THERE was something special about games in the mid-late 1990s. Graphics had advanced far enough to be decent, but gameplay and innovation were still vitally important.
I don’t want to say it was a simpler time – because anyone who remembers dicking around with EMS or XMS to get a game to run or trying to remember what the IRQ and DMA ports for their SoundBlaster card were will agree that wasn’t the case – but games then had a certain something about them, and the game featured in this review captures it very well.
In Carrion – developed by Phobia Game Studio and published by Devolver Digital for PC, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch – you are the monster.
I don’t mean in a SpecOps: The Line or The Last Of Us II kind of way, where your “Hang on, I’m the baddie” revelation doesn’t come until later – right from the start in Carrion, you are playing a amorphous lab-grown terror right out of a horror movie.
Basically, you play something akin to The Thing or the Xennomorph, and your mission is to escape from the lab and extract revenge on the humans trying to stop you.
As you make your way through the environments (which include uranium mines, an underwater base, botanical gardens and so on), you find and unlock new powers such as the ability to parasitically control humans, or to turn to monster spaghetti in water to get through vents.
As you evolve, so too do your enemies – what starts off as terrified office workers soon are complemented by security guards with handguns, then special forces with laser shields and assault rifles, and even armoured mechs with Gatling guns.
The controls are really good and surprisingly fluid, and the game flows beautifully. It’s at that sweet spot where it’s more than a casual game, but doesn’t demand too much of you either.
The soundtrack is excellent too, perfectly capturing the late 1980s creature horror film vibe of the game, and complementing the retro art style of the game.
For the most part, the puzzles aren’t too bad either – requiring a little bit of thinking to work out, but never crossing over into extremely frustrating.
The two major criticisms I have of the game are the maps started getting very confusing later on in the game, leaving me feeling like I was going around in circles – I eventually ended up hopelessly lost and frustrated as a result. There were also a couple of areas where I ended up hopelessly stuck and had to reload from a previous checkpoint too.
There were parts of some levels where moving on relied on being able to find a grate or hatch that wasn’t necessarily clear due to the retro graphics style.
It’s also not particularly long – maybe five hours – and if it weren’t for the frustrating “getting hopelessly lot” aspect would be absolutely and uniformly superb.
As it is, the lack of a minimap or “go here” nudges do detract from the experience somewhat, but for the most part, Carrion is an excellent game, executed with style in a genre we don’t see nearly enough of – and given it’s only AUD$30, it’ definitely worth experiencing.