Review – Carrion
I have been waiting for the release of Carrion ever since I got to play it in Devolver Digital’s E3 2019 trailer park outside of the Convention Center. I was thoroughly impressed with my demo and was joined by Phobia Game Studio’s own Krzysztof Chomicki, where I got to pick his brain. You can always tell when a dev is excited to show and talk about the game because they want to say so much more to the questions, but can only respond with a “you’ll see”. Carrion has been living in my brain like a parasitic monster, but does it live up to its disturbing potential?
Carrion doesn’t have much of a story setup and I’m okay with that. Billed as a “reverse horror game”, you get to play as the monster that you typically see in the movies. You know the one. Ignorant humans come across an alien looking life force, they capture it, and study it. However, they underestimate it and it gets out and slaughters everyone. It’s not the most original idea, but this time you get to play as the blob, the thing, the amorphous flesh sack with teeth that eats everything.
There is no time wasted getting to the action and eating scientists, which I appreciate. This isn’t some slow burn build up to a monster reveal because you’re the damn monster. Carrion also, for better or worse, does not hold your hand at all besides offering initial button prompts. This is great, if sometimes tough to remember where you were going if you take a break in between game sessions.
For the most part Carrion is linear, but it does have a metroidvania element to it. Many areas you come across will be locked until you acquire additional moves. For a blob monster I was actually impressed with the amount of progression there is in the game. You unlock new skills by finding additional pods similar to the one you were contained in. These unlock various moves like invisibility, ramming, growing spikes around you, and many more.
Some of the moves you’ll receive will be passive, but others will require you to meet conditions. This is also where additional puzzle elements come into play. As you unlock additional skills, you also gain total mass. When you get shot and lose life, you lose mass. You can gain mass by consuming enemies or finding your infection spots (more to come on that). Certain skills are only available depending on your mass, so you’ll need to figure out puzzles based on that.
Throughout the levels there will be cracks in the bunker’s foundation that you will be able to imbed yourself into. This is your main objective to continue forward. Security breach doors will be locked down, and finding these structural weaknesses and burrowing in allows you to unlock the doors. You may need to find a couple spots, or possibly up to five or so. These spots also act as hive areas where you can save and restore your body mass. There are also pools of fluid where you can leave a sack of your mass if you need to downgrade size for a particular skill.
One thing about the gameplay that I will complain about is the general clumsiness of the controls. Now, I do give them props for making a monster like this work for the majority of the game. However, there are instances where it can be a little frustrating with the floaty way the monster moves. This becomes ever present when you start gaining a lot of mass. The larger you get, the more the lump of monster meat bumbles around the environments as you try and stick and sling across it and fit into small crevices. It’s not unfair or always frustrating, but it takes some time to get use to. Trying to take tight small corners as a large beast can prove difficult.
There is a nice variety of enemies that you’ll need to take down also, and each have their strengths and weaknesses. There is of course your standard scientist who will sometimes be armed with a pistol. Actual soldiers will make an appearance armored with an energy shield and a machine gun or flamethrower. Turrets, mines, machine gun mounted robots, and various drones show up eventually too. There is plenty of danger in each level and more than one way to approach a battle. Always look for alternate paths that may let you sneak around behind a group for some surprise spine ripping action.
Speaking of ripping spines out, the gory visuals are morbidly satisfying. There is something very enjoyable about slithering up to a scientist, grabbing his head, whiplashing his body and pulling out the head with the spine attached. Or slinging a grating at one and cleaving him in two. The visuals have a pixelated art style, but the amount of detail and blood effects provided are fantastic.
My only complaint with the visuals is that map areas can feel a bit too similar. Not that there is a lot of reused areas, but sometimes an underground bunker may not be the most visually appealing thing. They do mix it up with areas of foliage and water, and the lighting is really good, but some parts felt like I was retreading the same areas.
Soundtrack is pulled back, obviously going with much more of a horror vibe with chilling tones throughout. For the most part this works well, but I was hoping for some more eerie horror moments with the sound setting up visceral action. Or during combat having its own signature kill theme like Jason in Friday the 13th. There isn’t any voice acting, but the various sound effects of guns, screams, and general violence are all well done.
Carrion is a fantastic game that flips horror tropes on their heads and allows you to be the one slaughtering the ignorant and incompetent humans. There is actually a lot more depth to the gameplay than I anticipated, which never led to a dull moment. Also, I had a few surprise story elements that I noticed my demo purposefully cut out. Besides a few times where controls can get in the way of the fun, this is a near flawless romp of action.
The pixel art is very well done with plenty of detail, great lighting, and fantastic gore effects. However, the environments can start to feel a bit too similar in some areas.
It takes a little bit to get a hang of the controls, and even after you do there can be some areas where it feels a bit clumsy. Fortunately, taking out enemies and the metroidvania progression is so much fun.
Fairly tempered soundtrack to help set in the horror theme, but could have used a bit more eerie tracks heighten the attacks. Various sound effects of the gore, guns, and screams are well done.
Carrion is a ton of fun and offers a gameplay variety I wasn’t expecting. There is a nice balance of puzzles and bloody mayhem that is all wrapped in a great theme and idea.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Carrion is available now on Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Reviewed on PC with an i7-9700k, RTX 2070, and 16GB of RAM.
A copy of Carrion was provided by the publisher.