Carrion Review – A Bloody Good Time
Imagine you wake up in an underground facility as a blob of biomass. As you lay on the cold table you come to realize you are being held as a prisoner of scientists who poke and prod you while they run various tests and experiments. After weeks of horrible treatment you find a way out but it involves massacring anyone and any thing in your path. This scenario is exactly what is presented to players in the action-platformer Carrion. Is it fun? Check out our thoughts in our Carrion review below.
What is Carrion?
Carrion is an action-platformer horror title that puts players in control of a strange biomass monster that is escaping from a research facility deep underground. As the monster makes its way to the surface it must learn and use a variety of abilities for both combat and puzzle solving.
- Developer: Phobia Game Studio.
- Publisher: Devolver Digital.
- Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch.
- MSRP: $19.99 USD.
- Hours Played for Review: 11.
- Game Beaten: Yes with 100% achievements.
- Code Provided by Developer: Yes, Devolver Digital.
This title can be played with either keyboard and mouse or controller. Since I received a copy on PC I opted to play with keyboard and mouse. Controllers are supported and the little testing I did seemed competent.
Exploring as a Monster
When you start Carrion for the first time you are prompted to break out of a Containment Tank. After vigorously tapping the mouse to rock the tank bank and forth the main character of the game, a small red biomass, emerges. This monster (that I call Red) lacks many of the traditional character traits gamers have come to expect out of main characters. Red doesn’t speak, Red doesn’t think out loud, Red doesn’t shoot guns, wear different skins or even crack jokes. All Red really does is slide along walls and kill anything that gets in its way while it attempts its escape.
While Red may sound pretty boring the developers have actually created a rather compelling main character. Red is constantly being guided through the different levels of the game by the player. This forward momentum is spurred on largely by solid level design and an interconnected research facility made up of various levels. Each level the player completes with Red is one step closer to the surface and escape.
Each level of Carrion is housed in a sealed area that you ‘breach’ into from a central hub called the Frontier. When you breach an area you enter into a sort of stand-alone level you are free to explore. Once you breach out of a level (often through a closed door at the end of it) you return to a new section of the Frontier where you will need to find the next level to breach into to explore.
These levels you explore each have a certain theme. One level is a uranium mine while another is a Nuclear Power Plant. As you explore these levels you will encounter a variety of puzzles that can be solved using the different abilities you unlock. These puzzles must be completed to advance the story and require some thought to complete. One puzzle may task you with taking control of an enemy soldier then jumping into a mech to kill his comrades while another has you pulling certain switches to change the flow of water so you can squeeze through access points to new areas.
There is a ton to like in the levels and environments in Carrion. Most of the levels and their environments feel unique and the puzzles you get to complete are fun and interesting. The research facility is laid out in an interesting manner that does a good job pushing you through levels towards the end goal of reaching the surface in a way that seems fairly organic. While linear in nature there is also some worthwhile back-tracking players can complete in most of the levels that reward those that like to explore with special passive bonuses.
Exploration aside the next major game play component is combat. Since Red is escaping a research facility that doesn’t want it to escape it encounters a number of enemies stationed throughout the various levels. These enemies take a variety of forms from traditional guards with guns to drones with lasers and mechs. To deal with these various enemies Red has a number of tools at its disposal from lethal tentacle attacks to aggressive slams and spiked projectile body shots. These attacks often lead to rather gruesome deaths for the victims in your path ranging from decapitations to being ripped apart or even consumed.
This sort of hyper-violent combat gave me flashbacks to games like Katana Zero and Hotline Miami. Each room in Carrion can be approached as a sort of combat puzzle from a number of different angles with often hilarious results. You can try to plan your way through a lot of the rooms but the real fun is when all hell breaks loose and things collapse into sheer chaos.
Another nice touch with the combat is that after a room is cleared of enemies it is often covered in blood and corpses which stay there even when you backtrack. This aids in the breakout feeling that plays into the underlying narrative as levels you clear don’t become repopulated when you simply leave and come back.
My only real complaint against the combat in Carrion is the lack of bosses. Across your play-through of the game you will only encounter the same basket of enemies. This is a minor complaint but I would have liked to see some interesting boss fights interspersed into the some of the levels to really push the combat systems to their full potential.
Monster Growth and Ability Juggling
Since Red is a biomass blob there is no traditional health system. Instead Red must consume enemies it encounters to replenish any lost health. This means grabbing consumable enemies with Red’s tentacles and pulling them to its mass to eat. This plays into the monster growth system that is unlocked as you get more abilities. When you start the game you are a small biomass blob. As you gain access to more abilities Red grows in size.
There are three sizes Red can be at any given time depending on how much health it has. These sizes each have their own abilities available to them. If you are too big you can shed biomass in specific pools located around each level to access the different size’s abilities. This means you juggle between sizes rather frequently and further adds to the puzzle element of the game. For one combat scenario you may need be the largest size biomass since you get extra health and more powerful combat abilities while you may need to be smaller size biomass to get through certain traps or room sequences.
Overall I had a really good time playing Carrion. The game presents a unique twist on the action-platformer experience by putting players in the role of a monster. As the monster you get to explore a research facility in a way you wouldn’t as a normal human being. This exploration presents a number of interesting puzzles to complete. This exploration coupled with a bloody, over the top combat system hit a number of sweet spots for me. If I could level any real criticism against the game it is against its lack of boss fights and the game’s overall length. My first play-through came in at roughly 4 hours with 100% taking me 10 hours. It felt like just as the game was really hitting its stride for me with all abilities found and passives unlocked it came to an abrupt end. My overall experience, however, leaves me very hopeful for a larger and much longer Carrion 2.