Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn was an exceptional horror experience that cut deep with narrative choice, allowing the player to determine which teenagers survived a night of hell. The developer’s follow-up, The Dark Pictures Anthology, delivered plenty of scares to run from, but scaled back the number of choices and was a huge step back. The studio’s latest game, The Quarry, again places decision-making in the spotlight. This design pays off handsomely in a game loaded with shocking twists and turns, and a spiderweb of paths leading to 186 potential endings. Even though The Quarry is technically a spiritual successor to Until Dawn, this is the sequel we’ve been dying to play.
The setting screams of a love letter to horror cinema. The final day of summer camp at Hackett’s Quarry is supposed to be about tearful goodbyes between friends and flings, but a broken-down van gives the teenage counselors one more day to party together without worrying about the kids. Supermassive uses this booze-filled bonfire moment to establish relationships, taking the time to get to know each counselor while giving the player the chance to define how they act through meaningful input.
A wonderful licensed soundtrack enhances the emotional movements
Conversations between two characters are frequently interrupted to give the player two lines of thinking – such as “assertive” or “apologetic” – to determine what happens next. Relationships are strengthened or weakened depending on the response, and they could lead to dramatic tonal shifts that create alternative narrative paths. Environment exploration and a few brief shooting sequences also bring different outcomes and are enjoyable in their own right.
Supermassive does an excellent job of telling you when you’ve moved the story in another direction, but some decisions are too vague and can lead to unexpected results and perhaps even a counselor’s death. Halfway through the game, I was faced with a choice to open a trap door or grab a bag – both giving little context of what might happen – and one of those decisions led to a character becoming a midnight snack.
Supermassive knows that some choices are coin flips and has baked in a silly “use a life” system to undo them within the special edition (which I played) and for additional playthroughs. For the entire game, you get three lives, which are three too many, as the most vital element of Supermassive’s horror series is making choices and living with their consequences. The life system steals some of the intensity and will likely lead to more players having better outcomes at game’s end. One of my favorite questions I asked people after playing Until Dawn was, “How many survived?” The answers were all over the map. I recommend playing the standard edition (which gives you just one life), or ignoring the lives to truly see how your choices play out.
QTEs deliver potential fail points in action sequences but are telegraphed far too long and are a sinch to complete. They are shockingly ineffective and slow the frantic sequences down at critical moments. There isn’t much action out of these button presses, an element of play that is subtly scaled back compared to Until Dawn. For instance, you won’t encounter as many “run” or “hide” moments or environmental interactions that change your character’s path.
Supermassive has made The Quarry more of a cinematic experience than an interactive one. The lack of control is a little disappointing but keeping the teenagers alive mainly through decisions – of which there is a slew of them – was more than enough to keep me going. Like Until Dawn, I anticipate jumping back in for a second, third, and who knows how many playthroughs to see the different branching paths and conclusions (even if many are just text). Some characters can die early on, and I’m curious where the narrative goes without them along for the ride.
I won’t spoil who or what is after the teenagers, but the survival aspect is thrilling, and figuring out what is truly happening is one of the game’s better hooks. The best part, however, is the counselors. Every character is interesting in their own way, and you get to know them well. Their relationships and ambitions are at the heart of most choices and often conflict with those of other characters. I would often sit and think about how a specific decision may affect someone else at camp.
The story moves at a decent clip and goes to exciting places, yet it can be a headscratcher in logic and clarity. You’ll want to scream at the characters on screen for not doing obvious things, but I suppose that’s a teenage slasher-flick staple and may be by design. You just have to turn off your brain and let the little details go. A character with a life-threatening wound acts like he’s perfectly fine, but that’s how it goes in The Quarry. It’s cheesy, entirely unbelievable, but above all, fun to laugh at as you cheer the characters on.
The teenagers are all flawed and endearing in their unique ways. Supermassive has always assembled great casts, including Academy Award winner Rami Malek in Until Dawn, and that again rings true in The Quarry. The biggest names on the bill are David Arquette and Ted Raimi, but the younger ensemble steals the show. Evan Evagora, Siobhan Williams, Ariel Winter, Justice Smith, and Halston Sage nail their performances, making you want to do everything you can to keep them out of harm’s way one second and then strangle them the next.
Their banter is quite good, and their relationships develop to the point that you can think for the characters and help them grow. Supermassive’s art team also deserves props for bringing their likenesses to life with a frightening degree of realism, capturing little emotions that can hold a character’s true intent for a split second. The darkly lit and nicely designed environments also help to up the tension and give the game a truly cinematic feel. Supermassive even included a movie mode that allows you to put the controller down to sit back and watch randomized decisions play out.
For the core game, I wish more of the action was in the hands of the player, but I can’t deny how enthralling the choices are, especially when they lead to absolute chaos. Once the frantic running through the woods begins, the dark mysteries and thrill of keeping people alive are powerful hooks that will keep you glued in suspense until the credits roll.
Published at Wed, 08 Jun 2022 13:00:00 +0000