Confession: I’ve only played The Quarry twice at night. Mostly, I play the game in the day. Sure, I’ve tried playing it at night, but every so often, the creep factor ratchets up a bit too high for my fraidy-cat sensibilities, so I just shut it down and wait till I can play the game in the day.
This is a testament to the understated brilliance of The Quarry, the latest title from Supermassive Games. Back in 2015, Supermassive delivered a unique horror video game experience in Until Dawn, and seven years later, The Quarry is meant to be a somewhat spiritual successor. It’s equal parts film experience and video game, a uniquely challenging balance to maintain for its entire runtime.
We speak of The Quarry in “runtime” terms because of how much if teeters toward the film side of things. Yes, this is a video game, but no, it’s not the kind where you feel tremendous agency. You’re “responsible” for the lives of the nine camp counsellors you’ll eventually control, but you only make select decisions and choices for them, via dialogue options, light exploration, and a unique way of “interrupting” the actions they’re already making to change the course of the story.
You’ll guide all of them through one night in Hackett’s Quarry in upstate New York, a setting that seems fine in the day, less so at night. And very early on, the game makes it clear that you’re being watched by some sort of presence; just minutes in, you can feel the chills. Not that the direction of the story winds up wholly predictable; Supermassive understands the horror movie genre and coolly misdirects you, playing in different sandboxes that keep your mind off-balance. It’s satisfying and well-directed, and most of the acting, done by a star-studded cast (David Arquette, Brenda Song, and Ariel Winter among them) is terrific.
We’ve seen titles with these characteristics before: Beyond: Two Souls, Heavy Rain, and the aforementioned Until Dawn among them. The Quarry feels different than all that’s come before. With The Quarry, Supermassive seems intensely focused on crafting a focused narrative, and that shines through from beginning to end. There’s a self-awareness to the story that isn’t unlike the latest Scream film, that knows you’ve already experienced plenty of scares in horror films and games like this. So it needs to give you something different.
To that end, plenty of the characters you control seem familiar with scary movies, even mentioned them in dialogue. Heck, David Arquette is in here, cast as the head counsellor. Supermassive knows how to keep your mind off-balance, keep you guessing and enjoying the journey.
Very often, though, you’ll feel like a passenger on this journey, because this game hews much closer to movie than video game. There’s less exploration in this game, and less chance to frivolously explore an area. These were strengths of Until Dawn, but The Quarry pulls them back, keeping you more focused on the journey it wants you on. In many junctures, you can go minutes without needing to press a button at all, essentially kicking back and watching The Quarry play itself out. This isn’t bad, but if you’ve come from, say, The Evil Within or Resident Evil, it does take some getting used to.
If you view this as a movie, though, one in which you play a tiny but critical part, then, it’s fun. Through this lens, The Quarry is a thrilling ride, one that very much understands its genre and its source material. Supermassive seems to want you to view this as a movie, too, right down the game’s Movie Mode, which strips away the decision-making entirely and lets you “watch” entire game from start to finish. I highly recommend playing through the game in its entirety and then watching this, just to see how Supermassive saw its title playing out.
In the end, The Quarry winds up being a spectacular video game love letter to horror movies, and to the horror gaming genre. And it’s a reminder that video games don’t need you to control everything to create a fun, enjoyable atmosphere.
Just don’t play it in the dark.
4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed on Razer Blade 15
Available on Xbox platforms, PlayStation platforms, PC – New York Daily News/Tribune News Service