Carrion Review – The Very Hungry Nightmare

Reviewed on July 23, 2020

Platforms:

Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Steam

Released:

July 23, 2020

Publisher:

Devolver Digital

Developer:

Phobia Game Studio

Keep calm and Carrion they said…

Welcome to the facility, where nowhere is safe and death has never been so well drawn! Ready to step into the… uh, tentacles of a nightmarish beast and tear people limb from limb? Of course you are! Let me break it down for you…

For those new to this little slice of hell, Carrion is a horror title, a retro MetroidVania in which the titular creature escapes containment and begins wreaking havoc in it’s efforts to escape to the outside world. To do so it’ll need to make full use of the environment and collect new powers to become an unstoppable force of doom.

There are of course other horror-themed experiences that let you control the bad guy, but the major difference here is that the mechanics are ENTIRELY in your favour. No competitive nature, no keeping things fair; the facility is your playground, and the opposition doesn’t have a prayer!

Said facility is done in a beautifully rendered sprite aesthetic, unbound by old-school limitations. Cables and plants sway in the breeze, blood splatters everywhere with wanton abandon, and machinery will fall to pieces with just the right amount of abuse.

Then of course there’s the creature, an intricately-woven network of eyes, mouths, and tentacles that move together in wondrous harmony. It’s both beautiful in motion and absolutely horrific in it’s design.

Everything starts out quite nicely, with the outdoor areas in particular really showing dedication to the pixel-art direction. That is until you’ve killed something, in which case you become the Picasso of viscera, which really serves to heighten the sense of dread you provide and handily mark where you’ve been.

Then of course there’s the terraforming. As you progress, taking control of various areas, your creature will actually warp and replace parts of the buildings, creating new pathways and allowing you to save your progress at the same time. It’s a great way to incentivise you to keep moving forward, as you can see your efforts paying off with each bloody hole you make your own.

What’s really fantastic is how the Carrion can take advantage of the facility. You have a lot of freedom to experiment with your approach, utilising every nook and cranny of the area to sneak around and pick people off one by one, or grabbing hold of the heaviest thing you can find and flailing it like a whip to bisect a room full of people. Vent-Fu will be the next big thing!

These options expand thanks to the containment vats you can find along your travels, granting you more biomass (which can function as both health and muscle) along with abilities that let you tackle confrontations in new ways, such as webbing up a hapless drone or growing spikes and plowing into armed guards. Each one helps you become an ever more crafty monster!

Now when it comes to controlling the beast, there’s a bit of a learning curve. You control the entire body but mostly around the center of mass, which takes getting used to, especially when you begin to reach larger sizes. This plays well into the mechanics thankfully, as being smaller makes navigating and sneaking easier, while having more girth means you need to take greater care of your movements, lest you give yourself away with an errant chunk of meat.

In addition to the creature you also have Another World style sections in which you get to play as a human, slowly unravelling the mostly silent storytelling as you piece together your origins. Playing as a human can be rather jarring, but it works well mechanically and has it’s own styles of puzzle to solve, always driving the game forward and leaving enough intrigue to make you want to see what’s going to happen next.

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Speaking of humans, they really are a stand-out for the environment and the sense of power the game gives you. Making your presence known to the hapless staff on-site will lead to all sorts of crying and gnashing of teeth, and for the ones who are unarmed you’re free to get creative with just how you end them. The potential for cruelty may be a bit too much for some; the first time I possessed a soldier and began unloading into a room of helpless civilians, I began to feel just a teensy bit dirty.

As for the facility itself, while you’re able to roam around and unlock new areas along the way, getting through every room is hardly a walk in the park. You’ll need to deal with various traps and puzzles that may require clever thinking and/or a nearby new power, forcing you to get creative with your abilities in order to reach the next area. To the game’s credit, none of these puzzles took what I would call too long or were overly-tedious; once I got a feel for what was needed, the execution made perfect sense to me.

“Sneak around and pick people off one by one, or grab hold of the heaviest thing you can find and flail it like a whip to bisect a room full of people.”

With all this being said, Carrion is a brilliant game if you’re looking for a chance to let loose and feel unstoppable. Couple that with a pixel-art aesthetic that deserves applause and sound design that can be downright chilling (for them, not you), and you have a wonderful recipe for mayhem. Just be sure it’s one you can stomach.

If you feel like being the horror in a horror game for a change, then I can’t recommend this game enough; otherwise, stick to something cleaner and stay away from any vents!

8

Great

Positive:

  • Wonderful pixel-art and sound design
  • Makes you feel like an absolute power-house
  • Does some great silent story-telling

Negative:

  • Controls take a lot of getting used to
  • May be hard to stomach for some
  • Would benefit from a map system

Carrion will easily prove to be hours of fun for the right audience: if you love horror and gore, the game is an easy recommendation, as you get to really BE a monster without restraint, painting rooms red and scaring the pants (and legs!) off everyone unfortunate enough to meet you.

That being said, while I for one had a great time with it, I did carry out certain actions that the likes of Jack Thompson would have a field day over. This is NOT a game for the feint of heart or the squeamish, and is a great example of being an absolute gem for the right people.

All in all, if you love the likes of Alien or the Thing (which would make for a hell of a licenced DLC), you’ll want to buy this day one. On the other hand, if spooks like that make you want to duck under the covers, then maybe stick to something softer.