The Quarry is a carefully threaded tapestry of horror cliché. The camp itself is the kind of place where you might take the scenic route—an area is literally called “scenic route”—to skinny dip in the old swimming hole, only to have Jason drag you down to swampy hell. The game’s protagonists are all archetypal slasher characters, updated for the present day. This being a game, it breaks these stock formulas down to their algorithmic core: at the select screen, characters get traits like “athletic,” “arrogant,” “funny.” There’s the shy, podcast-listening guy, the Instagram-story-obsessed influencer. And, of course, there’s the backward-cap-wearing jock, who delivers many high fives and says things like “we’ll see about that” when he sees a no-swimming sign and “my beerdar is beeping” when he detects alcohol. Everyone is good looking, even the “nerds,” and in typical slasher movie patter, they bicker about going back to school and who they want to get with, as sex and death skip hand in hand.
As you might have discerned, The Quarry’s writers are definitely in on the joke: The game drips in irony and revels in its pulpy grammar. This is not “elevated horror,” if we take that term to mean anything, but a traditional slasher, even less subversive than recent creations like X and Bodies Bodies Bodies. “You’ve seen Evil Dead, right?” one protagonist says as he descends into a basement, and the film was a heavy influence on Until Dawn; The Quarry is probably less that and more Friday the 13th. (Creative director Will Byles also cites Sleepaway Camp.) I sensed a bit of Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever, too, but considering the protagonists face threats from ghosts, hillbillies, and bat creatures, you can pick your influence.
Of course, The Quarry is not a film, and there is gameplay in the traditional sense, some fixed perspective walking a la Silent Hill or early Resident Evil, some aiming of guns, and some collecting of items, like tarot cards.
But that’s not what makes it compelling. The reason we’re here is for the Heavy Rain-esque decision trees. On this front, the filmic analogues are a bit different: Bandersnatch, obviously, but there’s also something very Final Destination or Cabin in the Woods about this unfolding sense of possible scares and deaths. Do you kick the door open or pick the lock? Do you climb down a pit of eternal darkness or keep spinning on Mr. H’s chair? Some of these decisions take the form of quick-time events, like jumping over the boulders of a lake or holding your breath to escape a bat creature. When you decide something monumental, “Path Chosen” appears on the shuddering screen, indicating a consequential cleavage in the story.
What may go under the radar here is The Quarry’s thoughtful incorporation of an antique mode: Couch co-op, which has seen, like slasher films, a small recent revival. Friends each pick a teen and pass the controller around and try not to die: It’s here that the game is at its best. I hooked up my PC to the projector, and my housemates, including those who think gaming is a pathology, settled in with some beers. A game of Truth or Dare had everyone shouting dares not for publication. Purposely messing up a quick time event so a character smashes their face into a low-hanging branch will never not be funny. Later, as I controlled the influencer, she relayed to her Instagram followers, “Shall I open the trap door and die a horrible death?” Reader, I opened the trap door, as she shouted, “Goodbye cruel world!”
This fun overrides The Quarry’s limitations: Its graphics veer from yucky to gorgeous, often in the same scene, and the game’s rendering of faces still falls foul of the uncanny valley, with characters’ mouths sliding over toothsome grins. It’s also a game that is not so much scary as it is amusing, and it left me wanting a non-ironic slasher, something genuinely nasty and terrifying, even thoughtful, that puts the same format to use. Still, The Quarry is a fantastic party game. It’s a reminder of what violent and scary fiction is for—bonding us closer together.