Carrion Review – Keep Calm and Carrion

    Title: Carrion
    Developer: Phobia Game Studio
    Release Date: July 23, 2020
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Devolver Digital
    Genre: Horror, MetroidVania, Action, Puzzle

I’ve never considered myself a fan of the horror genre. This is mainly because I scare easily, and the idea of having to play the role of helpless prey waiting to be killed isn’t something that I find particularly appealing. It’s with that in mind that Phobia Game Studio’s latest release, Carrion, caught my eye. The “reverse-horror game” tagline is something that I can get behind. Finally, the shoe is on the other tentacle as I’m the driving force of this nightmare.

At its core, Carrion is a Metroidvania style game in which you play as a grotesque tentacled monstrosity. The game begins with you busting out of your containment chamber, and from there, you proceed to wreak absolute havoc on the helpless soldiers and scientists of an underground laboratory. As you progress through the different environments, you become stronger, unlocking new abilities, and growing in size.

Gameplay has a simple way of easing you into the carnage. You start with only the ability to crawl around and move objects using your tentacles. However, this lowly state doesn’t last too long after you encounter capsules that contain new skills that improve your monster’s moveset. Some of these abilities include turning invisible as well as shooting a net-like tentacle to trap enemies. I found the invisibility skill particularly fun to use as you can sneak up and pounce on unsuspecting enemies.

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Carrion on the surface appears to be a simplistic and straightforward game, but there are a lot of nuances that give it depth. While the monster abilities are helpful in combat, they are also utilized in solving various puzzles that hinder progress. Turning invisible, for example, will allow you to pass light sensors undetected, and the net tentacle can flick levers that you would otherwise be unable to get to.

Combat can also be occasionally treated as a puzzle, as you must utilize the environment to avoid getting shot at. As strong as you are, enemies will adjust to your abilities, which means you’ll need to find an alternative approach to taking them out. Along with shield-wielding soldiers, there are also drones and mechs that demand the use of each of your skills to get past.

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Health also plays a substantial role during gameplay. This is even more true when specific abilities are only available to you if you are below a certain health threshold. For example, if you have too much health, you will be unable to use stealth, and you won’t be able to shoot net tendrils. However, if you are too small, you will be unable to break through barriers that require the use of an ability.

The only real problem I had with the puzzle aspects of the game was that sometimes I would get lost on where I’ve been and where to go next. This slowed down the pacing for me as I found myself going around in circles, trying to figure out what I needed to do. I wouldn’t mind it so much if it didn’t hinder me from getting to the next combat portion of the game.

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Storywise, there isn’t a lot the game tells you openly, and most of the story requires you to infer what is going on based on context. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it adds a level of mystery. There are instances where you infect the laboratory’s computer, and you’ll play as human researchers investigating the lab. These scenes serve as the primary way the narrative is delivered.

I had mixed feelings about this approach. While I liked the idea of the story being mysterious and teased out, these segments of gameplay made things feel slow and didn’t pair well with the more action-centric moments. Most of the time, when these sections came up, I felt like I was just waiting for it to be over with so I could get back to eating people.

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Carrion really sets the tone of its horror theme with its graphics and sound design. The developer did an awesome job of making the creature utterly monstrous and grotesque and I couldn’t imagine how difficult it may have been to animate the many ways the creature can move through the environment. Save points also have a dark presence as you crawl into crevices spreading your tendrils to infuse yourself into the building.

The sprite work alongside the squishing sounds and screams of both the creature and the victims really sets the tone of the game and adds a lot to the overall experience. Even the humans feature different animations depending on if they are the type of meal who likes to fight back or not. This only enhanced the game to really sell its approach to the reverse genre and works surprisingly well.

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Carrion is a unique game and one that is refreshing and fun to play. The gameplay is smooth, and the arcadelike aspect of hastily crawling around eating scientists is both humorous and satisfying. While there are portions of it that I found confusing and slow, the core gameplay was enjoyable enough to where I didn’t mind the negatives. Carrion has a little bit of everything, and I would recommend it to anyone who is tired of being the protagonist in distress.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Brian Lee

Production Editor and Co-host of the Noisy Pixel Podcast - Professional goof and overall video game junkie. Brian [at] noisypixel [dot] net