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May 2021


Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Phobia Game Studio
Release Date: July 23, 2020


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PC Review - 'Carrion'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 3, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Carrion is a reverse horror game in which you assume the role of an amorphous creature of unknown origin.

Carrion opens with your character, a horrifying monster, breaking free from a containment cell in an underground military base.

That's about all the plot that you'll get.

You are a monster, and you are in a base full of squishy humans who have taken parts from you and hidden them. Your goal is to kill the humans, retrieve your parts, and escape.

Carrion provides a couple of flashbacks, but they're not particularly noteworthy, and the plot could be summed up on the back of a Nintendo-era game box. This might be disappointing to people who love a narrative, but it works well enough. You're a monster, so go forth and kill.

The monster is extremely easy to control, and left-clicking makes it go wherever you point. In essence, the creature can fly, even if it's displayed as tentacles whipping out. Right-clicking makes it grab an object, and if it's an enemy, you can drag it closer to automatically gnaw on them. You can also throw things around. These controls are the basis for almost every action in the game. Get to a place, kill everything, and repeat. Most of your time is spent either figuring out how to get past a blockade or how to eliminate enough enemies so it is safe to take out the rest. Only fleshy uncovered enemies can be devoured, so there are certain soldiers you'll need to eliminate first or the game's over.

For a giant, sentient mass of viscera, the monster is shockingly fragile. At the start, it can only withstand a handful of bullets before dying, and a straight fight spells doom. As you progress, the creature gains the ability to take on a second and eventually a third larger form as long as it's consumed enough flesh. These larger forms are generally more powerful but larger, so it takes more damage. Taking enough damage returns your creature to its default form and size, but you can always grow larger after you've eaten enough or found a save point to refresh your character.

As the game progresses, you'll unlock new abilities by finding scattered pieces of the creature's biomass located in various areas. Each piece grants your creature a new ability. Each piece of biomass has two abilities: one offensive and one defensive. The smallest form can shoot a web that stuns enemies, pulls switches, and temporarily turns invisible. The second-largest form can smash through wooden barricades and cover itself with spikes that can kill enemies. In addition, you'll gain a few other passive powers, such as mind control.

Carrion's Metroidvania DNA is visible in the fact that you get new powers and new abilities and can even backtrack for more as you progress. Unfortunately, these don't end up being very fun. Abilities in the game are gated behind two things: biomass and energy. Neither is particularly fun to play around with because the game is obligated to give you plenty. If you need more biomass, there's something nearby to grant it (usually a save point). If you need less, there are red pools that let you temporarily drop off biomass. Rather than making me feel like I'm solving a puzzle, the presence of red pools lets me know exactly what I have to do and turns it into busywork. Likewise, energy is a gate for abilities like spikes or invisibility, but since those abilities are so frequently used for puzzles, energy recharge stations are everywhere. It only feels like a limitation in the rare instances when not having energy is part of the puzzle.

The problem above isn't too serious largely for one reason: Carrion is about four hours long. It can take a little more time if you backtrack for the aforementioned power-ups. To the game's credit, it is well paced and doesn't outstay its welcome. Just as it has given you everything you're going to see, it ends. Unfortunately, this also means that it feels perfunctory. There's no real buildup to the ending, nothing resembling a final boss or even a final challenge room, and the game just … ends. It's also hard to imagine replaying it much because it was clear the basic premise was running out of steam by the end. It stands well enough because of that pacing, but don't expect it to be a "pop in and play when you want to terrorize humans" simulator because there isn't much depth.

Carrion looks pretty good. The gory creepy tentacle monster you control is genuinely horrifying to look at, and the oddly graceful way it moves gives it a distinctive feeling and personality, even if it is just a bloody blob. The enemies are all basic but clearly distinctive, so you can figure out what is and isn't a threat at a single glance. The environments feel extremely similar, which makes sense for an underground maybe-military complex but wears thin by the end once you realize you're not going to see much more. The ambient sounds and music do an OK job of setting the atmosphere, but the star of the show is the horrifyingly squishy sounds the monster makes when eating or killing. They are more disgusting than the visuals, and I was tempted to put on headphones to avoid hearing them.

Carrion is a fun one-and-done game and not much more than that. The concept of playing as the monster in the vents is a cool one, and Carrion executes the fantasy fairly masterfully. Unfortunately, it runs out of tricks before too long and is only saved from tedium by the short game length. It's worth a playthrough if you like the concept, but don't expect anything genre-defining. There's a lot of potential in the concept, and perhaps a Carrion 2 will give us something with more meat on its … amorphous horrifying frame.

Score: 7.5/10

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