I said, is familiar. It's up to the player to play through what is essentially a horror movie by making difficult choices along the way and controlling the various characters through so-called QTE, or Quick Time Events. That is, pressing a certain button in a given situation or steering in a certain direction in a short time frame. All decisions affect the outcome and a seemingly small choice at the beginning of the game can determine a character's fate much later. For example, do I choose to catch a pair of keys in mid-air or let them fall to the floor? Do I call out to make sure it's not one of my friends lurking in the bushes or do I shoot first and ask questions later? Sometimes even a successful QTE might not be the way to go, maybe it's better to fail? All five of our senses come into play, and if you can also shake out a sixth, an extrasensory perception, then a lot is gained. This can be done via hidden Tarot cards which in turn can reveal a small glimpse of the future: usually death. Can it reveal something about a possible way out of madness or is it merely diabolical bait?
The Quarry, like its predecessors, begins with joy. A bit of fun and games as the kids say, with campfires, making out and booze. A little truth and dare hasn't killed anyone either. Or has it? They're there as instructors and have been clearly told to stay indoors when night falls but being youngsters and alone at the summer camp, they give a big middle finger to the rules, paternalism and common sense. It is summer, after all, and our young protagonists are, as custom demands, just emerging from childhood and entering adulthood. College, student loans and long-distance relationships loom and this could be their last summer vacation together. Which also makes perfect sense, though for entirely different reasons than they have in mind.
As in any slasher worth its weight, the ensemble is overflowing with various stereotypes. Cocky jock, nerd, funny guy, prom queen, and of course that difficult introvert who understands exactly how this stuff works. It's the ABCs of horror and thanks to flashbacks we also get a good dose of backstory, where we not only learn why the summer camp in the quarry exists but also the people behind it. We learn exactly how many skeletons the various characters have in their respective closets, why two of the instructors never made it to their destination, and eventually even a possible reason for why Hackett's Quarry is hell on Earth. Familiar names from Scream, Aliens, Twin Peaks and Evil Dead feature, adding weight to a well-acted horror film in which you are the director. Just like in previous Supermassive games, all the characters can be controlled and you decide their fates.
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Whether the goal is to save the entire group or to brutally ensure that no one survives (I've tried both), The Quarry takes its time sucking the player into a slow, suggestive suffering and then slams you into a surprising finale in the closing hours. Right from the start we know there will be no camp fun for Dylan, Jacob, Nick, Kaitlyn, Abigail, Emma and Ryan but exactly why we don't know. There's a big question mark hanging over the entire story that isn't cleared up until the group begins to understand together what's really going on in the dark woods. This means that the tension is always there and the desire to continue exploring relentlessly becomes like an addiction. Every cliff-hanger makes me refuse to put down the controller. It's neat, too. Really neat. Looks aren't everything, of course, especially when it comes to games, but this is exceptionally beautiful. From the lush forests, where the light just manages to break through the shadows, to the human skin and lifelike facial expressions, even if a worryingly large proportion of the ensemble seems to have been born with severe underbite.
I'm glued to the spot and feel the adrenaline pumping. It's not particularly scary, not for a horror fan who's been there before, but it's exciting and intense and above all it's well done. After all, Supermassive knows how to build up an atmosphere that instantly gets its claws into you. They don't open the floodgates straight away and let it run free but instead let the horror out a little at a time. They gradually give me little teasers, clues that lead to evidence that in turn leads to a truth and I sit there, with a big smile on my face before my jaw drops after a revelation in the narrative.
Are there any problems then? Since the perfect game doesn't exist and The Quarry is nowhere near the perfect game, the answer to that question is yes. Both as a spiritual sequel to Until Dawn and judged as a standalone game, there are some things that are shaky. My biggest problem by far is the inability to fast forward or skip sequences I've already seen. This has always been a problem in games developed by Supermassive, and since The Quarry also has much longer scenes than previous titles, that problem becomes even greater here. The Quarry is generally a less playable game than Until Dawn, and I'm not referring to it being unplayable due to bugs or other technical issues, but simply due to the fact that there are fewer playable sequences. Where Until Dawn was full of mysteries that needed to be actively solved through interaction, The Quarry is more of a self-playing piano. There can be long periods where you as a player are more sucked into the story than actually being a part of it. It may sound negative like this in text format, but I found it more like the overall experience was better and the story stronger. You could say that if Until Dawn and The Quarry had actually been movies, the latter would have won by a long shot, as a game though, the former is slightly sharper.
We'll have to wait for the multiplayer until July 8, but you can already enjoy your stay at Hackett's Quarry with friends. Local co-op allows up to seven other players. You play as normal, but each player controls their own character, so when it's time for a particular player to play, you simply pass the controller on. There's also a movie mode that does just as the name suggests, playing The Quarry just like a movie. Here you let the chosen character make the choices and as a spectator you watch what unfolds on the screen, completely without the ability to intervene. A bit unclear to yours truly why you would want to watch a game play itself but who am I to judge. If there is a streaming drought, The Quarry is after all a better horror film than many you'll find on offer today and it's also between eight and ten hours long.
If you liked Supermassive's previous games, you'll enjoy The Quarry as well. It's undeniably more of the same but the developer has also honed its skills and developed its storytelling. Sure, some of the novelty is gone, it will never be like playing Until Dawn for the very first time but nothing lasts forever and there is no one who has mastered the genre better so if you are looking for an interactive adventure that delivers both nostalgia and spooks, then you will find it right here.
8 / 10
Stylish and atmospheric. Strong characters. Intriguing story. Local co-op. High replayability value.
The possibility to skip film sequences is missing.