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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.

Money Money Money

GameStop hasn’t made enough

GameStop the massive video game retailer with subsidiaries such as EB Games Australia may have had a profitable fourth quarter however still hasn’t made enough to offset the losses from the pandemic. Due to numerous store front closures for the past 12 months their net sales took a dive for the fiscal year which ended January 30th. GameStop have reported net sales down by 21% to $5.09 Billion USD with a total of $215 million USD in net loss. Despite this loss it still manages to be a better year for GameStop than 2019 which was a reported loss of over $470 million USD. CEO George Sherman commented after the announcement saying, “I am proud of how our entire organization came together in 2020 to adapt to the challenging pandemic environment, effectively serve our customers’ demand for gaming and entertainment products, and navigate through the year with strong liquidity and a strengthened balance sheet,” Sherman goes on to say that he is positive about 2021 since their sales this year has already risen by 23% and that GameStop intend on investing in more technology as well as out-sourcing talent and improving upon current systems to hopefully bring more opportunities to the company and to consumers.

Genshin Impact passes $1B in mobile revenue

miHiYo’s popular game Genshin Impact has reached over $1B USD exclusively from its mobile versions. According to numbers from Sensor Tower the free-to-play mobile Gacha game has hit 10 figures in just over six months. It took Pokémon Go 9 months to reach that same goal. After Genshin Impact’s release in September 2020 it only took two months for the behemoth game to hit the $400 million USD mark. Remember that these figures still don’t include the PC and PS4 versions of the game and it is expected that Genshin Impact will only climb in popularity for the remainder of 2021 with the release of the game later this year coming to Nintendo Switch.

Razor makes $1B thanks to the pandemic

At the end of 2020 Razor reported revenue upwards of $1.2B which is a 48% hike compared to 2019. This is quite impressive given that Razor had reported a profit loss at the beginning of 2020. To help provide a decent spike in sales for this year Razor has just confirmed that it will be creating a RGB face mask. In an interview with CEO of Razor Min-Liang Tan shared that when the mask was first revealed there really wasn’t anything set in stone about actually making one. However, Tan goes on to say, “We were thinking, this is a concept project and is this going to be relevant when vaccinations and everything has been rolled out. I think moving forward we decided — and I can tell you now — we are going to proceed in making it a reality and ship the smart mask,” This RGB Razor face mask development has be dubbed as Project Hazel.

The Week in Gaming Releases:

March 31st the Binding of Isaac: Repentance DLC comes to PC
April 1st Outriders is released on all platforms (but the Nintendo Switch)
April 6th Lost Words: Beyond the Page (PC, PS4, XBO, Switch), Oddworld: Soulstorm (PC, PS5, PS4), and finally Star Wars Republic Commando (PS4, & Switch)

Re-Logic boycotts Google, CD Projekt: The Saga Continues and Nemesis Patented

Terraria port for Google Stadia Cancelled.

After backing down from a threat to leave Australia over new regulations, and pulling the plug on in-house Stadia game development, the last thing Google needed was more bad press. Well, Google has dug their own grave as Re-Logic, the creators of Terraria, have cancelled their planned Stadia port after Google disabled and removed access to the Re-Logic YouTube account and attached Gmail and Google Drive accounts due to an alleged Terms of Service violation.

After three weeks trying to resolve the issue, co-creator Andrew Spinks turned to Twitter, burning any bridges with the multinational company by publicly tweeting “Doing business with you is a liability.”

Re-Logic has confirmed that while they will continue to support all current purchases of Terraria on Android and Google Play, any future games by Re-Logic will not be supported on Google platforms.

Cyberpunk 2077 and CD Projekt; the Saga continues.

Since the PC release of Cyberpunk 2077, mods have been coming to the rescue to help with some of players’ issues and desires. Sadly, the way in which Cyberpunk 2077 utilised external DLL files allowed hackers to remotely execute code when malicious mods were installed on a player’s computer. This security vulnerability was quickly fixed by the Cyberpunk 2077 community before the 1.12 Hotfix was released by CD Projekt just three days later.

CD Projekt has also announced via twitter that they were recently the victims of a cyber-attack. The announcement included a copy of the ransom note with the attacker claiming to have copied the source code for their most popular games and an unreleased version of the Witcher 3 as well as other files. CD Projekt has stated that to the best of their knowledge, none of the compromised data contained any player or user data. The incident is currently under investigation by the relevant authorities. After the announcement, CD Projekt’s stock dropped by 5%.

Nemesis system patented.

After almost 6 years since the original application, Warner Brothers has finally had the patent approved for the Nemesis system. Originally utilised in Monolith Productions’ Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, the Nemesis system is where hierarchical NPCs are physically and hierarchically effected by player interaction. The patent is already being criticised by developers for the vagueness of the patent’s wording and how this may stifle any similar games from being developed.

The patent is optioned for renewal till 2035.

And finally, some game releases:

On February 11th you can look forward to the console release date of 1bit minimalist RTS game Death Crown, the Switch Release of the action-adventure roguelike Undermine, and the PC and console release of the side scrolling adventure Little Nightmares 2.

We also have Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury coming to the Switch on February 12th. And the Mega Man X-inspired multiplayer roguelike 30XX (thirty ex-ex) is coming to PC on February 17th

Windbound Review

sunsest over water with the word "windbound"

Developer: 5 Lives Studios
Publisher:
Koch Media
Music:
Zander Hulme
Platforms:
Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Google Stadia, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Released:
28 August 2020
Genre:
Adventure, Role-Playing, Survival

Narrative

All around you stretches the ocean. A beautiful giant, but an unforgiving beast. Right now, you have no boat and you’re treading water looking at the short a small distance away. You haven’t been given a story to go off, all you have is the ocean and the land in front of you. There’s a shrine on the first island, you walk to it and climb to the top where a shell hangs in the air, waiting for you to wrap your hands around it.

Windbound has an impressive and gorgeous art style that brings you into the world. If you imagine Zelda: Windwaker meets The Breath of the Wild then you’ve pretty much got Windbound in a nutshell. The art style is reminiscent of both the aforementioned games. I believe it’s rated for ages 12 and up which makes a lot of sense since you play as Kara, a lone traveller who has to hunt, gather, and craft to survive. The game has a steep learning curve when it comes to combat.

Gameplay

You can pick from two different play styles: adventurer and survivalist. I’ve been playing on adventurer mode to focus on enjoying scavenging and crafting. The bonus on adventure mode is that when you die (and you will) you get to keep all of your stuff when you respawn. In survival mode, you lose most of your items,09 and you are sent back to the first level at respawn. I would have found this incredibly frustrating as a player so opted to play the more relaxed, adventurer mode. I think I died about four times in the first level even on adventurer mode. I almost gave up, but before I did, I read a couple of guides to get a good understanding of what I needed to be able to thrive in-game. I’d like to point out, that survival games aren’t my usual choice for games and so I wasn’t as used to the kinds of mechanics I was about to run into. It takes time to learn how to play Windbound, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to spend hours upon hours exploring islands and the seas.

There’s one mechanic that I find both equally cool and frustrating. Each time you die and respawn, you’re sent to a different set of three islands. They all serve pretty much the same purpose; you look for shrines and collect keys while trying to upgrade your boat. If you’re playing on survival mode, you will lose your boat each time you die, forcing you to start over completely from the beginning. Except for this time, you’re armed with the knowledge you have gained from your previous playtime. Ultimately, the more time you spend playing Windbound, the better you will get at it.

Crafting is a big part of your gameplay and you will need to get good at it to survive. Crafting is another reason that I really adore Windbound. I love the sense of accomplishment that comes from collecting parts for items and then seeing them done. You get to do a fair amount of cooking because you can slowly die from starvation. Food replenishes health and stamina, but uncooked food can do damage to your health. I spent more time crafting and cooking than I did trying to fight anything. This paid off pretty quickly because I was able to travel further and for longer without having to stop and refuel.

I loved spending time upgrading my boat and was constantly looking for ways to upgrade everything. Your boat acts as a good way to store extra items, but your overall storage is still pretty limited. I’d like to see more opportunities for furthering storage quicker into the game though. Not a lot of game mechanics are explained to players and there are some little side quests that should help you feel the world is a little bit bigger. I’m missing the jerky I left cooking on an island in level one. I can’t go back to it.

Music

I think one of my biggest highlights for Windbound is that the soundtrack was something I could have happily had on in the background while doing work or writing my review. Zander Hulme has done an impressive job of creating aural cues for the player. There’s a variety of pieces that play in the background of the game while you’re exploring the islands. You can easily discern between the general gameplay music and the combat music. Enemies nearby are often cued through the music. Hulme has created expansive, atmospheric soundscapes that give the game world a grand size.

 

Accessibility

I have included a section on accessibility because I am a disabled player that relies on some varied accessibility options to be able to fully enjoy games. The comments in this section are by no means a negative criticism of the studio. Accessibility options can be difficult to implement and I think that 5 Lives Studios has done a wonderful job for a small development studio. However, this section is included as more of a guide for players who may experience some disabilities.

I think younger players or players with cognitive disabilities might struggle with the gameplay. The gameplay isn’t that straightforward. It took me about half an hour of gameplay before I realised that there were actually objectives and a bit of a story that was happening. Tutorials pop up on the screen as you encounter new items and unlike other games, they stay until you’ve had a chance to read through the entire thing. However, I couldn’t find these tutorials later to reaccess them. I believe there are some guides online. So if you’re a player with a cognitive disability, it may be worth keeping a guide open while you play.

There aren’t other characters that you really interact with in the first couple of hours or so which means that there isn’t a

 

massive need for subtitles, but as a player who is hard of hearing, I was disappointed when some enemies were too easily able to sneak up on me. I had no idea what was going on until the battle music was playing and half my health was gone. I was able to chat with Zander Hulme about this and he recommended turning down the sound of the music while keeping the enemy sounds on full. It helps to be able to play the game with a good sound system or headphones. Unfortunately, the game does not include a visual tracking system for enemies. As a hard of hearing player, I have to get a little bit creative about playing with the sound up.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to remap the controls on my PC. I am unsure about the ability for remapping on other consoles. There are generally workarounds for this if you have a physical or motor disability that requires the ability to remap.

Colourblind players may run into some issues but for the most part, Windbound’s art style and colour palette are distinct enough for colourblind players to enjoy without too many issues. My experience with colourblindness is on the guidance of my colourblind partner.

Overall Experience

Overall, Windbound is a tough but thoroughly enjoyable experience. I think players over the age of twelve, who enjoy survival adventure games will have a blast with Windbound. While I ran into some issues as a disabled player, I think that 5 Lives Studios has done a wonderful job in creating something that is both visually and aurally appealing to players. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of survival RPGs, the art style alone in Windbound is enough to keep you coming back. It is far too easy to just spend hours hanging out on an island cooking, crafting, and ignoring the narrative objectives. So if you want a fun Sunday afternoon game, Windbound is the one for you.