The Quarry, a new horror from Supermassive Games, follows seven young people over the course of one night at a summer camp in New York State. They have just spent the last two months as counsellors, tending a gaggle of kids with camp songs, hikes, and other larks. Now, the kids are gone. But, when the van that was supposed to spirit these hopeful Americans away from the woods and back to civilisation breaks down, they are forced to wait until dawn for repairs. Of course, as befits the studio that gave us Until Dawn, the night will bristle with hardships, and they may not all make it through. In a show of solidarity with youths, forests, full moons, and vans of the most celebrated order, one character honours us with the necessary incantation: “Jinkies.”
Indeed, early on, when we learn that another character failed to get into “Landis University,” I thought, Oh it’s that kind of game. The script, by Graham Reznick, Will Byles, and Alex Farnham, is infested with gags for the horror-fluent. You don’t cast David Arquette as a kindly camp leader unless you want to hold your game in snarling quote marks. Not only that, but we also get Lance Henriksen as a hick who smears his face with blood, Ted Raimi as a twitchy cop, and Grace Zabriskie as a walleyed crystal-gazer. “Think of me as your guide into the unknown!” she says, which, for anyone used to thinking of her as Sarah Palmer, the haunted matriarch from Twin Peaks, shouldn’t be much of a leap. What’s more, there is commodious room for non sequitur, the sillier the better. Hence the impassioned disquisition on the importance of Peanut Butter Butterpops: “They’re like their own thing, like their own subgenre of food snack.”
The eager Butterpopper is Jacob, a cap-wearing jock, and he is joined by Nick, Ryan, Emma, Abigail, Dylan, and Kaitlyn. (Plus two latecomers, Laura and Max, who enter the fray in the latter half.) One of the more remarkable things about The Quarry is that I’m able to reel off those names—and to put faces to them, honest!—without consulting Google. After having had the displeasure of playing The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes, I was primed to emerge from the new game with as dark a picture as possible. That series—a string of unrelated episodes—never had the time to hang around and let its dramatis personae sink in; clearly, Supermassive benefits from the longer haul, giving its heroes time to get under our skin.
Not that The Quarry is a big departure. Anyone who did play those titles will know what to expect here. This studio’s games, while similar in some ways to those of Don’t Nod Entertainment and Telltale Games, are their own thing—their own subgenre of video game snack. These are branching-narrative adventures, brimming, some would say, with replayability, though in my experience mostly insubstantial. With fleeting exploration segments—each scarcely more than a minute’s amble—a scattering of quick-time events, and a slew of choices, we chart the progress of these poor souls as they labour through the long night. Though, it’s worth pointing out that, unlike Detroit: Become Human, there isn’t an actual chart. The developer of that game, Quantic Dream, devised a flow chart that enabled players to sift through every possible dramatic outcome, the result being a distinct lack of flow, along with the feeling that the story was as stainless and calibrated as the androids with which it was staffed. Still, one commends the effort. The problem with this style of game is that I never feel tempted to go back, and, even if I did, I’ll be damned if I can remember what to do differently.
The important thing—the only thing, really—is one’s first play-through, and in that regard The Quarry is a mishmash. On the one hand, I was cheered and gratified by a line so lumpen and gloriously stupid as, “I mean I’ve been dreaming of becoming a vet since I was 5 years old and I’m not gonna let this fleabag fuckface stop me.” Moments like that make this job worthwhile. Elsewhere, as someone descends into a Stygian basement, he says to his girlfriend, “You’ve seen the Evil Dead, right?” Quips like these not only clamp the game behind gates of wrought irony; they lighten the mood as our happy campers fight tooth and nail to survive.
Unfortunately, the teeth and the nails belong to a pack of sorry mutts. Just as House of Ashes tried to raise the stakes with a new spin on the vampire, resorting to creatures that would have been happier atop the eaves of a cathedral, The Quarry attempts a similar revivification of the werewolf. But the upshot is a gang of hairless scamperers with gash-like grins and yellow contact lenses. And, as for their transformation—traditionally an opportunity to wow, when it comes to the lupine—it’s over in a gory splat, as if someone had planted a bomb in a crate of ketchup. Whoever thought of that must have been denied entry to Landis University. Moreover, despite one person briefing the group with, “This isn’t a ghost story. It’s a creature feature,” well, it’s a nice line, but, I have to say, I’m still not sure. What are we to make of Zabriskie’s character, who seems to vanish at will, and whose whispers trickle into people’s ears like ectoplasm, even when she’s not around?
These nitpicks are nothing worth howling about, really. Far more damning is the fact that The Quarry, though happily thronged with beasts, is barren of scares. I say this not as a hardened veteran, with chilled corn syrup in the veins, but as a proud, card-carrying wuss. Is it too much to ask that something like this—mercifully unbowed by the burdens of great writing, mechanics, and insights into the human condition—at least spook us enough that we might spill our drinks with a jump scare or two? These days, there doesn’t seem to be much room—or, more alarming still, much appetite—for genuine fear in games. What we have here is a developer that is happy to nudge us with knowing jokes, but who doesn’t dare to frighten us. We might call it a Craven effort. As for the ending, there isn’t one—just a montage of postscripts, detailing the fates of the various characters. Only, we already know their fates, having been at least partially responsible for them. As the credits rolled, the sweetness of the humour had grown stale, and I felt distinctly unsated, though hardly hungry for more. I hate to say it, but Supermassive has made a Butterpop.
Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Available on: PlayStation 5 [reviewed on], PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: June 10, 2022
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