Quick note of caution going in: I’m going to include images from the game, and this is a very bloody game.
For the longest time, I’ve been mentally keeping a sort of ranking of the Metroidvania games I play. It’s a genre I got into relatively late: I played my first Metroidvania, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, on my Switch a few years ago and loved it enough to try others. It’s new enough that it’s relatively easy for me to keep a quick mental ranking of most, if not all of them, at least being able to put new ones where I find them. And pretty well since that list began, the bottom has been occupied by Steamworld Dig, a mostly harmless game I consider painfully average and underdeveloped.
That is not the case any more.
Carrion brings a really cool twist and idea. A monster has escaped from its bio-containment prison, and is wreaking havoc on the area designed to contain and control it. Along the way, the humans are going to do everything they can to keep the monster from escaping, desperately finding more and more ways to fight against it.
The trick is that you’re the monster.
There are times when you feel like a monster too. From the very start, you zip around the map at a rapid speed, far outpacing the humans that will struggle against you. In that very beginning, the humans are mostly walking snack pods: you grab one, reel them in with your tentacle, and enjoy a tasty human-flavored health boost. This adds more mass to your monster, which is a cool visual cue that you’re getting healthier and stronger.
This is a metroidvania, which for the uninitiated is gaming parlance for an action explorer title, generally 2D with a single continuous map. You gain powers and abilities throughout the game that allow you to not only progress forward, but to go to varying areas of the map and uncover new ideas, powers, and areas. This also means you can return to earlier areas with power ups and find yourself dominating, which is a fun touch that several critics (like the infamous Yahtzee Croshaw) state is all but necessary.
For me, what’s necessary is rewarding the player for engaging. This is can be by hiding good rewards or lore in various places, making me want to explore the game to its fullest. It’s even better if killing enemies results in experience (I’m obviously a RPG player), or at least money. This hits that Pavlovian mouse button in us all that makes you want to keep going to get more.
Yeah, Carrion doesn’t do that.
For starters, there’s no map, which is incredibly stupid in a game all about exploration. I never knew completely where I was. You do move quickly enough that you can usually backtrack and zip around to where you want, but it’s incredibly easy to get lost, particularly since areas often look the same. Enemies also don’t regenerate, which is pretty well the only reason to kill them if you’re on full health or close enough to it.
There aren’t many secrets to find either: 9 containment units give you various nonessential upgrades. I found a whopping 2 of them, because I had no desire to struggle my way through areas without a map to determine where they were.
On top of this, the controls feel loose. Yes, the monster zips, but it almost moves too fast. I absolutely hate the aiming mechanic of using the right stick and then the trigger button to attack. that’s mostly a personal thing: I suck at aiming, but I also have two slightly gimpy arms from playing games too much and have to hold my controller weirdly. This can make aiming and shooting tricky, which is also why I don’t like FPS games (I do like 3rd person survivor horror though).
But far too often I’d find myself aiming wrong, zipping where I shouldn’t, going past an area, or just feeling out of control of my monster in a bad way.
The upgrades never felt extremely meaningful either. Throughout most of the game, the humans always felt stronger and more deadly than me. I’m a rampaging monster that takes up half the screen, but I can be taken out by a few handgun shots? In the last area of the game, a single human with a handgun took out over half my impressive life bar, mostly using my massive alien body as further target practice.
(To be fair, I found out after about six or seven tries that the trick to that particular room was to use the possession mechanic to take over a more powerful human and wreak havoc on that room. This is one of the game’s pluses: there are moments where I feel powerful and like I figured something out)
The game also doesn’t really give much in the way of help or hints. I know several older gamers, myself included, are frustrated with hand-holding in modern games. Hand-holding is one thing, not telling me what my overall goal is besides “escape” is another. I often judge how frustrating a game is by how long it takes me to look up information online. That also shows how into a game I can be. For example, I didn’t look for a guide until nearly the end of Ikenfell, to make sure I didn’t miss anything. For Tales of Vesperia, I was 30/40 hours into the game (it’s stupidly long).
With Carrion? It took 15 minutes.
Because I was stuck. I literally didn’t know where to go or what to do. I had no map in the game, no instruction, no real direction to understand, nothing.
The creators clearly had a vision here, and they nailed it in a lot of cool ways. The game sometimes has a feel like you’re literally playing an unleashed monster in a closed facility. The atmosphere is incredible, with some decent mood music. It does feel like the decision to not have a HUD was a choice, to help with player immersion.
But you can’t make a metroidvania and take away the map. It doesn’t work. The games are built around exploration, and every explorer has a map: it’s part of how exploring works. This feels like it’s punishing the player more than anything else. Mix that with unfair encounters, enemies that always feel stronger than you no matter what, lack of reward for exploration, loose controls, and a nebulous plot (that admittedly has an awesome ending), and you have the worst Metroidvania I’ve ever played, and the worst game I’ve played so far this year (and we’re in November, folks).
4 maybe worth it if you really dig the monster design, but otherwise a below average game where none of the wild decisions really work