Survival horror games have been going through something of a renaissance, and one developer at the forefront of this genre is Supermassive Games. From their successful 2015 release Until Dawn to The Dark Pictures Anthology, they’ve produced several dramatic story-based horror games. The Quarry is their latest release, riffing on the classic horror subgenre of summer camp gone terribly wrong.
The game begins with a thrilling opening; two camp counsellors, Max and Laura, are on their way to Camp Hackett to work as counsellors for the month. It’s not long before things go terribly wrong for these two. After this prologue, players fast forward to the last day of camp, where Max and Laura never showed up…
It’s here Counsellor Jacob sabotages the car (cough cough escape route) in order to spend one more night with his girlfriend. These actions, and many of the following choices, set off a chain of bloody consequences. The counsellors might not survive the night, but it’s up to you to decide.
Despite being similar in tone and style to Until Dawn, The Quarry’s rocky pacing, plot holes, and potential for flat endings will let down many gamers. It’s disappointing too, because there are moments of brilliance amidst an uneven game.
Like many narrative driven games, gameplay is driven by a series of Quick Time Events (QTEs). Press the buttons in the correct combinations and you’ll succeed at the action – although be warned, success is not always a guarantee of good outcomes. Sometimes you’ll need to restrain yourself or others from taking action.
You’ll often have the choice to run or hide, although the outcomes are often the same. Hiding brings up a breath holding QTE, which is relatively easy as long as your hand doesn’t slip off the controller. In Until Dawn, players had to hold the controller still, which was much more challenging, but could also pose accessibility issues. I’d suggest keeping the previous mechanic while providing a secondary option for accessibility to increase the challenge of the game.
Despite being a horror game, there’s a lot of walking around. There’s no capacity to run in The Quarry, making for some long stretches of walking through the environment in search of ever elusive clues, these shiny bright beacons in the dark. This can become a little tedious, especially if you’re replaying the game.
As you’re exploring, finding clues and tarot cards reveals more about the history of Hackett’s Quarry, and the supernatural mystery behind the game. Unfortunately, you can’t find all the clues in a single playthrough, but much of the backstory can be figured out, especially if you’re thorough in looking for the Tarot cards.
The Tarot card mechanic allows you to see potential future outcomes, much like the totem poles in Until Dawn. Whether these are good or bad… well. You can also choose not to view them at all. While the symbolism of tarot cards has been a common fixture in recent games, such as Persona 5 and Cyberpunk 2077, it makes sense to use it in this mystical horror story, and the tarot reader is certainly the best acted and animated character in the game.
One of the fun aspects of The Quarry is playing in couch co-op mode. You’re able to allocate characters to a player and pass the controller around accordingly. It was fun to see how another person’s choices affected my gameplay, and it’s something that is enjoyable if you have a few flatmates to share the terror with. Although, make the wrong choices, and one player’s success could lead to another’s death – and some awkwardness between friends.
The graphics are a mixed bag. Where some characters are well rendered, such as the Hag from Hackett’s Quarry, there are others that are equally odd to look at. Emma’s lips and facial expressions are hard to look at; whether she’s slipped over into the uncanny valley, or it’s a little off on the animation of Halston Sage, the voice actor for the game, I’m not sure.
Likewise, the water animations look like they’re from the early 2000s, and need additional rendering work, especially when characters are splashing around in the water.
Storytelling and narrative design of The Quarry
Spoiler alert: To fully review the game, I’ll need to discuss the ending, as this is where many of the issues lie. If you want to play the game before reading the review, my short answer would be to wait and purchase the game on sale. I have mixed feelings about The Quarry, and while it’s enjoyable enough, it’s not a game I would rush out to buy.
The Quarry is a symbolic name: it’s not just the location of Hackett’s Quarry, but the idea of hunting and being hunted. With the rising full moon present in the very opening of the game, the secret of the quarry is fairly well signposted.
Where Until Dawn kept me on the edge of my seat until late in the game what the big bad really was (and if there even was one), it’s fairly obvious to any horror fan that the full-moon only means one thing. Werewolves.
But this isn’t fluffy Jacob from Twilight. These are rabid, rubbery looking monsters, who bear less in common with wolves, and more with the vampires of I Am Legend or 28 Days Later.
There are eight playable characters in the game, which allows for a wide range of characters to root for (or hate). You’ll have your favourites – Kaitlyn and Dylan come to mind – and your less beloved characters – Abi and Nick – and then there will be the ones you downright want to destroy: Emma.
In fact, at the first available opportunity, our couch co-op session voted Emma should very much open a suspicious-looking trapdoor. And that was the end of that. Buh bye!
It’s not that the acting is bad here; it’s a problem with the writing. There was no nuance to Emma’s character, written as a down the line archetype of an influencer. Where other characters showed hidden depths through the story, Emma proved to be the nuisance she was, a narcissist narrating her life into her phone at every opportunity. I would have liked to see more of her insecurities a little earlier on, to make her an interesting character, if not a likeable one.
Using eight characters creates another underlying problem, although it’s not obvious at first. To experience the full arc of the game, ending and all, the game favours Laura, Travis, and Ryan. None of the character strands can be replaced by one another, so if you lose any of these characters before the final chapter, you’ll be left with a limp ending. More on that in a moment…
Writing and pacing
The dialogue is solid here, although could have been pared back, especially in the scenes in chapters two and seven. The snarky chats between characters felt real for me, although there was a little too much of it at points. It’s a hard line to toe between entertaining the player, character consistency, and maintaining the threat of a horror narrative. There are points later in the game where comedy diffuses the terror, and part of me wishes they’d pushed more into maintaining the tension than alleviating it.
Where it works best is in the scrapyard scene. It’s a pitch perfect example of maintaining tension and threat, and one of the few places I was on the edge of my seat button bashing to save my two favourite characters.
Chapter seven, where the fate of Laura and Max is revealed, lingers too long on explanations in the prison cells, deflating the tension that’s been so well wrought over previous chapters. It also provides us with one of The Quarry’s biggest plot holes.
Plot holes in the Quarry
There are a significantly large amount of plot holes in the Quarry. I’m normally someone who can let disbelief slide, but this level of denial is big, even for me. Why don’t the campers squeeze into Chris Hackett’s car at the start, to be whisked away to the hotel? Why are all the characters with significant wounds (i.e. amputated hands) still wandering around like nothing happened? On finding out that werewolves don’t like water, why oh why don’t the counsellors launch themselves into the myriad of boats down at the lake? And why, when Laura gets access to a computer with the internet, does she not EMAIL EVERYONE SHE KNOWS FOR HELP?
Ending of the Quarry
Any video game ending should still carry some measure of satisfaction, despite the choices made by the character, and regardless of who ends up surviving. There seem to be trophies for the extremes. Everyone dies. Everyone survives. Lovers are reunited. But the less extreme outcomes are where the endings fall over.
With Abi, Dylan, and Jacob all alive at the end of my game, there was no wrap up for them. The game ended with Kaitlyn’s unfortunate death in the lodge, and the only reaction was Dylan’s horrified face. Cut to: this is what happened to everyone, a kind of ‘you suck’ slap in the face. They should have simply thrown up a souls-like “You Died”.
Unfortunately, the satisfactory ending (I refuse to call things a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ending), rests almost entirely on your actions at the end of Chapter 9. This could have been fixed by having a moment where everyone who is still alive arrives at a certain point to have a final showdown. It would add a sense of completion for players, even if they don’t survive the ending.
Once you’ve finished the game, you’ll be met with the option to start a new game with the option for death rewinds, something that would have been quite helpful at several junctions where my fingers fumbled with the controller. You’ll also be able to access the chapter replay function, which I used to replay Chapters 9 and 10, to gather a greater understanding of the story I missed.
A massive missing feature is the ability to skip dialogue, which means the game has limited re-playability at present, unless you want to listen to everyone whine about Peanut Butter Butterpops again.
Despite its promises of a classic camp horror story, The Quarry doesn’t quite hit the mark. While I had an enjoyable enough time playing The Quarry, the uneven pacing and flat ending left me wanting. Time for some Peanut Butter Butterpops.