A gripping horror story, but one where the interactive elements struggle to sustain the tension.
No subgenre of horror is as well-loved as the teen slasher, and clearly it’s where Supermassive Games feels right at home. In The Quarry, billed as a spiritual successor to the studio’s 2015 TV-style fright fest, Until Dawn, you can thus expect a familiar cocktail of blood and hormones, as once again the fate of a group of fresh-faced potential victims is placed in your hands. While they run around in the dark stalked by someone/thing fixated on their gruesome deaths, it’s up to you to nudge them (hopefully) away from harm. As long as you have a head for horror tropes, you should feel right at home too.
This time round, the group in question are some post-high schoolers who’ve come to Hackett’s Quarry Summer Camp to work as counsellors. A prologue chapter follows two of the counsellors as they arrive a night early and get an unpleasant reception, but the bulk of the plot unfolds two months later, at the end of summer, as seven other counsellors—who’ve had a lovely time—are packing to leave. But when their minibus won’t start they realise they’ll have to stay one more night, much to the dismay of the unexpectedly spooked camp owner Chris Hackett. He instructs the gang to stay inside all night no matter what, without explaining why, then drives away. So, obviously our heroes decide to have an outdoor party.
From here, The Quarry is happy to take things slowly for a while, spending a couple of its 10 hours with no real peril, so its young ensemble can flex their personalities. You hop between characters as the group splits to go on various errands and gets entangled in minor scrapes, making decisions for your current charge that might have capital ‘C’ consequences later on. It’s a lot of groundwork, and does drag at times, but it pays off handsomely once the pattern continues in the middle of the game with the added threat of mortal danger.
That’s because, as in Until Dawn, the characters are The Quarry’s strongest asset, and it’s difficult not to get attached. Once again, they stem from a range of horror film archetypes—a partying jock, a shy arty type, and so on—but nuanced personas, relationship frictions and finely embroidered plotlines soon shove them off any predictable course, and makes each one likeable in their own way. The looming possibility of death has a habit of bringing out the hidden insecurities in cocky types, or pushing the self-absorbed to become protectors. They’re also joined by a string of NPCs whose motives aren’t immediately clear, and the fact your decisions can affect their fortunes too brings extra flavour.
Nor does it hurt that every one of these people look and sound all too believable. The Quarry is peppered with moments where you may forget you aren’t watching a live action film, thanks to a strong cast of voice actors and some exceptional modelling and animation. Sure, the uncanny valley remains uncrossed, with mouths and teeth in particular somehow never quite right, but the generational jump from Until Dawn is evident (and the only performance issues I experienced were some brief juddering at the start of scenes and sudden changes in lighting on lower end settings).
As for the script, don’t expect anything very introspective or meta, but as far as a story about teens fighting for their lives in the woods goes, the dialogue is as sharp a mixture of emotion, wit and exasperation as you could hope for. The only frustration is that there’s very little mystery this time in the nature of the game’s main threat, yet the group are slow to cotton on. When they finally do define what they’re facing, you’ll likely have spent a few hours waiting for them to catch up. Obviously, these counsellors don’t watch enough horror.
Hope and gory
Greater unevenness, though, comes from how The Quarry inserts you into its macabre production. In that respect, there’s no significant evolution from Until Dawn or Supermassive’s more recent Dark Pictures Anthology, and much of your input serves less to ratchet up the horror than to insulate you from it. Sections where you’re given direct control of a character, for example, merely involve scouring an area for glowing button prompts parked by clues or doors; the gaming equivalent of vacuuming the carpet. And because nothing momentous ever happens in these sequences, they drain the sense of vulnerability the plot sets up by leaving characters alone and unarmed, or even unclothed.
Patches of on-rails action, meanwhile, where you have to mash a button or execute a QTE on demand, are strangely trivial. QTEs always follow the same timing and only incorporate the four main movement directions, which makes them almost impossible to fail, even a source of comfort when they arrive on screen—far from tension inducing. Given that The Quarry’s laudable wealth of accessibility options allows you to simplify these sections, there was surely room to make the default mildly taxing.
Any sense of agency thus largely rests on a wealth of 50/50 choices: agree or disagree, run or hide, shoot or hold fire. Indeed, the four character deaths I experienced in my first play through all happened at these points, whether due to poor judgement or coin flip selections that fell the wrong way. But while such outcomes can seem like harsh punishment, this is where The Quarry works best as interactive horror. The sheer realisation that a snap decision might come back to bite you in the face is panic inducing, and when these come thick and fast towards the finale, the heart rate really does accelerate, along with the brain as you try to second guess the game’s logic. The bloody violence that ensues should you fail is the red icing on the cake. My first death, after coasting through a number of chapters, was the highlight of the game—a genuine shock that jolted the whole experience to life.
Yet even that part of the deal—which no horror film could mimic—comes with caveats. When any character can die at different points throughout the game, leading to dozens of possible final configurations, there’s rarely any satisfying closure to the intricate relationship arcs established early on. Instead, narrative lines tend to fizzle out, with no intent of delivering on their initial hooks after all. For all the shock value, even realism, of having three-dimensional characters abruptly despatched, as a form of writing it’s akin to putting full stops in the middle of sentences.
Over the last seven years Supermassive has sharpened its branching ghost train formula to a point so fine that one of its characters could trip and impale themselves on it. But the only real advancement from past titles here is the top-class production values. The plot, performances and visual fidelity are worth turning up for, as are some of the shocks, but more than ever much of your involvement seems like protective padding sandwiched between the scripted thrills. You may well feel at home in The Quarry, then. But since when did feeling at home make for the best horror?
Source link : PCgamer