Carrion is a Metroid-like, 2D platformer published by Devolver Digital in which you play as a gruesome, alien parasite. That statement contains all the information you need to understand exactly how the PC game plays. There’s the genre: Metroid-like 2D platformer. There’s the subject matter: playing as a gruesome, alien parasite. There’s the game’s scope and style: published by Devolver Digital. In other words, Carrion is a wonderfully stylized, indie platformer with plenty of bloody violence.
Yes, Devolver publishes several elaborate 3D games, including Serious Sam and Shadow Warrior, but the company built its identity with indie (or indie-like, since “indie” implies the developer doesn’t technically have a publisher) games like Hotline Miami, Enter the Gungeon, Katana Zero, and The Messenger. Devolver, as a publisher, has its own unique flavor, like Nintendo or Focus Home Interactive. The flavor is a slightly low-fi, shaky aesthetic filled with stylized bombast, producing a unique and memorable visual experience without overcomplication. The $19.99 Carrion, developed by Phobia Studio, fits perfectly with that vision. The PC game is gory, slightly tongue-in-cheek, and offers a fun, 2D exploration and puzzle-solving experience you can wrap up in a few hours.
Creeping, Rusty, Meat
In Carrion, you control a violent alien creature that looks like a David Cronenberg-interpreted Super Meat Boy. The creature resembles a pile of meat, but with deadly teeth and tentacles. As for the narrative, you break out of a mysterious research center’s confinement tube and cut a swath of goopy destruction on a path to freedom and vengeance.
The control scheme relies on both analog sticks for movement and the trigger buttons for most actions. The left stick lets you slosh and float around levels by using your tentacles to smoothly cling to nearby surfaces. The right stick aims your tentacles and lets you grab objects, so that you may throw or eat them. The right trigger grabs onto whatever you aim at, while the left trigger and bumpers control other abilities like growling, lunging, or firing a harpoon made of bone and slime.
Your abilities depend on the game’s cool “biomass” mechanic. Essentially, your size determines your capabilities. For instance, a sufficiently large body doubles your health capacity and lets you perform an action, such as charging through a barrier. A small body lets you fire the previously mentioned harpoon through small cracks. Solving the game’s puzzles depends on mastering these body-size mechanics. Keep an eye out for red-tinted pools; in them you can deposit half of your biomass to shrink down and use your smaller form’s skills to complete the level.
Since you’re wandering, toothy, alien meat, the researchers who confined you to the glass tube won’t be happy to see you. Unarmed humans run away upon sighting you, but not fast enough to avoid your deadly tentacles that draw them into your many gnashing mouths. Consuming humans restores your health. Some humans tote damage-dealing pistols, but those enemies aren’t any more difficult to grab and eat than the unarmed humans. The threats steadily increase throughout the game, and eventually, you must take on armored soldiers with energy shields that block your tentacles, as well as various drones and turrets that prove far more dangerous. You can’t consume some enemy types in later stages to regain your health. Dying simply puts you at the most recent nest you infested, and, thankfully, you won’t lose much more process than the last fight or puzzle or two.
As a 2D game with an indie scope, Carrion prioritizes style and presentation over graphical complexity. People are faceless blocks of sprites with realistic animations, who move like characters in the original, rotoscoped Prince of Persia game. The environments are ominous industrial mazes of brown-red rust, brown-green plant life, and sterile gray-blue laboratories. It looks very similar to games like Katana Zero and Gunpoint, with an obvious focus on hidden and decaying facilities instead of modern or cyberpunk cityscapes.
The parasite you control is the most graphically complex element of the game—and by far the most disgusting. Your alien’s lumpy flesh, gnashing teeth, and tentacles incorporate 2D physics effects that make the disgusting mass squirm and jiggle. You grow and shrink from a tiny meat man to a massive writhing mass, as you consume enemies and take damage, respectively. Your tentacles lash out at the nearest surface as you move to produce momentum, so as to properly create the sensation of propulsion. It’s visually impressive sprite work, and looks appropriately gross.
Explore and Infest
The game takes place across a Frontier area that serves as an overworld, with portals that lead to discrete interconnected facilities run by researchers. You must find entrances to each facility, and break the seal on the exit portal by infesting a certain number of nests (which act as save points). As you progress through each dungeonlike facility, you consume humans, solve puzzles, and find new abilities that let you attack more facilities.
Structurally, Carrion is fairly Metroid-like, specifically Metroid II: The Return of Samus or Metroid Fusion. You enter a new level (a dungeonlike facility accessible through a portal), find pretty much everything there is to find (including possibly a new ability), and then move on to the next stage. There’s little backtracking outside of each facility and little reason to backtrack, since there are very few collectibles beyond the new abilities you acquire as you progress.
Progression is often more a matter of solving puzzles than engaging in combat. Occasionally, you must clear enemy-filled rooms, but more often than not you’ll use your abilities to creep through vents, flip switches, open passages, and sneak past enemies and traps by turning invisible or possessing a human host. The facilities become more complicated and heavily guarded the deeper you go, steadily ratcheting up the challenge and complexity of the puzzles as you gain more abilities.
While the game’s progression is generally linear, navigating facilities can prove confusing. For example, the Frontier feels both sprawling and stifling, depending on the sections’ layouts. Unfortunately, there’s no in-game map to help you navigate. You can seek out nearby nests, but that’s about it. You’re mostly on your own, and that can be disorienting. On the bright side, each facility portal shows your progress on a display above it, so you can tell whether you need to go in or move on.
Carrion should take between four and eight hours to beat. Because of the constant forward momentum and fewer collectibles than most Metroid-like games, it’s a brisk adventure. There are no multiplayer game modes.
Little Power Needed
To play Carrion, your PC must sport at least a dual-core 64-bit processor CPU, 1GB RAM, 500MB of storage, and the Windows 7 operating system. Carrion’s a 2D, sprite-based game, so it won’t tax your system, nor does it require a discrete graphics card. My PowerSpec 1510, a PC that far exceeds the minimum specs, moved the game at a consistent 60 frames per second (at a 2,560 by 1,080-pixel resolution).
As a Steam game, Carrion supports Steam Achievements, Steam Cloud, and Steam Trading Cards.
Carrion, My Wayward Son
If you like The Thing or David Cronenberg films, Carrion is the game for you, as it bursts with blood and viscera. More importantly, Carrion’s puzzles are satisfyingly complex, and its progression system builds your capabilities to an extensive toolbox of lashing tentacles and alien powers. It’s a fun bit of stylish, violent horror, and well worth the $20.
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