Carrion Review

 

Developer: Phobia Game Studio

Publisher: Devolver Digital

Audio: Cris Velasco

Platforms: Switch, Xbox One, Window, Mac & Linux

Release Date: 23/7/2020

Genre: 2D Action Platformer

 

Carrion is made for those who have, in one way or another, wished to unleash their inner Mr Hyde. And a warning to the wise and not so wicked, if you dislike the creepy, or are triggered by pixelated gore, the spatter and squelch of viscera, screams of terror, or unleashing the horror within… you are probably not going to be into this.

In Carrion, you control the hive mind of a symbiotic colony of an antediluvian ancestor to the tubifex worm, resulting in a cyclopian monstrosity of Lovecraftian horror. Basically, you’re a mass of prehensile tentacles and teeth bent on freeing yourself from the scientific dissection of your biomass.

Commonly, this game is described as reverse horror. Instead of playing the protagonist hiding from the horror as it stalks through the facility seeking freedom, you are the horror.

After breaking from your containment, you stalk your captors, ripping and tearing apart the available flesh to absorb as precious biomass. The biomass you will need to protect yourself while searching for the genetic skills of your kin scattered the of throughout the facility.

Towards those that dare fire upon your amassed power, you will revengefully return to chew on their corpses for the audacity of attempting to damage your majestic abomination.

Or maybe that’s just me…

What the developers at Phobia Game Studios really got right was the weight and movement in the game. The feeling of throwing doors, grates, vending machines, and human torsos come with a satisfying inertia and the added benefit of distracting – or even dismembering – your human opponents. This satisfaction also extends to the effects of your size on your movement as well.

Your own movement is also hypnotic. The worms that make up your body constantly move and shift, slinging out to fling you, swing you, and catch you. And while the movement looks complicated, it controls remarkably well.

I played on PC, and if you have ever played a shooting game, you know that your hand need not move from that position. The mouse controls your movement and prehensile tentacles while your left hand activates skills and levers, the latter of which are many.

Carrion is at its core a linear game pretending to be metroidvanian. The aim is to move from area to area, with you unable to traverse to the next without a new genetic skill. To reach the next save point, lever, or destroyable terrain piece, you are required to solve little puzzles or battle the different types of security intent on annihilating you.

And did I mention there is no map? You will have to rely on your own unique awareness and memory, a special little trap for overthinking completionists and people to took so long between gameplay that they forgot where they were up too… not that that happened to me.

Visually, the pixel art is perfect for the transitions between the clean, bright scientific active compounds, the rusted and disorderly industrialism, and the luminous greens and blues of botanical cave systems. It also means the game can live between the super realism of our imagination and the disbelief of pixelated abstraction, allowing for a modicum of separation between you and the horrors you commit. This is especially relevant as the game play actively covers all the interacted environment with a visceral palette of reds and purples as you course through them.

Acoustically, the game does balance the need for horror elements to the environment without overdoing it. So, while the screaming and whimpering of the cowering humans is ended with the crunch of cartilage and bones, there are no wet slaps of tentacles as you traverse. Instead, a pleasant soft carolling of schwips as your weight-bearing tendrils flail about to find purchase. The atmospheric soundtrack, composed by Cris Velasco, matches the horror theme perfectly. The tension-filled tracks, rather than filling you with dread, instead drive you further into the carnage as you lay waste to all before you.

Overall, Carrion is not a long game, and manages to find a place in the truly short list of games I’ve actually finished. The game’s length means it sits comfortably between learning how to utilise all the skills, and not overstaying its welcome. If you are looking to speed run this metroidvanian world in your first playthrough, I don’t think you’re going to get much satisfaction out of Carrion. However, if you choose to relish the screams, take revenge on those that hold you back, and take your time to work through the puzzles like the Dexter you always knew you were, then I think this sinewy tale might just be for you.

It is no wonder this game won the 2021 BAFTA’s Game Awards Best Debut Game and was nominated for best original property game.

Court, Allegations, and More Court

Apple Refuses to Testify

Apple is being urged to provide a witness for an upcoming hearing on app stores and digital competition. The demands by Senate Judiciary Committee leaders are becoming more persistent after Apple abruptly decided to not provide a witness a couple of weeks before the hearing. The hearing had been planned for weeks, and Apple had been in discussions with the staff on who would testify on Apple’s behalf.

Apple’s App Store has been under scrutiny by lawmakers over the previous year. In 2019 an investigation had been launched into competition in the tech industry, which includes Apple’s App Store, with a focus on the 30% fees Apple charges app developers. Last year, Fortnite publisher Epic Games sued Apple with the accusation that the company is violating US antitrust laws after the game was removed from the App Store. Apple had won a similar case with Epic Games within Australia, when Fortnite had been pulled from the App Store for listing an alternative method of playing the game that would allow players to pay Epic Games directly, at a 20% discount.

The hearing is set to take place on May 3rd.

French Court Overturns Dismissal Ruling for Ex-Quantic Dream Dev

Revisiting a 2018 court case against Quantic Dream, a French court has overturned the decision of that unfair dismissal case. In 2018 it had been ruled that the employee had been forced out of the studio due to toxic and targeted behaviour.

The court has come to the consensus that the alleged misogynistic, homophobic, and racist culture at Quantic Dream wasn’t the reason for the employee’s departure, so the unfair dismissal ruling doesn’t apply.

The allegations included mentions of a collection of 600 photoshopped images that were alleged to contain discriminatory jokes and altered images of employees. Four former Quantic Dream employees cited the information uncovered by that report as the grounds for their unfair dismissal claims. The court sided with one of those employees, but that has been overturned, as the employee knew about the image in question when it was created in 2015, and therefore was unrelated to their departure in 2018.

Now that individual has been ordered to pay Quantic Dream $12,000.

Quantic Dream is using the ruling as a dismissal of those toxic culture allegations as a whole.

Hearthstone Esports Player Suspended over Abuse Allegations

Hearthstone Esports has announced that one of the game’s Grandmaster tournament players, Paul “Zale” Nemeth, has been suspended due to allegations of domestic abuse.

After nearly three months of silence following these allegations coming to light, and a day before the 2021 Grandmasters season begins, Blizzard finally responded, saying that they are “aware of the allegations and are assessing the matter”. Many Hearthstone fans have expressed relief and approval for Blizzard’s response, and the act of suspending the player.

And now for some upcoming game releases!

April 15:

  • Ashwalkers: A Survival Journey (PC)
  • Carly and the Reaperman (PC, VR)
  • SaGa Frontier Remastered (PC, PS4, Switch)
  • Sea of Thieves Season 2 (PC, XSX, XBO)

April 16:

  • Super Meat Boy Forever (PS4, XBO)

April 20:

  • Don’t Forget Me (PC)
  • Maskmaker (PC, VR, PSVR)
  • MLB The Show 21 (PS5, XSX, PS4, XBO)

April 21:

  • World Splitter (PC, PS4, Switch)

April 22:

  • Buildings Have Feelings Too! (PC, PS4, XBO, Switch)
  • Orbital Bullet (PC)

April 23:

  • Judgement (PS5, XSX, Stadia)
  • NieR Replicant ver1.22474487139… (PC, PS4, XBO)

Trashed Review

Developer: Josh Presseisen
Publisher: Crescent Moon Games
Music: Josh Presseisen
Platforms: Steam
Released: Early Access – 17/February/2021, Planned Release – early 2022
Genre: Adventure strategy

Garbage disposal and management is a problem that has plagued us for years, and it continues to be a problem far in the future, on a planet far, far away. Hundreds of ships dump their rubbish on some far-off desert planet, leaving bags of waste, plastic lawn chairs, and who knows what else.

And you, the newest hire, are tasked with solving this eternal problem: how to make all this trash go away?

Trashed is a strategy game about garbage management and disposal. With a chunky, 3D artstyle, your long flowing blue hair, and more than a few guns under your belt to take care of some problems you might run into, this is definitely a game meant to challenge you. And maybe overwhelm you, just a bit.

So, the main goal of Trashed is to dispose of garbage, and manage the waste and pollution it causes. A ship will come by about once every minute (or an in-game hour) to dump rubbish at a marked site. This can very quickly develop into a gigantic pile, with garbage bags just rolling all over the place. You need to move that garbage into an incinerator. You have a helpful robot that manages to push some bits of trash into an incinerator, and you can pick up a piece of garbage, and toss it in yourself. But you will not be able to keep up. And each bit of rubbish burnt will affect the air quality.

Thankfully, you have more than a few tools to help you out. As you earn money, you can buy a garbage blower, to move several pieces of rubbish, and blueprints to build more incinerators, air purifiers, solar panels, batteries, recycling machines, grinders (for the giant pieces of garbage that will get thrown onto your head by yet another ship), and more, including conveyor belts, which quickly became my favourite thing in the game.

In addition, you progress by picking up bounties from the office, requiring you to process a certain amount of garbage, or to kill some of the local creatures who will rock up to cause some trouble.

Of course, you can purchase various weapons to help you.

It’s addictive, it’s satisfying to optimise your dump site, to set it up so you only need to worry about some wayward rubbish. There are cutscenes with voiced characters, for some reason they’re all from Texas. I named my helpful robot Marvin. I love him. He gets stuck sometimes but he’s doing his best.

The music is pretty minimal, and there is a lot of silence in the game. The creatures I run into make some weird, alien-like sounds that makes me a bit nervous to hear. The sound of the ship arriving is overwhelming, and I’m glad to hear it go (mostly so it stops making a mess of things). It’s really satisfying hearing the constant sound of garbage being recycled and burnt, it tells me things are working. More music would be nice, but I find myself zoning out a lot, so I’m not too bothered.

There is one thing to note however, this game is in early access, and at the time of writing this review, in pre-alpha. There are a lot of bugs, there is only a portion of the planned content in the game, and I wasn’t able to actually complete the tutorial. My playthrough could be described as playtesting. This is not a finished product. But the content it already has, and the gameplay so far, is enjoyable. When I get past some of the worst bugs, and I get used to the rough controls, I found myself playing for hours. I had a playthrough where the bounties glitched out, so I couldn’t progress through the game, but I had so many conveyor belts, and you have never imagined air could be so clean.

I am looking forward to seeing this game continue to develop, and to revisit it over time. And I can’t wait until the team goes ‘Yup! That’s a finished game!’. Because my heart needed a garbage management game that takes place on an alien planet.

Fools, Beggers, Gamblers and the Quite Surprised

April the First Happens Again

April Fool’s day came and went again this year leaving “hilarity” in its wake.  Video games were no exception of course and as always there was a great number of jokes, pranks and curiosities to find on the day. Some of the highlights included a Playstation 1 demake of Remedy Entertainment’s Control, a version of Bugsnax without the bug aspect simply called Snacks and a new breakfast cereal based on the upcoming Deathloop simply called Deathloops. Yummmmmmmm

Some developers even go the extra step though and follow through on their jokes such as Platinum Games who this year announced that they have made last years prank into a full game. The arcade shmup Sol Cresta will be released on Switch, PC and PS4 later this year and will form part of their new Neo-Classic Arcade series. Classic style games with modern technology.

Check out our 2021 April Fools Roundup.

Component Shortage Continues

If you’ve been finding it hard to locate a new next gen console, phone or other electronic device don’t expect your chances to improve any time soon. According to Young Liu, Chairman of Foxconn the world’s biggest contract electronics manufacturer, they have had to reduce their shipments due to the ongoing worldwide shortage of silicon chips and that the situation is likely not to ease until at least the second quarter of 2022. The chip shortage began with manufacturing shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was further exacerbated by severe storms in Texas.

Loot Boxes are Gambling

According to a report by researchers at the universities of Plymouth and Wolverhampton loot boxes “are structurally and psychologically akin to gambling”. The mechanic wherein a player opens blind boxes for a random reward has been a hot topic of debate for several years and governments have begun stepping in to regulate where they see the industry failing to do so themselves.

“With loot boxes, emerging evidence suggests that certain categories of people may be at particular risk of any associated harms. Secondary analysis of open-access survey data has established that high spenders on loot boxes are over-represented by those with problem gambling behaviours. Unwittingly or not, developers appear to be profiting from at-risk individuals.”

Microsoft Successfully Freezes Hell Over

Earlier this year it was announced that popular Sony developed baseball game MLB The Show 21 would also be coming to Xbox platforms for the first time with this year’s release of the franchise. In a surprising update this week it was clarified that not only would the Sony developed game be releasing on the same date as its Playstation counterpart on April 20th but it would be available to Xbox’s Gamepass subscribers at no additional cost.

This situation is a result of Sony’s new contract for the MLB license which stipulates any game must be multiplatform. While the PlayStation Studio’s name will still appear on the game, the xbox version at least will be published by MLB and not Sony themselves.

This Week on the Zed Games Release Calendar

Thursday, April 8: Scarlet Hood and the Wicked Wood (PC, Mac), Before Your Eyes (PC), Cozy Grove (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, Mac), Always Sometimes Monsters (Switch)

Friday, April 9: Luckslinger (Switch)

 

April Fools Roundup 2021

Who doesn’t like a good laugh or at least something somewhat adjacent to one? That’s where April Fools day comes into play. It’s not quite a joke, not quite a prank but boy it sure is something.  To save you an unnecessary bother, below you can find a wide variety of foolish posts from the day. Is it responsible to just link all these thing on one page? You tell me!

(more…)

Grow Big (Or Go Home) Review

Developer: Quarant Inc.
Publisher: Quarant Inc.
Music: Quarant Inc.
Platforms: PC (Steam and Itch.io)
Released: 19 December 2020 (Ultimate Edition)
Genre: 2D puzzle

Your name is Bruce, the greatest gardener of all time. A master of balancing the needs of a plant, protecting it, cherishing it, coaxing it to its full potential. Your skills are so legendary, stories of it reach across time and space, revealing another one of Bruce’s skills; the ability to travel through time. How else are you supposed to keep pot plants alive in an ancient Egyptian tomb?

Grow Big (or Go Home) is a 2D gardening puzzle game, with simple mechanics, a quick pace, and levels that quickly become quite challenging, it has stuck in my mind like a series that I know I should enjoy, but really makes me work for it. And at the end, I’m not sure if I actually enjoyed it, but I sure am thinking a lot about it.

Grow Big (or Go Home) is quite simple. You control Bruce, and you need to use a watering can and mirrors to give indoor plants enough light and water to grow. You’re put into a room ( sometimes a house, sometimes a tomb, sometimes a spaceship), with a number of plants in pots. You don’t have a lot of time, just until the end of the day, represented by sunlight through windows moving across the room from left to right. Using mirrors, you redirect the sunlight from the windows towards the plants, and using a watering can that you need to refill after each use, you water the plants.

It’s not that simple though. The sunlight moves quickly, so you need to move the mirror around. If the plant is hit by sunlight for too long, it will catch on fire, so it takes one use of the watering can to put out, or later you can use a fan to keep the plant cool I guess?

You often have more than one plant to look after, but you only have one mirror and watering can. So it becomes a balancing act, trying to give each plant everything they need, without them catching on fire, or being knocked over. There are simple obstacles to work around, like walls or furniture. I have rarely gotten so frustrated by a tree.

It gets really hectic, really quickly, and even with a dash ability, I found myself having to redo a level more than a couple of times until I found the method that worked best for it, or at least worked well enough for me to progress.

It also doesn’t help that some things you need to figure out yourself, like the bar next to the plant (is it a water bar? Does it need to be green for the plant to grow? No? Or no now the plant is on fire).

The game has a sort of theme song, themed to whatever the room theme is. Christmas? You get a fun little tune with bells. Halloween? It has more of a spooky tone. Ancient Egypt? More horns and drums! The music is all related, but they’re quite unique as well, with a bit of a flourish that is unique to the theme. On some levels it’s quite relaxing really. In others… less so. The rest of the sound experience is pretty satisfying as well, I enjoyed the little clicks of putting things down and picking them up, and the ‘plant is on fire’ sound is one that is immediately recognisable.

I liked Grow Big (or Go Home), but I’m not sure if it likes me. You can only progress to the next level by earning 3 out of 5 stars, so I found myself doing the bare minimum to move on. I found out you can unlock outfits though, so I did go back to try again and again. It is challenging, but frustratingly so, and I didn’t really get that sweet sweet dopamine hit when I hit 4 stars or higher. It’s not all that satisfying, and some control and design choices made me want to stop playing a lot of the time, but stubbornness kept me going. And for that, I will say it’s a good way to spend some time.

But why haven’t these people ever heard of keeping plants by the northern side windows?

Progressbar95 Review

Developer: Igor Uduslivii aka icoeye
Publisher: Spooky House Studios
Audio: Composer – Gemfire (Andrei Scerbatiuc)
Platforms: Mobile and Windows
Release Date: iOS/Android: Summer of 2019, Steam 8/9/2020
Genre: Simulator/Arcade/Casual/Experimental

While away from my aging beast of a computer and staying with family, I found myself listless and avoidant of the games I had brought along to play on my Switch. So, like any sane person, I started trawling the Google Play store for a game. A game that was not bogged down with ads and provided some escapism from this family trip without draining the rural wifi, or relying upon non-existent mobile connectivity… and for the low, low price of freemium. This is how I came upon today’s game, Progressbar95.

Some things really bring out the nostalgia in me. I thought the sound of a dial-up modem, or the smell of warm chipsets would be the only things that could bring me back to my childhood gaming world, but Progressbar95 brought out a new one in me.

I never thought I would hear that warming computer rattle sound again, the click as the cathode ray tube monitor started up, and while the start-up sounds have been changed, they are still reminiscent of the operating system … of your choice…

Yes, not only can you relive the operating system ending in 95, but you can go as far back as inserting a floppy disk in the A:\ drive and loading your DOS operating system. You can also push forwards to the questionable choices of the present, and even sideways to operating systems you may have only ever heard of. And for those of you who had fancier parents than I, you can even unlock the other operating fruit’s systems as you progress.

So why am I dancing around the names of the systems? Because that’s what Proagressbar95 does… there will be no glass filled wall holes or fruit-based names found in this game. Instead Wista, Largehorn, and Bar OS will tickle that nostalgia nerve within.

The progression of this operating system sim occurs through a range of casual arcade minigames, the premise of all being the collection of segments to complete the infamous loading bar. The points you receive award you with computer part upgrades that you need to then move to the next operating system.

The first core gaming loop to gain these points is to collect the completed blue segments as they fall from the top of your screen in the ever-diminishing space in your loading bar. All while avoiding pink errors, yellow fragmented particles, red system errors, complicated pop-ups, mines, electrical surges, occasional lasers and the omnipresent and always helpful Clippy. These are all available in the unlockable difficulties of Normal, Relaxed, Hardcore, and Custom, as well as the random bonus stages reminiscent of galaxy zooming screensavers and The Matrix’s computer interface!

But be not afraid of the many popups and system errors that will drain the heart tally at the top of your screen. You can occasionally fall back on the minigame fixes with Defrag and ScanProgress to assist you with errored segments and blue screen of death system errors. All with appropriately long cooldowns.

As you level up your skill by filling your load bar, your progression will unlock more minigames that take you deeper into the rabbit hole of nostalgia.

A selection of these being; ProgressSweeper, a mine-finding game similar to another sweeper game you may have heard of, with a double layered twist; Progress Defender, a tower defence version of the base game where you work to block the persistent Clippy and protect programs generating loading progression segments; Progress Commander, where you need to react to make sure to accurately move a command in time to build your loading column; plus so many more, and with current development schedules, even more are coming!

Other ways to get points can be found by finding dead pixels on the screen, or lady bugs in programs, shutting down the operating system when you finish your playtime, mini puzzles, and a DOS simulation. This is one of my favourites, as in this DOS sim Command/DOS aficionados can find hidden cheat codes and bonuses in randomized file systems and match 5 HEX puzzles, plus the ability to explore the programming files and all that entails.

Finally, there is also Bin. Bin is your Tamagotchi-esque pet who needs constant reassurance, petting, and cleaning. Cleaning this pet daily rewards you with a nice chunk of points, especially if you fill them with folders from the previous day of DOS based files. Plus seeing them grow in happiness is its own reward.

However, this game would not be the joy it is without the nostalgia that glues it together. What immerses me in this game and makes me rave to my wife about resurfacing old memories, is the soundscape changes that match the game’s visual changes. A DOS based operating system would not seem accurate without hearing the A:\ drive clunk and grind away loading up the blue visual base, and the near constant whir of fans and hard drives in the background. I was almost disappointed when I reached the point where I managed to get solid state drives removing the need for the background hum, and then with joy did I see a popup asking if I wanted to keep it.

It’s the accuracy of these and the mouse clicks, the sounds marking the opening and closing of basic user interfaces, the alert tone of system crashes and associated hardware shutdowns, all of these makes the game feel close enough to the old experiences allowing one to wallow luxuriantly in the joyous nostalgia.

Now I experienced most of this on my PC, as once I returned from my rural family visit I wanted to explore this game through my other everyday screen. This means I generally missed-out on the pop-in advertisements and pay-to-progress elements that are built into the mobile version of this game. However, I did not find that my freemium experience was intruded or overwhelmed by these monetisation methods, and for those that do find issue with this, there is an ad-free price point available to purchase.

There are also a few bugs in the Steam version. Earlier in my game time (<20 hours) I was unsure if the game glitches were intentional or not, because, as we all know, operating systems can be very buggy. But as I put more time into the game, I was not too sure. Despite this, Progressbar95 has a great fan-based bug reporting system with constant developer updates and regular game expansions, so I can only see this game bettering over time.

So, if you are like me and remember fondly the days of A:\ drives, Windows upgrades and DOS commands, I would recommend downloading ProgressBar95, because at whatever price point you choose, the memories that this game revives are worth the price of entry.