When it comes to movies the sci-fi horror genre usually depicts an unknown alien entity slowly taking out or messing with a crew somewhere on a distant planet. Or, aboard a space-rig floating in orbit. When it comes to games the same is true, though the entity usually comes in many forms, multiplies, and each monstrous piece demands a quick transformation into alien goo.
Carrion, a new side-scrolling Metroid-like experience from Phobia Game Studio, puts you in control of “an amorphous creature of unknown origins” - the alien. It’s a setup that wholeheartedly earns its unique and fun ‘reverse horror’ description. It’s a strange and often thrilling game that plays out over the course of a few hours, an experience where the goals are simple – consume to evolve and look for some form of escape. Via ripping, tearing, and chewing all humans that get in your way.
Movement is the first aspect of Carrion that impresses, where just like the many tendrils of your fleshy core looking for a hard-surface on which to anchor, it’s a flow born more from physics and bodily fluids than precise traversal or anything else we’ve come to associate with this style of game. In a very literal sense Carrion is somewhat alien to the genre on which its framework draws inspiration. No map, no clear indicators of where you might need an ability. No one to talk to and no plot involving exposition spouting characters. Just plenty of screams.
"The goals are simple – consume to evolve and look for some form of escape. Via ripping, tearing, and chewing all humans that get in your way.”
Although not a slight against the art direction and the wonderful use of red to indicate progression, places you’ve been, and sights of ungodly carnage, Carrion’s excellent sound design is something to behold. And it’s biggest strength. From quiet moments to environmental effects to the many over-the-top screams from your pixelated victims. In a way it’s unnerving, but mostly falls in line with the cinematic roots of the genre – unreality by the way of heightened tension and a team of creators gleefully pulling the strings. Of which you can do plenty as the conductor of a violent space-age orchestra.
To call Carrion’s action sequences or moments of violence 'combat' or 'stealth-based' feels a little strange, in that there is some degree of staying hidden – moving through vents – but it’s not all that difficult or challenging. Perhaps it’s a deliberate design decision, putting you in control of an alien thing that evolves and grows so powerful that you can paint a room red in seconds. No doubt that can be a lot of fun, but it also highlights Carrion’s weaker or less expressive elements.
These being puzzle solving, backtracking, and feeling like you’re exploring a connected series of levels. Tying abilities to your current size is an interesting mechanic but one that never really, well, evolves beyond having to grow or shrink one or two sizes bigger or smaller to get past an obstacle.
No map and the general ease of getting through scores of scientists makes Carrion unusually easy, especially when we’ve been conditioned to view these sort of sci-fi horror jams as something where humanity adapts to take the alien out – i.e. you. Levels are quite small, with very few secrets to discover. Even so there’s plenty of confusion if you decide to wander off, with the sonar-style navigation ability being all but pointless. There were even a few occasions where we stumbled onto the exit. Reaching the endgame and final “room” was the same too.
"Carrion’s excellent sound design is something to behold. And it’s biggest strength. From quiet moments to environmental effects to the many over-the-top screams from your pixelated victims.”
That said Carrion is ultimately fascinating, engaging, and short and sweet. By putting you in the role of the alien threat it imbues you with a strange supervillain-like sense of playing in an insect farm. A playground where your prey often moves around sans limbs. If you’re a fan of sci-fi horror sub-genre then Carrion is worth seeking out.
Posted 09:07pm 29/7/20
Didn't play long. Did find it a tad confusing but I think that's the point of the early game. Can't wait to eat more people.