I’ve eagerly been anticipating Carrion ever since I saw a gameplay trailer of it months back. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that it’s one of my more anticipated games this year.
As a fan of sci-fi horror, Carrion’s premise of you being the monster that kills humans is intriguing to say the least. Visions of the Alien series, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Night of the Creeps and even Slither floated around in my mind as I awaited the game’s release.
The demo released during the Steam Game Festival only made the wait even more unbearable…
Now that the game’s finally out…is it as good as I’d hoped?
Read on and see…
What is Carrion?
Carrion is a 2D, single player action game developed by Phobia Game Studio and published by Devolver Digital. It’s available for the Xbox One (free for Xbox Game Pass subscribers), Nintendo Switch and PC.
In Carrion, you’re a huge tentacled mass of…I don’t know what. Alien goo and/or muscle probably. The game certainly doesn’t tell you so think of the monster as one of the creatures from The Thing, except without the shapeshifting.
There’s very little plot in Carrion and what little there is is shown through playable flashback sections. Unfortunately, those are spartan at best, and leave you with more questions than answers.
I really wish that the developers spent more time on the lore. Being mysterious is one thing but having next to zero knowledge about the game world, the creature you’re playing and pretty much everything else is frustrating.
I don’t even know the motivation of the creature…Hell, even in Alien, there’s enough exposition to know that the endgame for the Xenomorph on the Nostromo was to establish a nest. In Carrion? Hell if I know. I just kill stuff cause the game makes me.
Luckily, other aspects of the game take up the slack.
One of them is how you navigate. You’re not so much as moving as you’re slithering, as the monster will shoot out tendrils to support itself as you advance. That means you don’t need to worry about jumps or any other movement traversal issues…you just point in the direction you want and the tentacles will take care of the rest. It’s eerily reminiscent of the Klyntar symbiotes from Marvel but much, much cooler (and bloodier).
It’s only when you grow to the third tier (the largest you can get) that controls start to get annoying. Due to the creature not having a center of mass, navigation can be a pain when you get too large. Vents and smaller crevices are harder to access because your mass is too spread out to control properly.
As the monster, you’re basically rampaging through the locales, killing anything and everything in your way to progress to the next area. You of course, do that by consuming your unlucky victims, which replenishes your health.
Eating humans is pretty damn cool in itself. Your tentacles lash out at your target and then drag it back (kicking and screaming) to be consumed. You have full control of your tentacle via the Right Analog stick, which gives you a ton of freedom on how you attack.
There’s a decent variety of enemies too, ranging from soldiers with energy shields and flamethrowers to lumbering mechs with vulcan cannons. Despite that, I wish that there were even more enemy types.
Killing is one thing that Carrion does really well and a wider variety of things to kill (and methods to kill them) would have really gotten the blood pumping…and splattering. Still, things get really fun later on in the game, when you gain the ability to possess humans, which allows you to use their skills for your purposes.
Carrion truly excels when you think like a monster in horror movies. Luring your victims to their deaths, coming at them from unexpected ways (like through the floor or from ceiling vents) or even possessing one of them to kill the rest. I had a ton of fun just thinking of creative ways to murder the people in my way.
To Carrion’s credit, the game makes murdering hapless humans look very satisfying, with dismemberment and decapitations galore!
The animation in the game is top notch and the silky smooth frame rate (it seems to be a solid 60fps on the Xbox One X) makes everything great on the eyes.
I love the little details too…blood will coat the surroundings as you murder and the bloodier your murders, the bloodier the areas become. Let’s just say that some of the later skills make your kills very, VERY bloody.
As you play, the creature will evolve. Evolution is also tied to the skills you can use. In a neat twist, your state of evolution is tied to your health. As it drops, you slowly devolve as well, losing skills in the progress.
There are multiple tiers of evolution, and the game actually makes you juggle them to progress. Each evolution tier has its own skills, which means you’ll need to evolve or devolve depending on the situation at hand.
It’s a bit of a weird system initially (I mean who wouldn’t want to be at full health all the time right?) but as I played I started to enjoy the nuances and options the game gave to me. The puzzles also contributed to the enjoyment as you need to make clever use of the evolution skills to progress.
Carrion has aspects of a Metroidvania; you gain new skills as you progress, which allows you to access new areas in previous areas and you get stronger as you evolve but it’s not really one per se.
For one, there’s no map.
You’re supposed to navigate by memory, which really sucks if you lose track of where you’ve not gone yet. I have no idea why not even a simplistic map’s not included but it really hurts your navigation when you don’t know where the hell you’re heading.
Even returning to explore previous areas is a chore because of this simply due to the fact that you might not remember where the entrances to those locales are! Finding the optional upgrades (one is hidden in each area) is made even more annoying due to this.
The Bottom Line.
Carrion certainly nails its premise in making you feel like a badass monster. The blood, violence and horrific methods of murder truly makes it feel like you’re the monster in all those sci-fi horror movies.
However, I wish there was more depth to it, both in gameplay and lore. Rampaging and murdering is fine, but I wish there’s more to the game than that. A leveling system would be a great addition, as it’d make you feel that you’re growing stronger as you progress.
The lack of a story’s also a drawback for me. With barely any motivation (the premise and the murdering is what kept me going), if Carrion was any other game, I’d have stopped after 20 mins. Even the original Super Mario Bros had a better driving force behind it (the princess is in another castle).
Until the ending, I had zero idea what the monster was up to. Hell, even then, I’m still in the dark about the origins of the creature, what exactly it is or even where it came from.
Also, the Metroidvania aspects of the game sorely needs a major overhaul. The mechanics are fine, but without a map to show where you’re are or where you want to go, the levels quickly become tedious to return to if you’re coming back for the optional upgrades.
Carrion’s not a bad game by any stretch. It’s a damn fine game in fact…but it could be one of the greats if it fixes its flaws. Given the ending, I have very little doubt that a sequel is coming given the ending… and I hope one I hope fixes all the issues in this to make the series really awesome!
Fun to play but with some major flaws.
- Cool premise.
- Looks great.
- Fun but shallow gameplay.
- No map.
- Non-existent plot.
- Gameplay needs more depth.