The creators of Until Dawn and The Dark Pictures try to perfect their interactive horror movie formula with a return to 80s cheese.
Before the release of Until Dawn in 2015, British developer Supermassive Games was best known for making family friendly shtick like LittleBigPlanet DLC and Doctor Who games. As a horror themed interactive movie, Until Dawn was a major change of direction. It was a successful one too, with the game exceeding Sony’s expectations and leading to a number of spin-offs.
A few years later, Sony and Supermassive had a falling out and instead of a direct sequel Supermassive went on to create the conceptually similar The Dark Pictures Anthology series. There are three so far but only the most recent one, House Of Ashes, has come close to fulfilling the potential of the concept. Several more are planned for the future but The Quarry is something different… sort of.
Although all five games work in a very similar way, with an emphasis on making those big decisions you always scream at horror movie characters for getting wrong, it is only The Quarry which Supermassive considers to be the spiritual sequel to Until Dawn. That’s primarily due to the tone, which is purposefully cheesier than The Dark Pictures, and in most cases more entertaining.
The term interactive movie doesn’t get used a lot nowadays, but it used to refer to a very specific kind of game with minimal interaction and little or no action gameplay. They were relatively common when full motion video was a new thing but quickly fell out of fashion and games like Her Story, which still uses pre-recorded film clips instead of interactive graphics, are the only real modern equivalent.
Games like Until Dawn and The Quarry aren’t much further along the same evolutionary path though, as while they feature (very good) 3D graphics and the illusion of being a standard third person adventure there’s very little agency except in very specific circumstances, and even then it’s usually just a dialogue choice or a QTE sequence.
To most action fans that’s going sound awful – it certainly did to us when Supermassive first started making these sort of games – but the presentation and horror premise manages to overcome, to a degree, the fact that most of the time you’re not doing anything other than listening to people talk. That’s more entertaining than it sounds when the tone is that of a cheesy 80s horror movie, rather than a more serious one, where the fact that the dialogue isn’t always razor sharp actually seems more authentic.
The set-up here is that a group of nine teenage counselors at an American summer camp have finished their stint and, being unable to get home straightaway, have organized a party instead. Everyone is a cliché or trope of some kind and you spend the opening few hours of the game getting to know them and making various decisions and dialogue choices that further define their personality and their attitude towards their fellow partygoers.
Although it’s clearly trying to build the tension, this goes on for a bit too long, but means that when the bodies do start to hit the floor you’ve got a clear picture of who deserves to have their face bitten off and why. As with Until Dawn, the game manages to incorporate several different styles of horror film, with both slasher and various supernatural elements mixing together successfully.
The way it flash between each style means you’re never quite sure what kind of movie logic you’re working under, so even if you’ve watched a ton of horror movies – as Supermassive clearly have – it’s surprisingly hard to predict what’s going to happen next. Especially as you end up playing all nine of the main characters at various points, as you try to keep track with who they are and their relationships with everyone else.
The graphics, especially the facial animation, really are fantastic and while the teenage cast is largely unknown to us (except for Justice Smith from Detective Pikachu), there’s also enjoyable turns from horror veterans such as Ted Raimi, Lance Henriksen, and David Arquette.
All the ingredients are there for a fun horror experience but there are a number of issues, new and old, that prevent it from transcending the Supermassive formula. The most obvious is that it’s still not remotely scary. The lack of interactivity means you’re not drawn into the game world the way you would be in a normal survival horror and while there is a lot more gore this time around – Until Dawn was barely PG rated most of the time – you’d have to possessed of a very nervous disposition to be frightening by the game.
That’s subjective but the other central problem is that there’s so little to actually do. Supermassive has toned down the QTEs so that they no longer come out of nowhere, and rarely determine key plot points, but the simplistic stealth and combat that accounts for the rest of the gameplay is so underdeveloped it might as well not be there.
If you want, it literally doesn’t have to be, as the game has a movie mode where you can play the whole thing as a linear narrative, which is an interesting technical and logistical achievement but nobody wants to watch an okay-ish horror movie for 10 hours and at the end of the day that’s all this.
The Quarry is notably less interactive than Until Dawn, to the point where you begin to wonder whether Supermassive wouldn’t just be happier making an actual movie instead.
One of the key appeals of the game is meant to be replaying it to see how different choices affect the story and the fate of the characters but the lack of interactivity makes this less compelling that it used to be simply because you have to sit through so many cut scenes with unskippable dialogue.
Until Dawn and its ilk are popular with non-gamers and streamers, who can pretend to be scared while those watching make suggestions on what to do next. It’s that phenomenon that The Quarry seems to have been primarily designed around, as while the multiplayer options that let multiple people play at once sounds good in theory the story is far too long-winded for that to be fun in normal social conditions – but it works great online.
There’s a rewind option that you unlock when you beat the game the first time (or which you get from the start if you buy the deluxe edition) to undo bad decisions but what the game really needed was a fast-forward button.
In some ways The Quarry is the best of Supermassive’s horror games and in some ways the worst. This really does look and feel like a real movie at times but the price of that is that it barely ever feels like a video game.
Some will appreciate what it’s trying to do but for anyone that wants the experience of being in your own horror film the best options are still either a darkened room and a copy of your favorite movie or a traditional video game with actual gameplay. Trying to create a midway point between those two experiences isn’t an entirely meritless pursuit but it still fails to equal either of them in terms of raw entertainment.
The Quarry review summary
In short: An impressive technical achievement and in the right conditions an entertaining movie experience, but it’s both a horror film that’s not scary and a video game that’s barely interactive.
Pros: The atmosphere and graphics are fantastic with some good, non-phoned in performances. Decent script and the branching narrative is handled well. Multiplayer is good in theory.
Cons: Less interactive than Until Dawn, with long stretches of game where you do nothing but watch – which apart from anything interferes with replayability. Not scary.
Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Developer: Supermassive Games
Release Date:10th June 2022
Age Rating: 18
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