Carrion by Phobia Game Studio and Devolver Digital is a great game.
Full disclosure I’m playing through Xbox game pass, so I have not paid full price for the game.
Carrion has a retro feel with a contemporary twist. It has been refered to as a “reverse-horror game”.
In Carrion, you are the danger.
You are the monster.
What kind of monster are you?
You’re like a combination of The Thing (think John Carpenter instead of Fantastic Four) and The Blob. You play as a bunch of tentacles and teeth as you slither, slide and swim through the environment. Over the course, your biomass will grow, and with it, you will get a selection of abilities.
Carrion is a side scroller. Now because it’s a new 2D game, it has the government-mandated Metroidvania aspects. Not quite a platformer thanks to the multitude of tentacles at your disposal.
I love the look of this game, it reminds me of games like Flashback and Another World. These games have a strong nostalgic pull for me. In short, the visuals alone are what suckered me in.
Overall Carrion has a great design. I love how something as simple as going from left to right feels cool. As your tentacles shoot out and drag you forward. Only for you to slop into a vent with inertia as you drag some poor defenceless scientist along with you for a munch.
While Carrion is reminiscent of games like Flashback and Another World but what it feels closest to is the Batman Arkham game series. In that, you played as the caped crusader himself. It managed to walk the line of making you feel powerful yet vulnerable. Carrion manages a similar highwire act. As the monster, you have to plan how you are going to take down a room. Do you go for the Aliens-esque power loader or do you pick off the low-level security guards first?
While you are a force to be reckoned with flamethrowers and machine-gun fire make short work of you.
Carrion – The gripes
Controlling the monster feels good, but it is not without its negatives. Sometimes it’s hard to be precise. You may want to eat the office worker who is standing slap bang in the middle of your mass of viscera. You press the appropriate button. For some reason, the controls decide to grab a door at the other side of the room.
There are times when the game feels a little cheap. You have no real control over where the tentacles go. Because of that, you may get killed because some eagle ey flame trooper spotted you.
Thankfully respawning is quick and the checkpoints are generous.
So while navigation is fun, it can be a little unwieldy at times.
While on the topic of navigation, one of the gripes that I have heard others mention is the lack of a map. Sometimes it can be hard to know where you’re going. The developers attempt to mitigate this by having an echolocation system button. It’s hardly intuitive. Once you do get your bearings, it’s okay.
Carrion my wayward son
Some of the puzzles are a little obtuse. Now, I think this speaks more of my own lack of intelligence. There were times when I kept dying over and over again, out of frustration rather than lack of skill.
The game feels a little overlong. Every time I feel like things are building to a climax, they introduce a new area. There are also flashback sequences which are supposed to add more depth. They fell flat for me, after flying along as the monster playing as a human ground the pacing to a halt.
I’ve heard people say that this game is only 4-5 hours. Now maybe I’m not that smart, and that’s what kept me back. It definitely felt like it could be shorter. Again maybe it would be different if I had paid full price for this instead of getting it on Xbox Game Pass.
As for my other gripes, it is something that I always have with Metroidvania style games. After a while, you are introduced to less and less incredible powers. Here’s the thing, you get some great ones. In particular, the possession power. You send a tentacle out and control a human to open some containment grid to let you in. After possession, there is nothing remarkable. You will get a power that is only necessary for one particular puzzle. It feels like in Metroidvania style games the powers always peak too soon. Then it is a case of diminishing returns. It feels like these kinds of game should have all the abilities introduced by the half waypoint.
Those are the gripes.
Overall though Carrion is a superlative game. Anything that makes movement pleasurable should be commended. Remember how fun the free-running was in Assasin’s Creed 2? Carrion achieves something similar.
The design of the creature is excellent. Somehow Phobia Game Studios have managed to make it look like an 80s practical effect in pixel form. The sound design has to be commended too. Phobia Game Studio has captured that whipping sound effect. The sound effect of tentacles that should sound familiar to fans of The Thing.
The sound design in general sounds is fantastic as you rain merry hell down on the guilty and innocent alike. The screams of terror as you smash through toilet cubicles to find a lowly worker cowering. Do you let them live? It’s up to you.
The music too gives a sense of foreboding as you realise that you are the coming death.
Check out, Carrion. Despite my gripes, the game is great fun. You’re smarter than me, so I think you’ll have a better time with the puzzles than me.
If you have Xbox Games Pass check it out through there.
It’s available on Steam, Switch and PlayStation too.
Oh and as always, Devolver have gone above and beyond with their promotion of the game.
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