The Quarry Review
A strong cast leads the way in another horror adventure
Some game developers consider themselves lucky when they manage to find something they are good at, and that fans enjoy. That's exactly what happened to Supermassive Games following the release of Until Dawn in 2015. The third-person, cinematic horror, choice-based narrative adventure, while it may be a mouthful, is exactly the type of experience that the team is now laser-focused on. So much so, that they've been using the formula frequently ever since, and this intro likely sounds familiar to fans who have checked out reviews for their recent The Dark Pictures anthology games. But those titles are meant for more of a bite-sized experience, and under a new publishing agreement with 2K, the studio is back with a bigger and lengthier effort with The Quarry.
The game transports players to Hackett's Quarry, a remote location in the woods of upstate New York. Laura and Max are driving up in the middle of the night because they have signed up to be counsellors at the local summer camp for kids, and decided to get there a day ahead of everyone else. However their night drive is interrupted by a dramatic encounter. The story then switches to the end of summer, as the kids leave camp and the group of teen counsellors wave goodbye. The group is supposed to depart as well, but in a desperate attempt to keep his summer fling going, Jacob sabotages their van. Chris Hackett is visibly distressed at this news, and begs the teens not to leave the camp for this one extra night that they are stranded, while he goes to get repair parts for the van. The teens expectedly ignore his instructions and decide to throw one last fire pit party. But their night quickly goes downhill as mysterious and dangerous events begin to take place under a full moon, and they are also being observed by an unknown group of hunters. Faced with certain danger and no way out, the group must survive as long as possible and try to escape, call for help, or at least fight back.
Supermassive Games have found their breakthrough success with Until Dawn in 2015, and they've continued to stick with their horror game formula. So if you've played that title or any of their recent efforts from The Dark Pictures Anthology, you will know very well what to expect here. However, what helps The Quarry stand out is its slightly longer 10-hour length, compared to the 3-hour bite sized Dark Pictures entries, that allows the setting to get a little more established before all hell breaks loose. It's also a story that remains engaging and interesting for its entire duration, not just because it's a solid teen survival thriller, but also thanks to a very strong cast and dialogue. Abi is a young shy artistic girl, Jacob is a buff man-child, Kaitlyn is a quick-witted sharp shooter, and Ryan is a headstrong-but-lacking-in-confidence guy. Emma plays the role of an airhead Internet influencer, and Dylan and Nick are sarcastic yet collected young men. Yes, it's all highly cliché at times and the characters play to their stereotypes, but it's a group that is extremely believable and relatable in their own ways, and the strongest cast that Supermassive have ever put together.
The real life actors who play and animate these characters, along with providing their likenesses to the roles, also do a great job. Brenda Song does great work as Kaitlyn, Siobhan Williams plays strong Laura well, Skyler Gisondohas has great deadpan delivery as Max, and Zach Tinker plays Jacob to a tee. Halston Sage as Emma captures the vapid character very well, and Miles Robbins brings a ton of charm to Dylan. Even the side cast is strong - David Arquette only appears briefly as Chris Hackett, but Ted Raimi plays Travis with menacing effect. Justice Smith as Ryan and Evan Evagora as Nick are probably the weakest performances, mostly due to their monotone delivery and lack of charisma, but the rest of the cast more than makes up for it.
But perhaps most importantly, The Quarry probably has the best written dialogue that the developers have ever put together mostly because it sounds natural. It doesn't sound like a script that actors are reading off the page, nor does it sound like something adults put together that they think teens talk like. It's actual conversations that you can believe and hear without constantly cringing. There are of course moments of teen drama and dumb jokes, but it all works surprisingly well.
With a strong story, The Quarry is likely already a worthwhile recommendation for many fans of choice-based horror adventure games such as this. This is good, because elsewhere, the experience remains a bit lacklustre, particularly in gameplay. Once again, if you've played the previous games from this developer, you know what to expect. The gameplay is split up between cinematic conversations, making choices, and moments where you have to engage in quick-time events, to react to the action and keep characters alive, with brief exploration sections where you can walk around and find clues and lore. Very little has changed in terms of mechanics or polish.
During the cinematic events, the QTE's have been simplified. The controller face buttons are no longer used – except for moments where you have to mash X during action. All of the quick reaction moments are now reliant upon flicking the analog stick in the indicated direction, making for some easy interactivity. This could be when a character is dodging an attack or jumping over obstacles, and so on. Another simplified mechanic is having to hold your breath when hiding from danger. During these moments you just hold X until the visual indicator is gone. There's no challenge or strategy here – a meter indicates how long you can hold, but obviously the danger will be gone before the time it runs out. The game suggests that there might be occasions where you can't hold to the very end as the threat may leave and then return, but this never seems to occur.
In the exploration sections, you can freely walk around a small area, to interact with certain items. There are no puzzles or anything, you're just finding items that could potentially come in handy later, or provide new clues to the full story. Gone is the element of manually picking up and rotating an item in your hands – it's just an animation now. Also gone is the pretty useful UI element from The Dark Pictures: House of Ashes that indicated when a specific interaction will cause the game to progress and force you to leave the area. Instead, what remains are the constant camera switches, between the fixed-angle view and the more recent traditional third person angle. The frequent changeups and the still-terrible third-person camera that follows far too close make for an often annoying exploration experience. The large letterboxing bars that hinder your view don't help either, during these exploration moments.
With the gameplay remaining serviceable – but underwhelming, and disappointedly not improved since the developer's last game – there are also issues with the choice mechanics. You will spend a lot of time just watching the story unfold – with the story being good, that's not as much of a problem as it could have been. But when it comes time to act, the QTE and exploration sections are not that frequent. Further, you will make a lot of dialogue choices that are said to impact the relationships between the characters, however it means nothing to the story or gameplay. Characters can hate each other, and it changes nothing beyond their immediate dialogue. In fact, this leads to a lot of stitched-together moments where an aggressive exchange is often followed by a “well, anyway” reset as the story rolls on. The game flows at its best when you are striving to keep everyone alive, and so the reactions make the most sense. But if you start to lose people, there's a certain air of apathy between the teens, and the feeling of developers wanting to get their story to the end, by any means.
All of this is to say that player choices matter little in this, other than the obvious stuff that changes if a character dies early on. The formula has clearly worked well for Supermassive thus far, but it's starting to wear out. There's even a host character again, that speaks to you during interludes and offers optional clues to see a glimpse of a possible future, if you find special Tarot cards hidden around the levels. She is well played by Grace Zabriskie, but again it's all a little too familiar. Even the choices presented are not particularly hard if you've played these games before – you have probably developed a pretty good gut feeling about how things will play out, when the developers are trying to trick you, and so on. The epilogue also feels a bit rushed – you get a few static screens on the status of each character, and then a podcast audio over the credits that goes over the evidence. It feels unsatisfying.
After beating the game, it's possible to jump back in using chapter select. However, this resets your progress for anything after the chapter you've selected, so you have to play the game again to completion. There is only one save file, and no manual saving at all, which is very inflexible and doesn't provide a quick and easy way to see how different decisions alter the outcome – maybe it's a mischievous design choice, given that choices don't matter as much as you'd hope. You also unlock a Death Rewind function, letting you revert back if you lose someone; however this feature is a bit bugged and can send you back multiple chapters.
If you somehow still find the QTE prompts too difficult, there are accessibility options to make the gameplay even more trivial. But maybe the most trivial option of all would be to jump into Movie Mode. In this mode, you simply watch the game happen as a non-interactive film. You can set it up as everyone surviving, dying, or manually defining the personality for each character to guide how they behave. It's an interesting option, trying to perhaps compete with people simply watching others complete the adventure on YouTube. This is also the only mode that offers a Gorefest setting that turns up the level of violence. If you want to enjoy the experience with others interactively, there is support for the couch co-op play, where you take turns controlling the different characters as the story progresses. Online play is also promised, but won't be released until later.
The Quarry also puts on a strong presentation. At times, under certain camera angles, lighting conditions, and when animations flow smoothly together, the game reaches new cinematic heights. Some character performances look rather incredible and make you forget for a moment that you're watching a video game. You are often brought back down to earth within the next scene or two, as the stiff animations and minor glitches arise, but the highs reach a new level for Supermassive. Still, elsewhere environments are sorely lacking in geometric and texture detail, and the game is far too dark on default settings, perhaps trying to hide that fact. There are also tutorial videos for the gameplay mechanics, which are weirdly off-putting cartoons that don't fit the atmosphere or style of the game at all. In performance, the frame rate is steady on PS5, and there were no bugs – except for one item that could not be interacted with during exploration. The sound design is subdued but effective, and there is a notable presence of song clips thrown into every chapter, akin to Life is Strange - to varying degrees of success.
The Quarry is a bit of a crossroads situation for developer Supermassive Games. On the one hand, this is their best cast and story since Until Dawn, possibly surpassing it in some ways. It's got some great cinematic visual moments, and very realistic and immersive dialogue. On the other hand, very few improvements have been made to the gameplay formula that is growing more stale with each new iteration. If this is the way things are, then at least improvements must be made to things like bad camera and lack of meaningful choices – particularly when it's a full price release. If you've enjoyed the almost yearly adventures that the studio has been putting out until now, The Quarry is another strong effort – especially if you value the story and characters above the meandering gameplay mechanics.