Have you ever watched a horror movie and found yourself rooting for the murderer/stalker/creature killing all of the main characters? Perhaps the characters you’re “supposed” to cheer on are all unlikable…or maybe you just enjoy watching buckets of blood being poured on your screen.
Well then boy howdy do I have the game for you! Not only do you get to root for the monster…you get to be the monster! The title we’re looking at today is the opportunity to let your little hellspawn heart run rampant, kicking down doors and chewing on bodies until you’re content.
Developed by Phobia Game Studio and published by Devolver Digital, Carrion is set for release on July 23rd, 2020, for PC, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. The PC version was played for this review.
Carrion puts you in control of a giant grotesque red blob with infinite mouths and tentacles. After breaking out of containment in a research facility, you run rampant destroying everything in your way. There are hints at a backstory here and there, but that’s not the point of the game – just go out there, explore, and devour.
Now while I’m sure some would get enjoyment out of the game just being a monster murder simulator, things would get boring if that’s all Carrion was. What we actually get here is a semi-Metroidvania-esque romp, with multiple levels connected through a large “hub” area.
Your adventure/killing spree will take you through various labs and military installations. Within each are upgrades that will expand the creature’s arsenal, ranging from shooting webs to growing spikes out of its body. These upgrades, while making the slaughter more efficient, also allow access to later levels in the hub world.
While the stages themselves are laid out fairly intuitively, I found myself continually getting lost in the hub area. There’s no obvious waypoints, nor is there a map available, so I often found myself wandering aimlessly in the hub after each stage, looking for the one screen with an obstacle I could now clear.
Luckily, I didn’t find myself complaining about said wandering too much, simply because the creature’s movement is just plain fun to control. It slithers effortlessly through rooms, tunnels, and passageways, easily conveying the feel of controlling a writhing mass of hatred and hunger.
The controls for attacking and interacting with the world took a bit more to get used to. The creature’s tentacles are the go-to weapon, and they’re controlled on a gamepad by using the right analog stick to aim and right trigger to activate. I initially had trouble getting my tentacles to go exactly where I wanted them, leading to a number of cheap deaths against gun-wielding humans early in the game.
This is something that gets easier with practice, though. After about an hour, I was munching down on pesky people with the best of them. Sliding a bit out of an air duct to grab someone and pull them in never really gets old.
When you’re not shoving as many humans into your infinite faces as you can, there’s quite a bit of puzzle solving to do as well. Most of these come in the form of switch and gate puzzles, and some of the late-game ones get surprisingly creative.
The puzzles require the use of your various abilities, which brings in one of my main complaints with the game. Certain abilities can only be used when the creature is at a certain health level. For example, the aforementioned web shot is eventually replaced by a charge attack…and the only way to gain access to the web shot again is to lose enough health to shrink the creature’s body.
The creature does eventually get the ability to leave pieces of itself behind in pools of water to purposely shrink. This can lead to some annoying moments of backtracking, however. I’d often come across a puzzle that requires an old skill, go back a few rooms to deposit some body (which is a weird thing to type), return to solve the puzzle, then go back again to re-merge with the body I had left behind.
The Pretty, Bloody Pixels
Carrion is another in a long line of pixel indie games, but it definitely works in the game’s favor here. I’m not sure how many people could stomach the level of violence if this was presented realistically, for one!
The game is attractive in general, with well-thought-out environments, and enemies being easy to spot. The animation on the creature is gorgeous, watching as it whips its body and tentacles around to maneuver around the game world.
Unfortunately, the world design starts to get repetitive around the halfway point. There’s really only so many dark labs and military bases I can venture through before they all start to blur together.
The soundtrack…exists. It fits the themes of the game well, but I can’t say there were any tracks that really stood out or stuck themselves in my head.
Overall, Carrion is an entertaining and visceral experience, with a lot more going for it than simply running around and killing things, like many of the game’s trailers led me to believe.
A few questionable design decisions make me hesitate on calling this an excellent title, though. Tying parts of the creature’s moveset to its current health level is frustrating. The lack of any kind of world map, while not game breaking in the slightest, got annoying while navigating the hub area. The repetitive art design in the levels isn’t doing the game any favors either.
However, frustrations aside, Carrion was still an entertaining playthrough. As one of Devolver’s major releases of the year it doesn’t quite hit the high mark I expected. It doesn’t need to be a breakthrough experience, though. It’s just plain fun, and I could see myself playing through again.
Review copy provided by Devolver Digital for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Devolver Digital.