No matter how much my brother raved about sleep-away camp during our childhood, I blatantly refused to go. Not only would I be away from my cozy bed, but staying in the wilderness away from technology always seemed like a bad idea. What if there were bears, or monsters, or even worse, I got a hankering to play videogames? Isolated summer camps are fertile ground for these types of scares, so it was inevitable that horror-aficionados Supermassive Games would one day set their sights on torturing some counselors. Coming seven years after their cult-classic Until Dawn—and developed alongside their yearly Dark Pictures Anthology releases—The Quarry aims to be a bloody good summer slasher that deftly mixes Hollywood-level production with the interactivity of a videogame. But much like its tortured counselors, it doesn’t make it through the night without some major wounds.
The roughly nine hour adventure is mostly cutscenes with choices and quick-time events sprinkled throughout. The various branching paths and interactions supposedly lead to 186 unique endings; the slightest miscalculation early on can lead to a disastrous death down the line. The ultimate goal is to keep all nine of its playable counselors alive until morning, something that is easier said than done. Boasting an all-star cast of Brenda Song, Justice Smith, Ariel Winter, Scream alum David Arquette, and at least a dozen more, The Quarry almost feels like a movie, something Supermassive acknowledges with the Movie Mode, an alternate play-style where players become viewers and watch the story play out scenarios where everyone lives, everyone dies, or for the bloodthirsty, everyone gets brutally eviscerated in Gorefest . Enjoying the game this way does have its limitations though, as the lack of gameplay locks off particular character moments or story beats.
To the game’s credit, the narrative is by far the strongest part of the experience. The early game smartly plays with the audience’s expectations and contains some decent scares before smugly twisting and turning an overall engaging tale, although it suffers from a few key issues. Much of the plot is reliant upon key items scattered throughout the world and the choices you make, so poor exploration or making a wrong decision can lock players out of ever figuring out the entire mystery, neutering the entire experience. This also means that the story hides the ultimate “villain” hidden until the last hour, making him feel tacked on and underdeveloped. That’s all on top of piss-poor pacing: major exposition is shoved past the midpoint in a needlessly long and arduous flashback chapter while the climactic confrontation is over in a flash. Plus, the game abruptly ends after the final battle without any clear resolution for the counselors you’ve worked so hard to matchmake—I mean, save.
Another detriment for The Quarry is that it doesn’t have the writing chops to equal its cinematic counterparts—the character interactions are often slightly cringeworthy at best and psychically damaging at worst. Some of the actors do their best despite the material. Brenda Song’s level-headed badass Kaitlyn and Miles Robbins’ sarcastic Dylan (openly gay but a closested scientist) are particular favorites—but most performances are either middling, annoying, or woefully underutilized.
One could argue that the seeming lack of refinement fits the campy B-movie tone of the ‘70s slashers it seeks to emulate, but instead it often harms it in unintentional ways. At no point after monsters start attacking did it feel right for Jacob and Emma to be rehashing their couple’s spat (multiple times), and a love triangle set up between Ryan, Dylan and Kaitlyn fizzled out to nothing. It’s difficult to care about whether a character lives or dies when you simply do not care for them on an emotional level.
Keeping the counselors alive by making choices for them is where the game’s interactivity finally comes into play, and they’re just as flawed as the cinematic aspects. Many choices don’t have immediate consequences, meaning you’ll probably forget you even made them, so most feel pointless but probably feed into the 186 endings. There is a tracker for major decisions built into the menu, but they are often dropped for seemingly no reason at all. This is supposed to encourage multiple playthroughs, but I personally never felt compelled to. There were only a few options that unfairly led to a character’s death, but that didn’t keep them from feeling needlessly cruel when they happened.
Since the experience is mostly passive, asking players to remain engaged enough for the odd quick-time event or timed decision is a tall task, especially when there are often long breaks in-between these situations. In an attempt to keep your attention, you can often “freely” explore specific areas to find clues, evidence, or items that will benefit you later on, but you might accidentally end your exploration too early by clicking the wrong item or walking in the wrong direction, which discourages discovery. For some reason, there is also no run-button—holding LB makes you “walk faster,” whatever that means—which is simply distracting. Imagine being hunted down by murderous creatures and taking a brisk stroll through the woods, stopping at every nook and cranny to not miss a tiny bit of lore. There are very specific times that you’ll also be asked to hold your breath or shoot a gun, but these are incredibly easy (never let go of the A button) or annoying to control respectively.
And thus we arrive at The Quarry’s biggest issue: it doesn’t know what it wants to be. As a cinematic experience, it’s long, poorly written, and horribly framed. For some ungodly reason, the developers chose to often use fixed camera angles in place of a free-moving camera. Not only was the cinematography so painful it made me want to return my film degree, the jumping angles disoriented me, forcing me to walk in circles until I got my bearings. The tarot cards, the game’s collectibles that can be traded for fairly unhelpful visions of the future, make horrid and jarring use of this. On the sound front, everything is mostly professional—save for some hilariously bad line readings—except the needle drops, where a song coincides with a specific action occurring on the screen. In an effort to emulate films, the game focuses more on crafting a soundtrack full of popular songs than a distinct score—apologies to Nik Ammar, Lucy Underhill and Michael Orchard for their work on the OST—and the song choices are terribly ill-fitting. Someone just died guys, please don’t play a slow pop song. Do yourself a favor and get rid of the licensed music by playing on Streamer Mode.
It doesn’t fare much better if you view The Quarry as a videogame, with its mind-numbingly simple action and surprisingly terrible technical performance. Credit where it’s due, Supermassive have refined their motion-capture software and abilities to make the characters look naturally like their actors, except for their teeth, the true horror of the game. The campgrounds of Hackett’s Quarry looks nice, except for the water, and the monster designs are genuinely gross. But for the love of Peanut Butter Butter Pops, I have never encountered a game that ran as poorly as this one: textures constantly popped in and out, text was ridiculously blurry and crunched, hair sometimes gained sentience, animations often simply didn’t happen, and the lighting system projected quadrangles instead of shadows. The only reprieves from the graphical nightmare came when the game crashed twice for seemingly no reason at all. The technical difficulties would almost be charmingly fitting if the game wasn’t advertised as being Xbox Series X/S optimized. Since most reviews I have seen have used the PC-build, I’m unaware if this was simply a problem I’ve faced playing on my Xbox Series S.
Although I have many more complaints—the failure to effectively use slasher tropes (e.g. the not-so-Final-Girl Laura), the pure uselessness of some characters in the overall plot/action, the lackluster and abrupt ending—I ultimately enjoyed my stay at The Quarry. Sure, the characters were stupid and it had the graphical quality of a toaster, but it was the perfect excuse to gather some friends and hang-out. Seated around my television with three friends, we were able to enjoy the imperfect product to its fullest. We relished in the characters’ stupidity, applauded the banal writing, and even got to experience some genuine frights along the way—although if I mean the monsters or the graphics, I can’t say. We may not have been enjoying it the way Supermassive intended, but that made the experience that much better. I’m thankful that summer camp is over, but I will hold a piece of Hackett’s Quarry in my heart for at least a week. It’s the slogan of the camp, after all: “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.”
The Quarry was developed by Supermassive Games and published by 2K Games. Our review is based on the Xbox Series X version. It is also available for PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.
Mik Deitz is a freelance writer and former Paste intern. They inhale stories in videogames, films, TV and books, and have never finished God of War (2018). Yell at or compliment them on Twitter @dietdeitz.