Platforms: PC, Switch, Xbox One
Players: 1 Player
Genres: Horror, arcade, puzzle
Developer: Phobia Game Studio
Price: £16.99 or included with Xbox Game Pass
Keep calm and Carrion
If you’re like me and root for the bad guys in movies then Carrion is the game for you. Carrion is the new horror game from the team at Phobia Game Studio. It’s described as a ‘reverse horror game’ which sounds interesting, to say the least. Tell me more.
The concept is simple, you play as the bad guy. A tentacled mass of sharp teeth hell-bent on escaping a secret underground laboratory, devouring scientists and soldiers trying to stop you. Yeah, good luck with that. As you tear through the facility destroying all in your path, enemies get tougher, puzzles get harder and tensions grow, much like the gruesome creature you control. To be honest, I’m surprised more games haven’t attempted this concept before. Sure, GTA is probably the most successful game that has done this. But, even then the characters are quite lovable and you tend to kill people that deserve it. It’s much closer to ‘Rampage’, a game in which due to an experiment gone wrong, you control big monsters trying to destroy civilization, but with less cartoony artwork and more blood. Much more blood.
I’ve been following Carrion for some time now, and when I first saw the trailers showing the monster consuming all in its path, I was invested. It ticked all the boxes for me, horror, gore, epic music, puzzles and more gore. When I saw it was available to buy I jumped straight in and downloaded it immediately.
Here’s the thing
At the time of writing, I’m close to 5 hours played and I’m really enjoying it so far, the controls are pretty intuitive, mainly focused around the left and right mouse buttons, plus a handful of others. You’re never stuck trying to work out how to devour someone, just click and dinner is served. I’m playing this on PC so I don’t know exactly how the controls would work on the Switch. However, you move by clicking the left mouse button in the direction you want to go so I would be really interested to see how that translates to the Switch.
When you first start you’re quite limited to how much your blob can do, you can move and catch humans with your tentacles and consume them, but that feels like enough, I instantly feel like a threat. The game slowly grants me the power to become more deadly by being able to control humans, smash through barriers and turn into a swarm of worm-like creatures in water plus many more, but I won’t spoil those for you.
You find these power-ups in the form of big test tube containers. You break into them and consume their power, this is a really nice touch that stays true to the story. You’re told how to use them but not where, which forces you to experiment with the surroundings, much like a newly formed mass of biomass would need to do. They aren’t hard to work out at first and the puzzles are repeated throughout the facility so the solution is the same.
I feel like a threat but as I start to encounter armed guards with shields and flamethrowers, mech units, and mounted guns, I tread more carefully. They can quickly make mincemeat of you, so they require you to be smart. Rather than burst into a room full of flamethrower wielding troops who will introduce you to a serious toasting, crawl into a vent, control one of them with your mind control ability and do the torching yourself. Clever girl.
You’re gonna hear me roar!
One of my favourite functions is the roar button, that’s right, a roar button. You can press shift which lets out a blood-curdling roar, using echolocation it directs you to the nearest save points. Humans tremble in fear at the sound, knowing they’re about to become a meal. It’s really satisfying seeing them all runaway and try to hide behind doors, doors that certainly won’t keep me from ripping them in half.
That being said, it’s not all positive growing into a bus-sized blob you know. As you grow your previous abilities are suppressed and you need those to pass certain puzzles. At the point of writing, I have unlocked 3 levels of size – as you consume more bodies you grow. If you get shot you shrink down until you are no more. Each level of size has abilities associated with it and certain puzzles require those abilities to progress. You’ll often find yourself depositing your mass in bodies of water dotted around the map to shrink back down and obtain previous abilities to progress to the next stage. None of the abilities are left obsolete and adds another layer to the puzzles. It keeps you thinking and on your toes, I really liked this call back to previous stages.
Healing is pretty straightforward and straight-up cool, snacking on humans will regen your health and regain your mass. Saving the game requires you to find cracks in the facility where you can deposit your biomass and serve as a living teeth wielding checkpoint. I really like this feature as it makes the whole experience seamless and they’re rare enough for you to be careful about dying and restarting your progress.
That room looks familiar
Now, my biggest gripe with the game so far is the lack of a map, mini or larger. Early on, this isn’t an issue as I just aimlessly fling myself around the areas consuming human-shaped meat packages. But things get frustrating and somewhat tedious further down the line. My memory is pretty bad so when I have to rely on it, that’s a problem. I find myself questioning if I’ve already been to certain places, a lot. This is made worse if you stop playing for a day or 2. Trying to pick up where you left off might leave you lost for a while. There isn’t too much in terms of in-game directions, and most of the facility looks the same, so this could end up being a big problem. That being said, at the moment it’s a fairly small inconvenience for me and it does stick to the narrative, a big biomass blob wouldn’t have access to Google maps. Let’s see how that goes.
Worth a bite?
The general atmosphere is amazing, the look and sound of Carrion is great. The pixelated art reminds me of gaming as a child and the soundtrack is equally haunting and epic. The attention to detail continues to leave you with nice surprises. Light bulbs burst, computer screens instantly smash as you come hurtling past. Chains rattle and scientists scream. It’s the small details like this that funnily enough have the most impact.
Carrion pushes the concept of arcade/puzzle games but doesn’t break the mould in terms of execution. The puzzles are quite repetitive and they slowly take over as the main focus of the game. Once you’ve cleared out a room of soldiers (which doesn’t take long), you’re left exploring the same rooms over and over again trying to find the next area. The horror atmosphere quickly subsides when you’re just roaming around looking for a lever.
I feel like the game quickly loses momentum and at the point of writing, I’m not expecting the game to last much longer. I think it serves its purpose fairly quickly and players might find themselves frustrated towards the end of the game aimlessly crawling through the vaguely similar corridors.
At £16.99 it’s at the higher end of what I’d pay for a single-player arcade game. But I’d been following Carrion for a long time so I caved and paid full price. After buying the game I learnt that it was on Xbox game pass so could have saved some money and paid for a month subscription. I got too excited and paid the price, quite literally.
I would recommend picking it up on Game Pass as I imagine it would be in total around 6-7 hours total playtime, certainly worth the monthly cost. I really enjoyed playing Carrion and the positives greatly outweigh the negatives. It doesn’t try to be something it’s not. If you’re looking for a compelling narrative, character progression, and layers of complexity then this might not be the game for you. But if you’re looking for a fun, gruesome, fast-paced game with lots of character then I would definitely give it a whirl.