Keep calm and CARRION
Although every game featured in the 2020 Devolver Direct looked incredible, CARRION was the one that excited me the most. I’m a sucker for anything pixel art, and when something unique like a “reverse horror” game gruesomely graces our screens? Oh yeah, this one was gonna be good.
Developed by Phobia Game Studio and published by Devolver Digital, CARRION places players in the role of an amorphous creature who has just broken out of its test tube in an underground facility. With the humans on high alert due to the containment breach, sneaking around the cavernous map and consuming anything that moves to gain biomass while seeking escape is easier said than done, but hey — with enough tentacles, you’re more than capable of such a feat.
Controls in CARRION are some of the most fluid and most satisfying I’ve ever experienced. By holding down right click and moving the mouse in the direction you’d like to go, players are able to gracefully glide through maps with ease. The level of fluidity makes immersion instantaneous — by reducing the amount of thought involved with controls and letting players quickly move from A to B, it’s easier to get into the mindset of a mindless mass of tissue and bones. After all, by not having to think and instead merely doing are we an amorphous creature, ready to grab and gulp down our next meal.
Speaking of meals, the humans in CARRION surprised me. Their humanity was not something I expected. While I certainly figured they would shoot back at this grotesque monster headed straight towards them, their blood-curling screams of terror gave me pause. Their fear was never enough to break the feeling of being said monster, mind you — just enough that their emotions registered. CARRION lets you know that you can use Left Shift to roar at the humans as a way to taunt them, and it was almost a journey of discovering the self that I participated in terrorizing the humans. By emitting this wretched sound and watching the humans scatter in self-preservation, I learned my role as a predator, and they learned theirs as prey. It felt… good.
While there isn’t much of a storyline in CARRION, what little that is there was surprising. Certain points will have you taking on the role of of humans trying to stop what is happening, and the difference between controlling them and the creature are night and day. I am not sure if it was on purpose, but moving the humans was an exercise in patience — after gliding across the screen as the monster, using WASD to move the humans was frustratingly slow. I found myself itching for the mindlessness that was the creature, even though it meant my species was getting decimated. Once I was back in the bloody saddle, it was once again satisfying to dominate, painting the walls red.
One thing I really loved about CARRION were the little details. Watching blood drop down the walls in my wake was eerily pleasing, aesthetic in its own right. The way the humans moved was reminiscent of Prince of Persia rotoscoping, their movements fluid yet laborious. The way color popped in certain stages, forcing the eye to move from a specific end of the screen to the other — the developer scripted the movement of the player’s eyes and emotions just as much as the code. It’s so easy to see exactly how the developer wanted players to experience CARRION, and I am absolutely here for such a fluid, immersive ride.
Of course, it’s not all roses in CARRION; although this is very clearly a metroidvania, players new to the genre might feel the absence of a map a little harder than veterans might. I don’t think this is the fault of the game, rather the fault of positioning — everything else about CARRION was such a selling point that this may have slipped a few minds. And while I don’t think it’s that big of a deal, a few Steam reviews indicate that there was at least the expectation there. By stating that CARRION is a metroidvania, I think that would do enough to mitigate player expectations, for a map is certainly not needed.
This brings me to my next point — a map is not needed because CARRION can already be beaten in one (albeit long) sitting. With some players reporting a completion time of just under five hours, CARRION is not meant to stay long in this world. Personally, I think it’s perfectly portioned, so again, no complaints on my end — more a reason as to why a map would be a detriment in an already near-perfect experience.
In fact, the only real complaint I have hearkens back to controls, oddly enough — as you progress, you gain more abilities, such as a web and mind control. While I thoroughly enjoyed the abilities, as they provided new mechanics for puzzle solving, their positioning on the keyboard was odd. I’m already trying to hit Left Shift, now I have to hit E and also use the mouse? And if I want to take photos (which, as a reviewer, I am want to do), I have to stretch all the way over to F12 with… who knows what hand lmao. Should I grow another tentacle? Point is, those massively fluid and satisfying controls were diminished when I had to use any key past Left Shift, as using other keys became a source of discomfort.
That aside, CARRION lived up to the hype and exceeded expectations. With amazing aesthetics, beautiful music, gorgeous controls, a solid concept, and seriously fun puzzles, CARRION is without a doubt one of the best games 2020 has offered and will no doubt be on many a GOTY list. For horror fans and complete cowards alike, CARRION delivers on all promises and sets the bar for controls and how they play into the player’s psyche. In fact, after finishing CARRION, I’m left feeling similarly to Devolver Direct’s Linda Masters — CARRION 2 confirmed, yes? When can we have it?
CARRION may initially fail to grab a more mainstream gamer’s attention simply due to the pixel graphics, preferring hyper-realism instead. For those of us who adore indies, CARRION is the game to sit that subset of players down to prove that indies can absolutely hold their own. CARRION‘s greatest triumph isn’t the beautiful aesthetics or the extremely fun gameplay, however — despite it having both — but the game’s ability to make players own the identity of an amorphous creature discovering itself while finding a way out and feeding on the unfortunate. If that’s not immersion taken to the coolest extreme, I’m not sure what is. CARRION is a must-play; grab it before it grabs you.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch, XBox One, PC (reviewed); Publisher: Devolver Digital; Developer: Phobia Game Studio; Players: 1; Released: July 23, 2020; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a review copy of CARRION provided by the publisher.