CARRION is a game that many of us have been waiting for. It is a reverse horror experience where you are the monster, and it is up to you to break out of the facility housing you, consume your captors to grow in strength, and create chaos in such a way that makes you feel like a horror movie villain straight out of the 1980s. But is this experience from Phobia Game Studio and Devolver Digital worth your hard-earned dollars? Or is this a movie experience better purchased out of the bargain bin? Well, let’s find out!
(This review originally published on July 23, 2020)
In CARRION, you play as a grotesque monster that looks like a blended zoo, but with no hair in sight. Just a lovely ball of flesh, teeth, and veins… and some tentacle-like arms and blood-thirsty eyes… okay. Nevermind. It is just a disgusting creature.
The story communicates a very simple narrative that contradicts horror stories that have been told before it for decades. You are the boss, basically, and it is up to you to kill just about every human in the laboratory, military-grade personnel as well. You see, you awake in a container that can no longer contain you, and once you are free from its restrictions, the facility becomes your canvas to paint blood all over.
This is not a story that will end well. There is no plot of revenge, and there are no “antagonists” to feud with. You are the antagonist, and everyone you are killing in the game is trying to stop you from escaping so that you will not cause further damage.
It is a tough story to swallow, but it is a hell of a ride. Each passing area gets more and more intense as security measures are increasing as you make your way closer to the exit. This is a truly unique video game title that pays homage to stories like Who Goes There?, also known as The Thing. It is a story that leaves a horrific sense of reality in your stomach, because in a worst case scenario, something like this could happen and the outcomes are never painted positively.
I absolutely love this story in the same way I love the novella Who Goes There? There is this dialectical tension within me that is both against the main character and for the main character, and that is an exhilarating feeling that I do not come across often enough. For an indie title with a seemingly simple premise, this is an excellently done story that communicates its direction so clearly with no words and presents you a horrible monster that you want to see win.
CARRION, to my surprise, is a Metroidvania game at its core. You are tasked with traversing the monster from one area to the next to earn progressive powerups that will aid you in your rampage. But CARRION, unlike some other major Metroidvania titles, does not boast a map to refer to, and I have to be honest. At first, I was disappointed and kept finding myself asking, “Why can’t I look at a map right now?”, but I quickly realized that this is not a game that encourages 100% gamplay. It wants you to discover and rediscover at your own pace without depending on a map, and I have to admit, by the time I cleared the game, I was disappointed in myself that I even asked for a map earlier on.
Another unique thing about CARRION is that you are a gelatinous flesh blob that is able to crawl up walls and ceilings right from the get-go, and swimming is something you can do naturally without any adaptation. The monster starts off dangerous and progressively gets more and moreso until it is an incredibly powerful threat.
Controlling the monster is a double-edge sword, though. In the earlier stages, your size is not such a problem, so moving through corridors and using abilities is quite easy with duel-stick controls. However, as you enlarge, moving can become quite problematic, especially within tighter areas, and aiming certain abilities can be confusing as to where on the body they are originating from. Although I found these problems annoying at times, I cannot help but appreciate how realistic the struggle is for such a large and awkwardly shaped monster.
Progressive powerups are spread throughout the various stages and are held within containers similar to the one you initially hatch out of. These abilities range from shooting webs at your enemies and switches to shooting your tentacles like spikes across the screen, but I would be lying if I did not have a favorite. As you can tell, I am a huge fan of The Thing, and about midway through CARRION, you get the ability to infect and take over any human on screen and control them. I found myself using this one way more than I probably should have, but it was just so much fun turning humans against themselves. Controlling the humans felt very similar to something like The Way Remastered, a bit clunky at times, but it works wells.
In addition to the progressive powerups, there are nine somewhat hidden containers spread throughout the game that give additional enhancements that strengthen the monster, like an extra grabbing tentacle or stronger ECHO location, but these are not necessary to clear the game. The challenges are a fun little Easter egg to give players a little more to do as they make their way through.
One of the most incredible points of the game is the unique approach to puzzling by using a bizarre set of powerups. Like I already said, the monster is pretty capable from the start, so the game needs to give it limitations and introduce some fun and unique mechanics that make you, the player, have to think outside the box.
For example, as you get larger, you gain new abilities that can only be used while the monster is at a certain size, so the game gives you these pools that allow you to drop biomass and play as a smaller flesh blob. Many of the puzzles require you to play around with your mass and use multiple abilities that will leave you scratching your head. For a Metroidvania title, these are some of the best puzzles in the genre I have ever played.
Combat is interesting. Since you are technically the boss, you are clearly the more difficult thing to kill on screen. But when you are met with a small army of people, you can go down quite quickly. This requires you to be a bit more tactical in your approach, and some times the best plan of action is avoiding combat at all costs. I personally never chose this route, but it is definitely an option.
Enemies progress wonderfully throughout the game, and although there are technically no “bosses” in CARRION, there are certain threats that raise alarm more than others, like soldiers with flamethrowers, giant mechs, and drones. The more you see these threats, the more cautious your approach should be. Since humans are easy for you to kill, learning how to pick one off at a time is very useful and will help you to maintain your monstrous size.
Each of the areas are pretty grand and offer lots of fun gameplay, and thankfully saving is generous. Each new place that you infect serves as a save point, and there are 3-6 per area in the game, so you should not have to worry about dying and losing too much progress as you play.
The soundtrack in this game is damn near perfect for what it is supposed to be, and it is made even better by the simplistic use of screams, clanging metal, and gooey flesh rolling around the screen. The whole experience truly feels like you are playing a horror movie as the bad guy. The haunting music is expertly done and reminds me so much of the music from John Carpenter’s The Thing (Do you see a theme here yet?), and each new area presents a growing horror soundtrack that evolves alongside its monster. It is truly incredible.
CARRION‘s visuals are also nothing to scoff at. These are some beautiful pixel graphics, and it is amazing to think that in 2020, developers can still find ways to do unique and interesting things with the bit style.
Not only that, but the lighting, wind, and water effects are surprisingly great for a title of this caliber. Each time I encountered an area with these elements, I was blown away by the attention to detail and how much more authentic it made those areas feel despite the graphical limitations.
As you may be able to tell from what I have said so far, CARRION is of monstrous value. Speed runners will be able to knock this game out in roughly 3-4 hours, maybe less, but casual players will enjoy a solid 7+ hours of fantastic Metroidvania gameplay. This is a title that excels in just about every area, and it is truly one of a kind in the gaming world. For $20 USD, this is the absolute right price for the package you are buying.
May be a bit short for some people
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My name is Jason Capp. I am a husband, father, son, and brother, and I am a gamer, a writer, and a wannabe pro wrestler. It is hard to erase the smile on this simple man.