Carrion Alpha Impressions: Bloody Good and Bloody Hard
It's no secret that Carrion is a gory indie I've been excited to try out. So much so, that I even named it as one of our top 15 most anticipated horror games of 2020.
While Carrion's announcement trailer showed off some truly stunning imagery, the Games Festival limited-time demo catapulted this giblet-covered platformer into the upper echelons of anticipation.
Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to try it on Steam, and I can say that I was mostly impressed.
Carrion's selling point is that you play as a monster escaping a research facility. It's immediately clear that the game takes inspiration from John Carpenter's The Thing — just with a bloodier worm motif.
As the titular monster, you roll around on pseudopods that can stick to any surface, lending a serious World Of Goo feel to the game's wobbly movement. It might take some time to figure out, but it's satisfying once you start stalking the soldiers and scientists roaming about the lab.
Carrion's art style nails that dark and bloody feel, but it's the excellent sound effects that really take things to the next level. Between the whipping and suctioning of tentacles and the screams of dying fleshy scientists, this is a game best experienced with the sound turned up.
Staying with the gory style, there's also an appropriately gross take on save points. Your tentacled creature squiggles into wall cracks to form a beating heart that can be used to re-spawn and fill regain any lost biomass. It's delightfully creepy.
Unfortunately, not everything is bloody goodness (just yet). While you see text messages scrolling on various walls issuing warnings to complex employees, you miss out on any sort of actual conversations. Carrion would greatly benefit from audio in this regard, giving you the ability to listen to scientists or soldiers talking to each other.
Since so much of the game revolves around hiding and waiting before moving forward, it's currently a glaring omission I hope gets added later on.
Hard, But Satisfying
The alpha demo version of Carrion draws heavily on classic SNES and Genesis platformers, playing like a more fluid, but also more nightmarish and blood-soaked, version of Flashback.
In true old-school platformer style, Carrion is much harder than you'd expect considering that you are the big bloody monster and your enemies are a bunch of squishy, oh-so-edible humans.
Small arms fire isn't much of a concern, but machine gun turrets, drones with force fields, and soldiers wielding flamethrowers can quickly annihilate even a large blood monster if you aren't careful.
Because of the pixel art style and side-view camera, it's sometimes a little difficult to tell exactly which objects can be grabbed and interacted with as well. Some color tweaks would solve that issue nicely.
Adding to that difficulty is an issue with aiming while sticking to multiple anchor points around the room. There were several times during the demo where I was completely undetected and should have gotten in a quick kill, but the creature didn't launch exactly where I was trying to go. A soldier ended up turning around and killing me.
Though the physics are generally fun, some tweaking is in order before the game's final release.
Finally, the AI could also use a bit of a tweak for increased immersion as well. Scientists and office personnel run screaming at the sight of you, but soldiers have an odd lack of behavior.
Throwing a mangled corpse of a dead soldier at his living bodies elicits very little reaction at all — not even a shout or involuntary step back.
Some Final Bloody Thoughts
When you aren't devouring humans to add to your monster's biomass, most of Carrion involves destroying obstacles, pulling switches, circumventing deadly traps, and backtracking to previous areas to unlock new rooms.
Along the way you can launch viscera-covered spines to hold robotic enemies in place and upgrade new skills by breaking open canisters of god-knows-what. The fact that all of this is handled with three mouse buttons is kind of astonishing.
The sadly short Carrion demo ends with the release date blurred out (curses!) and a tantalizing view of the outside world just beyond the developer's workroom, making me want to get out there and devour!
Suffice it to say, Carrion has cemented its place on our most anticipated upcoming games, and we can't wait to see how it improves and expands at launch.