Carrion, the new pixel-art delight from publisher Devolver Digital and developer Phobia Game Studio, claims to be a “reverse horror” game– a horror game where you play as the terror, not the terrorized. Yet I found that during my hands-on with Carrion at E3, I spent more time laughing out loud than shrinking in fear. And that’s not a bad thing: there’s just something that’s quite funny about Carrion. The way your ferocious amorphous blob of a monster moves: grabbing helpless humans and flinging them across the room, chomping down on their flesh and making mince-meat of their high-powered assault rifles. It feels a bit slapstick, even as the creature’s paroxysms color the mossy green walls of caves blood red with the victim’s innards. Yes, it’s vicious, it’s gory, it’s brutal, but it’s also a bit funny. Just a bit.
I put that to Sebastian Krośkiewicz, lead developer on Carrion, and he seemed more bemused than anything. Well, he insisted, it’s horror, but, well… and on we went with the demo. But that’s getting ahead of myself. When I arrived in Devolver’s tricked out E3 parking lot (it’s very nice to step out of the convention center for a while), I was ushered into a tricked-out, glossy Airstream trailer where Carrion‘s demo was set up on the big screen. Krośkiewicz was champing at the bit to show us the ins and outs of Carrion‘s unique combination of blood-stained splatfest and Metroidvania exploration.
As my ferocious amorphous blob of sentient strawberry jelly slid and slithered through industrial interiors, I appreciated the physics of the ghastly thing. How its tendrils will slide and get stuck on little corners, gel and reform on edges, and reshape itself as it slides over grates, ladders and cages. It’s a non-Newtonian serial killer. Imagine Flubber as a snuff film. It has interesting abilities, too. As you dine on more unsuspecting humans, Carrion‘s beast will grow in size and stature, and gain different abilities based on its size.
One ability sees the creature shooting a spider web that traps humans for the kill and activates switches hidden in narrow corridors our creature can’t fit through. Another allows the demonic blob to charge itself on a power circuit, then cloak itself to slip past heavily-armored foes undetected. Movement, too, is at the heart of what makes Carrion work, and you can tell the team at Phobia spent a lot of time trying to make its central character feel tight, fluid, and responsive to control. It’s really paid off.
While the core gameplay of Carrion is still essentially grabbing innocent bystanders with your tendrils, flinging them across the room with gleeful abandon, and then munching down on their dazed carcasses, these abilities do add an interesting dimension of puzzle solving and non-linear level progression. I died a few times, but checkpoints are generous and death is a teaching moment rather than a frustration.
My ears perked up as soon as Krośkiewicz explained that Carrion‘s gorgeous pixel art was inspired by LucasArts classics like Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, The Secret of Monkey Island, and The Dig. Those legendary adventure games were some of my fondest childhood memories, and as he mentioned it, it made sense. The game’s incredibly detailed, shaded pixel art design has more in common with those lovingly-crafted mid-90s DOS adventure games than the blockier sprites of the 16-bit consoles. Carrion has moments of striking beauty too, like the glowing neon blue pool nestled below the creature’s fleshy lair.
There’s not much bad to say about my time playing Carrion. The level design was tight and focused, the enemy encounters were hilarious and gratifying, and the central mechanic of the game—the beast’s fluid movement—felt fantastic. I only wish I could have got to spend more time with it to really figure out how this game works, to discover those later puzzles, tackle more challenging enemy encounters, and wrap my head around the full, fearsome skillset of this nightmarish monster.
Expect to see Carrion slither onto PC and consoles in 2020.