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At first glance, Carrion doesn’t fit in with the strong image many have of Devolver Digital. It’s got the buckets of blood down, but the style is a little off. This is a horror game where you play the monster, a teeming mass of red tentacles and flesh that creeps around a science facility devouring all in its path. It’s a fine theme, but it just doesn’t seem to fit in with your Hotline Miamis and Serious Sams. I certainly didn’t think so until I got to play it during a limited demo offered around Halloween this year. Once you start stalking hapless humans yourself, everything falls into place.
Carrion Preview | Stealthy horror done monstrously right
Rather than ripping power away from you, Carrion delights in how overwhelming you can become. As you consume your poor victims, your size and power increase which help you toward you goal of escaping the facility you’re trapped in. Your elementary school probably had a PC game where you started out as a small fish and ended up as a huge shark. Whether called Odell Down Under or Feeding Frenzy, the developers at Phobia Game Studio exploit these same concepts. Just take out the fish and any form of edutainment and replace it with gallons of human blood.
Not only does Carrion put a great spin on horror, but it also finds something new in the grand video game tradition of sneaking around facilities. This is a stealth game without the tedium, although that may change with more advanced enemies in the full release. For now, the only things that pose a threat to you are the slow-moving machine gun turrets and a few soldiers with particularly nasty energy shields and flamethrowers. Each hit costs you a bit of your mass, but you have a few offensive capabilities besides your grasping tentacles. The charged pounce is the best of the lot as it lets you recreate all the best scenes from Aliens and its countless ripoffs.
That’s truly where Carrion starts to fit into Devolver’s wheelhouse. Whether you’re bashing your way through a row of computers or slithering down an air vent, Carrion feels very much inspired by grindhouse cinema. It shares its lust for blood with Butcher, the studio’s previous 2D love letter to the spirit of Doom. The graphics have much improved from that game, but you’re still leaving a lot to the imagination, just like looking past the rubber-faced mutant in The Toxic Avenger.
Carrion Preview | Certainly not a Clone Saga
As you might expect from a free demo, my time with Carrion was disappointingly short. I got to clear out a tutorial area. Each new room held a new challenge, with most requiring at least one deft maneuver and the pull of a switch to continue. While there’s no incentive to eating every living being, there’s certainly a lot of joy in watching the humans panic as you approach. There are a good variety of reactions as well. Some will just cower in the corner, while others will pull out a pistol in a desperate and foolish last stand. As long as more types of enemies keep showing up in the final game, the “combat” will hopefully continue to be quite enjoyable.
Since this is a demo of an unfinished product, you can’t expect everything to be nailed down and finalized. Just look at the other half of Carrion‘s gameplay. The world needs some sort of map or indicator to give you a sense of direction. As it is, there were two types of locations in what I played. The differences between the locations were clear, but every gray office building and green outdoor area blended together immediately. Since you’re exploring a building, unlocking new pathways and doubling back on your steps, the lack of any sort of navigational aid is killer. As it stands, wandering aimlessly for minutes on end becomes a regular part of finding the next area.
Perhaps this is too much to expect of a demo, but it would also be helpful if there was some sort of progression to the stages as you rampage. A few of your actions do activate floating security drones, but seeing a more human element would fill out the world. Perhaps the police could arrive to the starting room just as you have to pass through to reach the exit or maybe a beaker you knock over in a lab grows into a competing science experiment. This was one of the best elements of the otherwise middling Katana Zero, and it’d fit in great here. It would be just a little something to make backtracking a little more enjoyable.
Carrion Preview | Where’s the beef?
Music is appropriately minimal, and you make a fine soundtrack with screams of terror as you rip humans in half. The graphics have some great moments, even if they’re firmly in the modern pixel art style that pops up almost too frequently nowadays. Everything looks best with the stark red of the monster protagonist contrasting with its dull surroundings. The fact that your character often blends into the blood fountains it produces just adds to the particularly chaotic moments. Needless to say, this isn’t a game for the squeamish.
Way back at E3 2019, I had several chances to play Carrion, but I didn’t take them. Other games called out to me more, and I didn’t get what this game was going for at a glance. I just wrongly assumed it was another horror experience that I wouldn’t be into. I’m thankful that Devolver gave me another chance to right this wrong because this is exactly the type of game I’ll be happy to wait for next year. It’s over the top, nasty, and quite unapologetic in the process. It just goes to show, you can’t judge a Necronomicon by its cover.