The DeanBeat: The wonderful tropes of horror in The Quarry
Interested in learning what’s next for the gaming industry? Join gaming executives to discuss emerging parts of the industry this October at GamesBeat Summit Next. Learn more.
Supermassive Games‘ The Quarry is another one of those wonderful interactive movie horror games that drive you mad with choices as you try to make the right decisions to save a group of teenagers at a summer camp.
The creators have come a long way in the past seven years with five horror titles since 2015’s Until Dawn. I was predisposed to like The Quarry, which was published by 2K and feels almost like a remake of 2015’s Until Dawn because that title was my favorite game of that year.
This time, the Supermassive Games team stole a setting from itself, as The Quarry’s summer camp setting with a lodge full of teenagers isn’t so different from its original interactive horror game Until Dawn. In that way, The Quarry is kind of a redo of Until Dawn.
The Until Dawn formula
In the 2015 story, eight young adult friends are trapped on a remote mountain getaway after they find that a killer is loose among them. Your job as the player is to make snap life-or-death decisions and save as many of them as you can as dawn approaches.
But the multiple games that followed the successful Until Dawn until The Quarry were much more than just horror stories. They were morality plays, where you had to make decisions about who to save and who to let die. You had to pay attention to the relationships between characters, like whether they should fall in love or not. It made you feel like you were playing god.
At least until you lost a character for no fricking reason other than you turned right when you should have turned left. You have to mash the controls or move the controller left or right quickly to make the right decision to save your character.
The thing that becomes hard to predict in these games is the theory of the “Butterfly Effect,” or the chaos theory idea that suggests a small change in a system’s initial conditions can result in huge variations in a later state. The name was coined by Edward Lorenz, and it comes from an example where the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can cause subtle changes that affect the path of a hurricane weeks later.
In the series, your smallest and biggest decisions can affect the outcome of the evening and who will survive. With the Dark Pictures Anthology, Supermassive added a creepy and smug narrator tell you what you did wrong or give you a hint on how to do better. Despite those tips, seemingly trivial choices still mean the difference between survival and death. After playing five different games over seven years, some players might be forgiven for getting tired of the formula, as fresh as it was at the beginning.
As sophisticated as this is with so many outcomes possible, you can’t master your fate because you’re in control of dumb teenagers who are going to make the worst decisions ever, giving you frequent no-win options between two terrible paths.
Editor’s note: This story has spoilers.
The horror, the horror
Fortunately, The Quarry has benefited from all of the improvements. The mechanics and design have evolved enough to the point where they fade into the background, and then the quality of the story and the interaction of the characters come into the foreground, much like when you’re watching a horror movie.
We have a familiar narrator in the form of the Hag of Hackett’s Quarry, a ghostly woman who is a fortune teller and Tarot card reader. You have to find Tarot cards while exploring The Quarry to return to the woman in between chapters and get a premonition of what might happen later in the story.
This helps your survive, and so does a new mechanic. If one of your characters dies, you can use a “death rewind,” which rewinds the game to the start of the chapter and then you get the chance to make different decisions and save the character. You get three of these and it saves you from having the start the entire game over if your goal is to save everybody in the game.
Nine teenagers serve as counselors at the summer camp at Hackett’s Quarry. But in the prologue, we see why two of those counselors go missing as they arrive at camp on the night of a full moon. The Hag — named Eliza Vorez — (voice acted by Grace Zabriskie) makes her appearance in a spooky old circus setting and tells you she will be your guide.
The first chapter fast forwards to the end of the summer camp, when the remaining counselors are about to leave. One of them wants a shot at saving a relationship and sabotages the departure, making them stay one more night. The camp owner, Chris Hackett, freaks out about this without explanation and warns them to lock themselves inside as he flees.
The teens (who Rachel Kaser aptly noticed are played by 20-something actors) don’t seem to freak out as much about this freak out, and that’s our first clue that this is a horror game where people are oblivious to their impending deaths. Instead, they start preparing for a grand going-away party. Yes, that’s a trope, as we spectator/players know that they’re all going to die at this party in some kind of blaze of glory. We get glimpses of doom with some human hunters and strange creatures moving in the night.
Then the teens start pairing off and going into the woods and campsite to get party goods. This is where we see the relationships develop between characters like uncertain Nick (Evan Evagora) and the overly timid Abi (Ariel Winter). While they were digging each other, I was freaking out about every turn I made potentially leading to death and dismemberment. All their talk of possible “bears in the woods” foreshadows disaster. And, of course, the trumpeted moment comes as creatures strike.
The 3D rendering of the characters was pretty awesome, as each digital human gets close to surpassing the “uncanny valley,” or the long-held idea that the more animators try to create realistic human faces, the more unsettling they become to viewers. Supermassive also made improvements in navigating through the 3D space, though I wouldn’t say it’s perfect yet.
In my first playthrough, I had some controller “malfunctions” where I really meant to go left when I wanted to go right. This led to some bad outcomes for my characters. I also accidentally breathed at one point when I was supposed to be holding my breath, resulting in a beheading.
What you’ll like
What the game came down to for me was whether I liked the characters or not. Kaitlyn Ka (voice acted by Brenda Song) had a nice and humorous rapport with Dylan (Miles Robbins). And they grew from obnoxious teens into survivors as the night progressed. Kaitlyn turned some tropes on their head by being the one who was an expert shotgun shooter, and I liked that.
Laura was one of the most interesting characters of all, as she was clearly “the fool” in the first Tarot card that you find, doing all of the dumb things that triggered the whole tragic affair. She goes missing in the prologue but returns later in the game as a badass, a huntress who is armed and has a pirate patch over a missing eye. Somehow during the time she was missing she evolves from a great victim to a vengeful Lara Croft chasing down the bad things. The backstory that fills us in shows us how Laura, and not her boyfriend, can save the day. And she makes one of the most unexpected of alliances in the game.
I also thought that Ryan was a nerdy character who came into his own. And you like to see some arcs for these characters, even if that doesn’t save them in the end. I had a laughable self-aware moment in the game — you’ll encounter many, like when the teens refer to themselves being inside a horror film — when someone says, “You fucker” to Ryan, and he replies in the not-so-witty way, “You’re a fucker.”
I was most annoyed with the self-centered couple that wasn’t a couple, Jacob (Zach Tinker) and Emma (Halston Sage). These were the bickering characters who most “deserved” to get killed because they were so obnoxious and self-absorbed — yet another trope of horror. It’s been hard having no phone during the two months of the camp, but on her last night she almost certainly dooms herself by finding her phone and streaming her final night. But the game turned the trope on its head with Emma, in particular, showing that she could survive and outwit her pursuer just when you thought she was about to be toast.
What I tried to engineer in my god-like control of the game was to put together the characters who could have a tender moment among the madness of teenage hormonal rages.
All of this made it all the more emotional for me when I either saved or lost characters, and it triggered me to play again hoping for a better outcome. That’s the best thing about the Supermassive games (just like the Quantic Dream games): they’re so replayable.
What you won’t like
I encountered plenty of moments when I thought the situation had way too much blood, and then in the next scene I saw even more blood. Those are the moments when you remember this is not a fine Shakespearean drama but is instead a campy horror game.
I certainly didn’t like it when I lost some characters. And it often seemed way too random. You can lose Nick if you don’t actually recognize that it’s Nick who has been transformed into something else. I considered that to be very unfair.
But what drove me nuts was a situation where I was supposed to liberate a character from a cage while at the same time keeping a predator in an adjacent cell caged. I had to choose which door to power with electricity among a bunch of doors. And I lost three of my lives and spent my “death rewinds” trying to get the right combination of door openings. I was quite steamed about that kind of random death. I mean, I’m OK with losing a character over some selfless sacrifice, but I don’t want to lose one because I pushed the wrong damn button.
I found a few moments unbelievable as well, like when a character loses a hand and acts like it’s just a flesh wound. I also think that Constance (Lin Shaye) was an awesome villainous matriarch and it was crime that she had so little air time.
You might conclude that the guys are the dumbest and the women are clever. But I liked how the characters had unexpected traits even though they were embedded in a story with a bunch of tropes. Supermassive surprises you that way with outcomes you don’t expect.
I’d rate this game a four out of five. While I love the formula Supermassive has created, I don’t think they have quite perfected it yet. But just as they’re closing in on the uncanny valley, they are also closing in on the perfect horror game.
I played the game on the PC. 2K games gave me a code to play for the purpose of the review.
GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it. Learn more about membership.