Let’s get this out of the way up top: The Quarry, the new “playable horror movie” from Supermassive Games, is the studio’s best game since 2015's Until Dawn—and it might, in fact, even surpass that blood-soaked streaming favorite in terms of focus and sheer, shocking nastiness.
More to the point: Fans of Supermassive’s first big hit, who maybe found themselves disappointed by the studio’s last three stabs at this genre—the budget-length, budget-priced, budget-quality Dark Pictures Anthology series—can probably stop reading right here: The Quarry scratches the UD itch in ways the Dark Pictures games never managed, sending a massive cast of intermittently likable (but mostly well-acted) teenagers through a night of hell with confidence and style.
Like all those aforementioned exercises in digital horror, The Quarry bounces players between its horde of protagonists with regularity, tasking them with a mixture of exploration, decision-making, and stick-flicking, button-mashing quick-time events that all come together to determine whether its buffet of movie murder-meat teens makes it through the night. But where the Dark Pictures games constrained themselves to tiny casts and tiny locales, The Quarry is as expansive as the fondly remembered Dawn; across the 10 or so hours it takes to play through a single iteration of its story, you’ll see every portion of the titular Hackett’s Quarry and its attached summer camp, and, more importantly, you’ll spend time with a cast of characters that come off as lively, if not necessarily fully three-dimensional. (This is horror, of a decidedly un-elevated flavor, after all.)
It would be difficult to underscore how important The Quarry’s uptick in acting quality and presentation—both the voice performances, and especially the game’s facial animation and motion capture—are to maintaining the sense that you’re really piloting a horror movie here. Old hands like Lance Henriksen and Lin Shaye acquit themselves well, of course, and Ted Raimi and Twin Peaks’ Grace Zabriskie both get to give creepshow performances of genuinely unsettling effect. But the younger cast holds its own, too, especially Siobhan Williams, Justice Smith, and Halston Sage, who all manage to find that much-needed humanity that keeps a roster of potential horror victims from feeling purely disposable. And thanks to the animation, everybody reads like actual human beings—increasingly scared, wounded, and fucked-up human beings—in a way that the simplistic animation of the DPA games couldn’t convey. It matters, in that precious “give a fuck whether they live or die” sense that makes good horror work.
The premise is B-movie simple, B-movie effective: Horny/mopey camp counselors engineer an extra night of summer camp for themselves; flirtation, party games, and elaborate dismemberment ensue. As the night progresses, your ostensible heroes are forced through the ringer of multiple horror genres—although The Quarry is a bit more focused on its particular “rural monstrosities” milieu, rather than the grab-bag of ideas that powered the different chapters of Until Dawn. (No sudden veer into Saw-esque murder puzzles here.)
So: We’ve got a good horror cast, and a good horror premise. What could go wrong? Well, to talk about that, we’re going to have to poke at a sacred text or two. Because where The Quarry has flaws, they’re ones that have largely been inherited from its parent material; that is, things that were Not Great about Until Dawn (for all its many merits), and which have persisted in their Not Greatness throughout the studio’s titles, mini-sized or not.
The biggest of these issues, hands down, remains the game’s approach to exploration, which works determinedly at odds to the game’s top-in-class sense of tension. Every once in a while, The Quarry will let your character loose in an environment, allowing you to walk (veeeeery slowly) around a haunted building or haunted woods or haunted gulch or whatever, picking up clues about the curse plaguing Hackett’s Quarry. As a break from the game’s sometimes relentless pacing, these sequences are mostly fine. But the real issue comes with the way they end: You arbitrarily examine some random object or cross some invisible line and BAM, exploration sequence is over—regardless of whether you were done looking around the locale. The result is to create a “horror movie” in which completion-minded characters do everything they can not to advance the plot, instead walking into random corners in the hopes of finding a crumpled-up piece of paper or a mysterious tarot card, before running straight into the jaws of another deadly event flag.
That arbitrariness flies in the face of the game’s adopted structure: A massive tree of branching scenes extending out from a series of core decision points. Finding “the game” in The Quarry—as opposed to just consuming it like a 10-hour horror movie (which you can also totally do, through a new Movie Night mode that lets you pick some desired outcomes or character traits and then see how they play out sans player input)—is in learning to understand the cause-and-effect relationships that shape that tree. Every time the game abruptly cuts you off from your digging, it feels like a middle finger to the player, for having the gall to actually be interested in the clues and mysteries it constantly dangles in their faces. It’s all made harsher by the fact that, just like Until Dawn, the game saves every time you make a choice or trigger a transition; a new “Death Rewind” feature gives you a limited chance to undo especially fatal decisions, but not so much for “didn’t get to explore the whole building-itis.”
Of course, you could always just play through the game again, checking different corners, making different choices—if The Quarry weren’t so strangely hostile toward the concept of being replayed. The biggest issue is the inability to skip forward through the game’s hours upon hours of dialogue, even on replay. Instead, expect to suffer through “witty” back and forths and awkward flirtations that were just this side of charming the first time you heard them, but which grate with increasing power the more times you revisit a chapter to try to re-jigger an interesting outcome. (This reaches its apex of annoyance when you hit the game’s ending credits, which play out an unskippable several minutes-long fake podcast detailing all the “evidence” you collected while playing; it’s like being rewarded for running a marathon by being forced to listen to a co-worker’s improv team do a set.)
The sense, really, is that the game is not meant to be replayed at all, so much as re-experienced through another’s eyes—either by watching a streamer play it, hitting different outcomes as they go, or by swapping “Wait, you didn’t see Travis do that? Oh my god!” stories with your friends. (In that sense, you could argue that the review environment for the game exists outside its intended play experience entirely; nothing kills the sense of swapping urban legends and ghost stories quite like a strict spoiler embargo.)
Let’s be clear, though: These issues are annoyances (albeit annoyances strong enough to drop us out of “unambiguous rave” mode and into something a little more reserved). There aren’t so many really good interactive horror games like this that we can safely damn something great for not being perfect. Even if The Quarry sometimes exposes deeper artistic flaws—it is, for instance, surprisingly narratively unambitious, skipping over its few genuinely interesting ideas about toxic masculinity and possessiveness in favor of more “Oh god it’s a monster run”—its worth as an engine of anxious thrills is undeniable, and the sense of that first playthrough into the unknown is exquisite. There’s nothing quite like that feeling of hyper-focused vigilance that comes from guiding a character through the woods or a monster-filled basement, eyes glued to the screen for the next QTE or critical decision point, hands sweating because a single slip-up might mean another gory death.
In a sense, Supermassive’s games are akin to old-school puzzles games, albeit ones in which the primary puzzle is not “Do you understand how to use object A on person B?” but “Do you know how to keep your ass alive in a horror movie, smarty pants?” They’re catnip for everyone who’s ever dreamed about being Jamie Kennedy in Scream, asserting their confidently encyclopedic knowledge of the rules of surviving horror. Nobody does it better—and even Supermassive has sometimes done it worse. The Quarry is a welcome return to form, then, for the studio that created one of the most interesting and entertaining horror games of all time.