The Quarry: The Kotaku Australia Review

The Quarry: The Kotaku Australia Review

I genuinely think The Quarry is one of the year’s best games, a recommendation that comes with a single, strong qualifier: that you play it with a group of friends as a couch co-op experience.

Image: Supermassive Games

Quarry by name, and by nature

The Quarry is a survival horror/choose-your-own-adventure game by Supermassive Games. The summer is ending and councillors of Hackett’s Quarry Summer Camp are finishing up for the year. The group has been short-staffed over the summer due to a pair of counsellors that failed to show up, and they’re looking forward to getting home. The summer has been shot through with the kinds of overblown romantic entanglements that teenagers living in close quarters find themselves in, and they’re all trying to find closure before they go their separate ways. When an unexpected vehicle failure forces them into staying one last night, site manager Chris (Scream‘s David Arquette) begs them to stay inside and lock the doors. He tells them that going out will be dangerous and to simply wait for morning, when he can return to pick them up.

But of course, that’s not what they do. Instead of staying inside, they decide to throw a lakeside kegger, a decision that heralds the longest, bloodiest night of their lives.

Over the course of The Quarry‘s single evening, you will take control of each of the game’s nine protagonists. It’s up to you to guide them through the ordeal to the best of your abilities. Any characters that survive the night will be alive by the grace of the choices you’ve made.

Choice is where Supermassive’s games excel. The story spiderwebs in numerous directions, lurching one way and then another, based entirely on the conversation options you choose, and your success or failure during quick-time events. Periodically, the game will cut to a black screen for just a second, signalling the shifting of the railroad tracks beneath you, the rollercoaster shunted sideways onto a different line. In this way, the story of your first run through The Quarry, or any Supermassive Game, should play out substantially differently from anyone else’s.

The Quarry
Image: Supermassive Games

Choose your own adventure

The formula of The Quarry will be familiar to anyone who’s ever played a Quantic Dream game before. Long, scripted, cinematic sequences broken up by occasional dialogue choices and quick-time events. That might have a few of you groaning already, but hear me out. Supermassive understands the tenets of this genre and how to make it work better than Quantic ever has. Rather than leaning into horror movie caricature, it uses the classic archetypes (The Jock, The Virgin, The Fool, The Harlot, etc) and then builds real, three-dimensional characters around them. In a manner similar to The Cabin in the Woods, they are all more than just the roles they’ve been assigned to.

If you’re the thoughtful sort, it’s possible to sit and reflect on every conversational decision you have to make before you make it. The game only ever offers two potential responses to any conversation fork, and there’s no timer on the decision. This means you can mull your options, which is important. Thinking your current character’s motivations through, and combining that with a slow-grown understanding of who each person is and how they’re likely to react, helps you nudge events in a favourable direction. However, even when you think you’ve got it all figured out, Supermassive is great at luring you into a trap. A choice that seems like a surefire win can backfire on you within moments and leave you wishing you’d gone another way. But it’s too late, the story rattles onward, and you have to make the best of it.

It’s great and I love it.

But what makes me love The Quarry even more is playing it with a friend.

Image: Supermassive Games

Emotional support co-op

It was only after Until Dawn had launched that Supermassive realised people were playing it rather differently than the solo experience it had envisioned. People were playing Until Dawn as a cooperative experience, having friends over, assigning them individual characters, and passing the controller around when their chapters came up. Twitch streamers were playing with their communities and voting on every move. It became, in a funny way, the video game equivalent of a movie night. When the studio launched its episodic Dark Pictures Anthology, it leaned into this. The first game, Man of Medan, included turn-based online co-operative play, and a pass-the-controller, couch co-op mode. The game would tell players when to hand the controller over.

These modes return in The Quarry, and the game is better for it. Your friends will connect narrative dots that you haven’t noticed. You will see things that they have missed. Together, you’ll start to piece the mystery at the heart of the game’s story together in real-time. It becomes such a memorable, communal experience that I honestly think playing The Quarry solo is to reduce it to half a game. If you’re a horror movie fanatic, you’ll still have fun. You’ll get to go on the rollercoaster, and experience the thrills, spills and surprises, but, like any rollercoaster, it’s better when there are people reacting around you.

Deadset, get some friends around on a Friday or Saturday night, and fire up The Quarry. I promise you’re going to have the best fucking time.

And don’t worry if you or one of your friends get a character killed: a limited, second chance feature called Death Rewind will let you roll back any three grisly, perhaps accidental, fatalities you may cause. This feature will unlock the first time you complete the game, and is designed to be an aid for those who want to see all of the game’s many, many different conclusions. If you know you’ll be playing with a friend who is not that confident in their gaming abilities, maybe do a solo run and unlock this feature first.

Image: Supermassive Games

Blood and pixels

The Quarry looks great. Like, really great. Supermassive has become known for crafting visuals that, in certain moments, depart the uncanny valley and fool the brain into thinking what it’s seeing is real. Until Dawn could do this only in certain moments before unreality would set back in, but The Quarry proves just how good at this Supermassive is becoming. It isn’t perfect, there’s still the odd moment where a character model looks or moves strangely, in a video-gamey kind of way. But the hit rate from Until Dawn has flipped: now, Supermassive is hitting the bullseye more often than it misses. During one scene early in the game, as the sun began to dip below the treeline, I stopped for several minutes to marvel at the way Supermassive had gotten light to interact with Abigail’s dyed red hair. It’s little touches like this that sell the game’s atmosphere and sense of place.

Of the game’s principal cast, certain actors translate to digital form better than others. David Arquette, Ted Raimi and Lance Henriksen all have slightly odd faces. This physical aspect has helped each of them become great character actors, but it doesn’t quite translate into the game engine in every instance. Raimi’s trademark underbite seems to flummox the rigging entirely, causing his mouth to make all sorts of strange movements. By contrast, Brenda Song, Justice Smith and Ariel Winter could all be flesh-and-blood and I wouldn’t know. Song’s digital avatar, in particular, never once fell into the uncanny valley for me. On more than one occasion, I could have sworn it was actually her.

Overall believability is helped considerably by some extremely strong performances from the game’s cast. Justice Smith (Detective Pikachu) brings a kind of detached naturalism to Ryan, podcast enjoyer and the group’s reluctant moral compass. Ariel Winter (Modern Family) plays self-conscious baby goth Abigail with the deft touch the role requires. A hulking Ethan Suplee (Santa Clarita Diet) cuts an extremely intimidating figure as a mysterious hunter named Bobby. But it’s Siobhan Williams as Laura that takes the MVP award for me. Williams gamely embraces her character’s tragic arc and exudes the energy of someone who carries themselves like a Final Girl, but is also willing to make the hard, sacrificial calls.

In terms of lighting, framing, and general photography during cinematic sequences, The Quarry is produced with the eye of a skilled director of photography. So much care has gone into how specific shots are staged and framed. Even the environments have been carefully designed and dressed in ways that keep you on a fairly narrow path without you ever feeling truly hemmed in. It’s a master class in how to build curated, linear environments that don’t feel like you’re being herded toward a particular goal, while sneakily doing exactly that.

Final thoughts

The Quarry is another feather in Supermassive’s increasingly stuffed cap. It has yet again found a way to make me care about a genre I have, in the past, written off as nothing more than cinema with interruptions. Its storytelling revels in genre but also displays a sense of narrative economy that doesn’t appear in games very often. Its character work is first-rate, presenting you with archetypes and asking you to look deeper. Its visuals improve on the already high bar Supermassive has set for itself, and its cast of young actors embrace their roles with a zest reserved for performers that don’t have to shoot horror in a mo-cap suit.

All this, and it’s one of the year’s best couch co-op experiences. In fact, I’m going to beat this pan again before I sign off: The Quarry is at its best with a group of friends, passing the controller around. Under these conditions, I promise, it is a singularly memorable experience. Highly recommended.

The Quarry launches June 10, 2022 on PlayStation, Xbox and Windows PC platforms.

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