Be the flesh monster you were born to be in this gloriously gory and gruesomely grotesque gem from Phobia Game Studio and Devolver Digital.
The Electronic Entertainment Expo of 2019 (or E3 if we’re going by its street name) was chockablock of video games. Famously it was the E3 in which Keanu Reeves showed up and told you that you were breathtaking, which, completely understandably, may have distracted you from some of the smaller releases that were scattered across the 4-day period.
One such smaller release was Carrion, a gorgeous little gem made by Phobia Game Studio in Warsaw and published by fan-favourite Devolver Digital. Carrion, put in layman terms, is the best maze game I have ever played. I’m sure I’m hearing you through your monitor right now: a maze game? Seriously? You signed up to write for the Edge a year and a half ago and now the game that has pushed you into the driver’s seat is… a maze game? I would answer yes, indeed, and I’ll tell you why.
Imagine you’re a scientist in a big facility, when something appears to be wrong. There are alarms going off, an unorthodox amount of screaming, blood spills across the canteen floor, and then suddenly the door explodes open in front of you and you witness your body being torn in half and your legs consumed as your lifeless soul drifts away into the void.
Spooky stuff, right?
But in Carrion, you’re not the lately deceased scientist person that was once fearing for their lives and their legs. In Carrion, you’re the big scary monster, and it is a serious power fantasy.
So let’s get down to brass tacks. Carrion is a 2D puzzle labyrinth game in which you move around the map, eat people, grow bigger, solve problems, initiate in a few combat instances, eat people and learn what it means to be the source of trauma for any NPCs you choose to leave alive. I myself finished Carrion in 4 hours and left a total of one survivor in the entire facility, not because I had to but because, you know, someone has to tell the tale.
The standout feature of the game is easily the movement. It’s terribly hard to explain, but one of the smoothest and most satisfying systems I’ve seen in a video game since the gliding in Just Cause 3 and the web-slinging in Spider-Man for the PS4. In Carrion, there are a number of stages you can be in size and each stage comes with its own unique abilities (I won’t go into them too much because I’d hate to spoil anything.) As you get bigger you get more health but movement becomes more difficult as it becomes trickier to zip through the small places as you could when you were a smaller monster. The different stages of growth each feel excitingly unique, and you will have to utilise each of them to pass the puzzles that need solving in this labyrinth of a game.
Like every game though, Carrion does come with its issues. If you go in blind (like I did) you may struggle to figure out what you’re doing. All I knew about Carrion going into it was that I was a big spooky and I made peoples faces go bye-bye. I had no idea it was a puzzle game and so sometimes when I was stuck trying to figure out what to do I would end up moving around the level in circles. This, accompanied with the fact that Carrion is not particularly good at telling the player how some things worked, meant that when I eventually finished the game I had to go back to pick up all of the secrets – secrets that unfortunately would have made the game a lot more fun had I figured them out at the time. I also don’t think there’s enough screaming in the game, it would’ve been nice to really flesh out that power fantasy by some NPCs shouting stuff like “oh no, it ate Darren!”, “help! It’s too fast”, or “where did my legs go!?”. But, hey, that’s just a minor gripe.
Overall, if you like 2D pixel art and quirky mechanics, a unique and satisfying movement system, interesting puzzles and combat instances then I cannot recommend this game enough. I hope Carrion carries on receiving the praise it deserves as a new standard for reverse horror games and I look forward to seeing more of Phobia Game Studio work in the future.
Carrion is available on PC, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch now. You can watch the reveal trailer below.