The tiny indie studio, Phobia Game Studio, lives up to its name with its creepy retro-styled game Carrion. Think of any horror film where people are trapped in a facility or any large contained area with an alien. Now flip that idea as in this game, you are the hungry creature. I went in with high hopes due to its flashy announcement and catchy idea. Killing, eating, and trying to escape to unleash further hell upon the world like a Xenomorph is what I expected, and while it was an appetizing experience, it was a non-filling meal that is worth the try due to its flavorful strengths, but I will not be going back to again anytime soon due to its bitter flaws.
Story – A forgettable side
The story does not go that much deeper from its premise as the gameplay is the main course. The narrative side for this flashy game is simple; you are an alien who wants to escape and eat people. Flashbacks tell a greater story of people investigating organisms with hazmat suits carrying rifles along with buttoned-up suits who are there to take notes. It is flavorless and more for the presentation. While I did not expect to be gripped by compelling characters and an in-depth journey for my slimy red friend, I wanted more from what I was given as the visual storytelling felt hallow with the no dialogue making it hard to digest this intriguing world.
The surrounding world and the glimpse at what these people were doing in an underground lab do tap my interest. Going through the map provides a look at the workplace for these people, making me want to ask questions and learn more about what is going on. While the developers commit to the foundation of the game, fleshing it out falls deeply flat.
Gameplay – Moist and messy in all of the tastiest of ways
Slithering and gliding around feels wonderful. Tentacles all around grabbing onto any surface to move along the facility works due to its unique feel and the physics that surround it. The alien moves the way it looks regardless of the room as it can fit in the tightest of places.
Combat is through grabbing people and dragging them to one of the many mouths on this hungry little creature. Depending on the room or the enemies, it can feel a bit clunky at times, at least in the beginning. Finding containment units, many of which offer helpful passive abilities, improve fighting armed meals. Obtaining offensive traps or defensive moves like invisibility smooths out the rough edges.
Abilities often require a certain size of the alien, which is divided into three sections. It creates an extra level of strategy when dealing with groups of people who think they can survive the hunger of an organism that they trapped along with interesting solutions to puzzles.
Grabbing onto people or objects has a weight to it that feels satisfying. To achieve freedom, doors will need to be ripped off, or grates will need to be destroyed. Whatever it is that is being blown up or ripped apart human or an inanimate object, it does not get old.
The variety of potential snacks is small, but each one requires a different strategy. Armed soldiers with electric shields will need a different approach than drones. Either way, that guy with the flame thrower is going in that mouth whether he wants to or not.
Puzzles pair up right up with consuming humans as the main portion of the gameplay. The best are clever that twist various mechanics into interesting solutions. On the lowest end, it is frustrating as the direction is poorly told. I often find myself circling the whole map trying to find out where I am supposed to go or what to do. The lack of indication on where to go in this maze is one of the biggest downfalls of this experience.
The bland flashbacks I mentioned earlier, well, it is boring too. As the human, I had to walk around, occasionally pulling a level or completing an elementary level puzzle. Thankfully, these moments and short and scarce, despite upsetting my appetite.
Checkpoints, or the hiveminds, are not only places to save to restart at to die, but it also allows for more domination. In reality, it doesn’t make a difference, but I enjoyed seeing the walls become veiny messes as I start to take control of the entire underground hell that my alien friend has been trapped in. Depending on the location, some areas do become annoyingly tedious as checkpoints have some awkward placements. Thankfully the echolocation, or growling, can help find these points of interest while intimidating the food.
Graphics and Audio – Sweet as pie
The desert that makes up for the inconsistent main course is the graphics and soundscape. The indie scene is rather obsessed with retro-styled graphics when you look at Hotline Miami and Party Hard, but Carrion does not disrupt the trend as it is just as flashy. The eye candy is both disgusting to look at while also stylized in a way that I cannot possibly look away.
The sound effects are disturbingly excellent. The squishy, wet sounds of an alien slithering around or the horrifying screams of people being eaten, it has it all. While the graphics make it not so scary, the sound design certainly gives me some goosebumps even though I am the one who is the monster in this scenario.
The score is epically haunting with an ominous atmosphere. It has multiple layers to create a level of complexity to the music. A symphonic backdrop with serious 80’s horror movie elements that makes this some of the best music of the year for video games, whether it is within the indie scene or the inner circles of AAA juggernauts.