Reverse-Horror Done Right: "Carrion" Review
Carrion is a reverse-horror game developed by Phobia Game Studio. In it, you play as an amorphous mass of tentacles breaking out of the science lab where you were held. You maneuver throughout the different parts of the lab, solving puzzles and destroying everything in your path. This is a genre that has not been thoroughly explored, at least in single-player games. So how well does Carrion develop the genre? Let’s find out!
The art and animations in Carrion are beautifully crafted. The sprites, the backgrounds, the effects. All of it blends together very well and has a high amount of detail. There were multiple times throughout the game where I just sat and stared at the pixel-art in all of its glory. Each area has a different aesthetic. The grassier outdoor areas are my favorite. The animations are very smooth. The movement of the creature is wonderfully done and hypnotizing to watch. The way its tentacles dynamically reach out and stick to walls is something I was thoroughly impressed by. A lot of attention to detail went into the movement of the creature, and it really shows. From the way it squishes and expands when squeezing through tight spaces, to the way it stretches out when you move quickly. It all shows that the devs put a lot of time into perfecting the monster’s animations. The art also helps amplify the brutality of everything you are doing. The dismembered body parts, blood particles spraying everywhere, the way things get destroyed when you smash into them. Many times you will entire a pristine science lab only to leave it looking like a warzone. There are also many small details put into the effects. Such as flamethrowers making bubbles when they contact water, or a lightbulb going out because you pulled it underwater.
The sound design in Carrion is very well done. From the mix of creepy sci-fi music to the pained screams of your victims, it all combines really well into something you would expect out of a horror game. The soundtrack fits the setting very well. It combines the sci-fi infused synths with haunting orchestral sections to reflect the futuristic nature of the lab and harrowing events that unfold because of your actions. The sounds of humans and the monster are also very well done. There is a nice mix of bone-crushing, flesh-ripping, and blood spurting that really makes the game even more brutal than it already is. The creature’s sound effects are frightening. The sound of the creature’s tentacles whipping across the walls and the alien roars really add to the overall creepiness of the creature.
The easiest way to describe Carrion’s gameplay is that of a Metroidvania. The levels are maze-like in nature but are linear enough to not get lost in. You unlock certain abilities throughout the game that allow you to backtrack to other areas of the game. Carrion is a linear game. There is not much exploring to be had, but there are some secret collectibles in the form of minor upgrades that can be found in every level. The main objective of all the levels is to open a central door that can be opened by reaching certain points that allow you to spread your biomass. Basically, a level will branch off from the door, you go down one branch to both unlock a portion of the door and another branch of the level. When you complete all of the branches the door will open then you will make your way to the next level.
Throughout the game, you will gain upgrades that will sometimes add to the size of the creature. There are three tiers of size, each with two unique abilities. What size you are is based on your health. So losing health will make you shrink, which will change which abilities you have available. This also means that eating enemies will restore your health and make you grow in size once you reach a certain threshold. This can be used to strategically change sizes mid-combat to let you use different abilities. For example, being at the smallest size lets you turn invisible, while the medium size lets you grow spikes on your body. There are also certain areas where you can manually drop off and take back your biomass. This is usually used in puzzles and only rarely helps you with certain combat sections.
The levels are composed of a mix of combat and puzzle sections. The puzzles are fairly straightforward, you use your different abilities to pull some sort of lever that allows you to progress. I never really got stuck on the puzzles, but some did require some clever use of the mechanics.
The combat sections are composed of different enemy types being laid out in sections varying in layout and scale. These sections were the most fun and where the game really shines. Each section is laid out in such a way that if you are at a certain size different combat options will be available to you. The main way of attacking in the game is by using a tentacle to grab humans to either eat them or throw them against a wall. You can also throw props in the environment at enemies, which was sometimes hard to do in cramped environments. These sections are what really sell the reverse horror aspect. Sometimes I would reach out of a vent to grab an enemy, pull him in, chomp him in half and let his legs fall back down into the room, all in front of another NPC. It would be exactly what would happen in a horror movie, and I loved it.
Most of the enemies will block your attacks from the front, so you will have to sneak up on them, which also adds to the horror element. It also turns a lot of combat encounters into secret puzzles. Figuring out how to stealthily maneuver around a certain enemy so you can whisk them away without exposing yourself to the half-dozen other armed enemies in the room.
There are unarmed enemies will run away from you once they see you. This also adds to the horror aspect, but I wish it was expanded upon. Armed enemies will not run away from you, but I think it would be interesting to add a “braveness” system where NPCs witnessing their friends get torn apart would make them run. I can see why the designers did not do something like this as it would make some encounters too easy. But I do think it would be interesting to see in a similar game.
At a certain point, you can also take control of enemies, which was very fun to use in combat scenarios. You can stealthfully take control of enemies and either use their weapons or pilot mechs that are sometimes scattered around the levels. There were also some memories you could access where you played as a human. These serve as story-development tools and are frankly not as fun to play. However, they are very short and you only need to play three of them so they do not detract from the main gameplay too much.
The only problem I had with the combat was that being too big sometimes made it hard to maneuver around in the cramped corridors. The creature will squeeze through just about any gap. There were some points, however, where I could not tell what portion of the creature I was actually in control of because it was too big. This sometimes led to me struggling to get through a certain gap because I could not tell where the “front” of the creature was.
Carrion is VERY fun. The whole time I was very engaged and enjoyed every level. I love horror, and this was a very good spin on the genre. I spent about four hours completing the game. It is $20, which might be too high for some people considering the game is short (although I think it is the perfect length). If you want to support a great indie studio and this game intrigues you, I would highly recommend buying it. If you are interested but don’t want to pay that much I would highly suggest waiting for a sale. It is also available on Xbox Game Pass, which is how I played it. Overall, if this game has piqued your interest even a little bit I would highly suggest picking it up. It is a very good game in a genre that is not very well explored. I sincerely hope that there is a sequel or that this game inspires other people to make similar games. The game was a blast to play and hopefully, it will inspire other people to add on to the genre.
Final Score: 9/10