In recent years, it’s fair to say that British developer Supermassive Games has become synonymous with the best narrative-based horror videogames out there. It all started with 2015’s Until Dawn, but has since continued with entries into the developer’s The Dark Pictures Anthology in 2019, 2020, and 2021. As someone partial to a jump-scare, and a huge fan of interactive narrative experiences (where your choices really matter), I was beyond excited to jump into The Quarry. Going into the game fresh from an Until Dawn playthrough (where I once again failed to save everyone), I had high hopes that my horror street smarts would help me through what I expected to be a captivating experience. I am pleased to share that, despite a few technical issues and some aspirational mechanics that fall short, The Quarry is a truly excellent game that I can’t recommend enough.
The Quarry, in a similar way to its’ spiritual predecessors, puts the player in control of nine twenty-somethings as they travel to the idyllic Hackett’s Quarry Summer Camp for two months of fun in the sun. For the most part, they get their Wet Hot American Summer, but (as you might imagine) not everything is as it seems. Before I continue, I will say now that the following review of The Quarry will contain light plot spoilers for the early chapters of the game. I’m not going to give away any of the big twists, but the set-up is an important part of what makes this game brilliant.
The opening sections of The Quarry’s narrative excellently set the tone for the remainder of the game, introducing the story’s supernatural elements early and evoking a tense atmosphere that pulls you into the narrative, instantly connecting you with the characters.
While the bulk of The Quarry takes place the night after Hackett’s Quarry Summer Camp has ended, the prologue actually takes place two months earlier on the night before the camp begins. In this section, players follow Laura (portrayed by Siobhan Williams) and Max (portrayed by Skyler Gisondo) as they make their way to Hackett’s Quarry Summer Camp a day early to get the lay of the land.
Williams and Gisondo offer up excellent performances, both in this prologue and throughout (if they survive, of course), and act as the perfect introduction to the sheer quality of The Quarry. The character models are truly superb, the animations are brilliant, and the cinematic direction of each scene is impressive – all of which helps you sink further into the narrative unfolding before you. However, I wasn’t truly convinced that this was going to be a narrative step forward from Until Dawn and The Dark Pictures Anthology until Ted Raimi’s Sheriff entered the scene (which thankfully, didn’t take very long).
Raimi puts absolutely everything into his role in The Quarry, producing what is easily one of the best videogame acting performances I have seen in some time. That isn’t to say that the rest of the cast isn’t exceptional, though, with Ariel Winter (Abigail), Zach Tinker (Jacob), and Evan Evagora (Nick) just some of the actors producing fantastic performances for this game. It’s just that Raimi really raises the bar with his performance here.
However, it’s hard not to admit that he’s aided by his character. The Sheriff is just one of several compelling characters in The Quarry. Much like Until Dawn and the Dark Pictures games, there isn’t one bad controllable character. You instantly care about all the characters you’re playing as in The Quarry, something I still can’t say for Until Dawn all these years later, and they crucially feel like real people. Of course, there are some archetypes present on the surface – the wise-cracking jock, the quiet loner, the motherly figure of the group – but all of these are quickly dissolved and reveal fully fleshed out, three-dimensional characters with pre-established relationships that change dynamically depending on your decisions. They’ve only spent two months at a summer camp together, so these are far from unbreakable friendships yet.
That’s what makes this a more compelling narrative from Supermassive Games compared to what we’ve seen in the past. These characters are still finding their feet with one another. They’re still working out where they stand with each other and it keeps everything a little less predictable. You’re choosing the comments they make, but you never quite know how a character is going to react to them. Not everyone can take a joke in The Quarry.
Of course, as you’d expect, there’s more to the narrative of The Quarry than the drama between the main cast of camp counsellors – but, I won’t spoil that. The supernatural elements of the narrative tie into the other storylines well, but there isn’t as much mystery around them. It doesn’t take very long to clock onto what’s going on. However, while this initially left the impression that The Quarry was a predictable narrative, I actually found it quite liberating. I didn’t need to focus my attention on working out the overarching narrative beats and piecing together the clues. The Quarry isn’t as stressful as Supermassive Games’ other horror games and it’s better for it.
Looking back at some of the more decisive moments throughout the story, and exploring the different pathways available, I found myself surprised at the sheer depth of different options available for players to experience. As you might imagine, there are some fixed points in the narrative, but the details of these moments and the minutiae of what happens in these situations can change. Each narrative pathway in The Quarry is represented in the menu by a retro-styled video tape and, provided you make a few different choices along the way, it feels as though it would be hard to have two similar playthroughs in a row.
Beyond the advancements in storytelling, Supermassive Games also builds on the gameplay mechanics we’ve seen from its’ horror games in the past to create an experience that is more rewarding for players, but just as brutal in its punishments.
The ‘Don’t Breathe’ mechanic has replaced the ‘Don’t Move’ mechanic you may remember from Until Dawn and I, for one, am thankful for it. Rather than having these intense stand-off moments dictated by questionable motion controls, players now just have to hold a button while the character is holding their breath. In these moments, it’s all about timing – not how still you can sit – which makes them a much more rewarding experience. If you fail a ‘Don’t Breathe’ section, you don’t feel cheated out of it – you made the decision to make a run for it. When you succeed, you feel as though you’ve outsmarted your assailant. It’s a minor change in reality, but gives the player much more agency in situations where it could easily be removed.
In addition to this, the Tarot Card system in play is another fantastic instance of Supermassive Games giving the player more agency over controlling the narrative. In a similar fashion to Until Dawn’s Totems, Tarot Cards in The Quarry are collectibles that offer the player the opportunity to reveal a prophetic vision about events that could come to pass later in your playthrough. They’re a warning system that can inform future decisions and, with any luck, keep characters alive. Interestingly, you have to wait until a chapter break to find out what they have to offer and you’re only allowed to choose one from the chapter you’ve just finished to look at. A lot of the time, I found myself only having one to look at anyway, but when I found multiple Tarot Cards it made for an interesting decision and, for better or worse, they influenced my decisions in-game.
One gameplay change that I didn’t think worked, though, was the gunplay – a frustratingly important part of the game if you want to keep your camp counsellors alive. The shooting mechanic in The Quarry is a lot more freeing than what we’ve seen from Supermassive Games in the past. You’re still fixed on the spot, but you’re given full control of aiming and timing your shots – it isn’t another quick-time event. On paper, this is a fantastic development on another established mechanic that only gives you as a player more control, with all the highs and lows that it offers. However, in practice, it’s a mechanic that needs a bit of refinement.
Before you’re let loose with your first firearm, there’s a cartoon-styled infomercial explaining how the new mechanic works – much like with everything else. It highlights the fact that, due to the spread of the shell, distance from your target is as important as accuracy. However, what it fails to mention is that successful shots in The Quarry only seem to register if you hit the centre of mass at a certain distance. From my experience, I found that the window for success in these moments was far too small and (a lot of the time) missing a shot was the cause of a camp counsellor’s demise.
However, The Quarry doesn’t punish players quite as much as you might think from what I’ve said. Supermassive Games has introduced a three-life system to the whole experience, something that allows players to replay the moments before a character’s death in an attempt to keep them alive. While playing, I found that I had used my three lives a lot earlier than expected, which meant I still ended up with several fatal casualties by the time the credits rolled. However, there were moments in the story where characters were found in deadly situations due to decisions I had made quite a bit earlier in the game. So, it’s worth noting that even if you have a couple of lives spare, no one is safe from Death’s cold touch.
But, despite the reactionary frustration of having a character die in a situation created by decisions I had made a good hour before, it made The Quarry exciting and unpredictable – in places. The bones of the story are laid out early and it doesn’t take you long to throw together a skeleton of a narrative. However, the meat on those bones – the details of what happens and how you reach the anticipated conclusions – that’s up to you.
It is important to note that, despite the impressive graphics and smooth gameplay, there were some technical issues during my playthrough that you may want to keep an eye out for – or, should I say, an ear. In several instances throughout my playthrough, there was a dissonance between the sounds of a scene and the visuals on-screen. In some cases, this was delayed sound. In others, there was no speech but the other sounds matched up. While playing, I put this down to playing the game on PC with hardware that falls short of the recommended settings – and, it wasn’t tough to fix. Most of the time I just had to pause my game and the most drastic action I took was saving, quitting, and reloading my save – I never once had to actually close the game. These technical issues were an annoyance at times, sure, but they’re fixable and weren’t an impediment to the whole experience.
Without a doubt, The Quarry is the best interactive horror experience Supermassive Games has shipped to date. If you’re a fan of this type of game, or the horror genre in general, you’ll love what’s on offer. It evokes the atmosphere of a cult 80s horror classic, despite the contemporary setting, and it gives you as a player more agency than comparable games that have come before – if you want it, anyway.
Whether you’re wanting to play this alone, with your friends in couch co-op, or you don’t actually want to play it all (thanks to the game’s ‘Movie’ mode), you’ll enjoy your time at Hackett’s Quarry Summer Camp. What doesn’t kill you might make you stronger, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to keep everyone alive – and that’s the beauty of it.
The Quarry (PC)
The Quarry is a wonderfully atmospheric interactive horror game that offers up some of the best acting performances in the medium today. The rich, intertwining narratives deliver an incredible story that you will want to keep going back to – especially if you don’t save everyone.