Carrion (Nintendo Switch) review

Carrion is a horror game with a twist: You are the monster in the dark, hunting the humans – not the other way around.

In what has been described by its creators as a “reverse horror”, you control a red amorphous tentacled blob that escapes confinement in a secret research facility and must escape.

The publisher behind Carrion is Devolver Digital, a breath of fresh air in the games industry that is, to be honest,  groaning under the weight of companies like EA and Ubisoft who trot out the same formulaic games time and time again.

Devolver champions the indie [independent] developer, like Phobia Game Studios the team behind Carrion, allowing them to release their games to an audience that they might not otherwise have had access to – it’s smart business practice and Devolver’s actions have paid dividends for both gamers and it alike.

Carrion is Metroidvania in style, with the monster having to unlock doors to progress to the next location and that often involves backtracking to locations you’ve visited before and pulling levers that will unlock chambers in another area.

Sometimes the monster will have to deposit some of its biomass into watery pools so that it reduces in size, allowing it to squeeze ever so slightly through panels that are too tight for a large mass of gelatinous goo to fit through so it can fire sticky webs to hard-to-reach switches and levers.

Throughout the research facility are terrified scientists and armed soldiers that the monster can taunt with its roar – then devour, with some of them helping him grow in size. It’s not all beer and skittles, though, with later locations having tougher foes that require a bit of tactical nouse to outwit [here’s a tip: doors ripped off from their hinges are a great help in taking our unsuspecting enemies.] The monster also has echolocation that helps locate other deposits of biomass, which acts as save points.

Carrion loses a little momentum sometimes, especially in flashback sequences where the monster has visions of the scientists that originally found it, but overall, I enjoyed my time immensely – with one caveat: It frustrated me more than once that there wasn’t some form of in-game map [albeit an optional small one.]

I get that the developers were wanting you to feel like you were an evolving blob, not sure where you are, so having a map to find your next goal would break that immersion, but I found myself getting lost numerous times, unsure where to go.

I eventually had to resort to watching a YouTube play through just so I could see what I had to do to solve the section I was stuck on. It also required some serious back tracking to previous locations to find a switch that I should have flicked or a containment area I should have breached to gain the ability to become invisible and pass through security lasers\.

Bottom line is I had a great time with Carrion – the no-map frustrations aside. It’s also perfectly suited for the Switch and was a nice antidote to a busy day in the office.

For gamers always wanting to be the ‘bad monster”, Carrion is your chance to be that monster.  Go forth and chomp, blobs.

Death Stranding (PC review)

This review was originally published over at Koru-Cottage, another site I write for.

Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding is a game that polarised gamers when it came out on PlayStation 4 and you had two camps. Those that saw it almost as the second coming as one of the best games they’d ever played.  Versus those that found it good looking game hindered by repetitive gameplay.

I never played Death Stranding on PlayStation 4, but did play Metal Gear Solid V on the console and wasn’t a fan. It just didn’t gel with me. I just didn’t get it.

It was with some trepidation that I agreed to look at Death Stranding on PC when asked by the esteemed editor of this fine publication. I was curious to see how it played on a PC with more powerful hardware than a PS4. Also how Guerilla’s Decima game engine – which was used in Horizon Zero Dawn – scaled to a PC. Where there are a wide range of hardware variables at play, unlike consoles which are standardised in their design and hardware.

Players control Sam Porter Bridges (played by The Walking Dead actor Norman Reedus). Broken down to its core elements – it’s a game where you play a courier in the future (Sam Bridges), tasked with reconnecting a fractured America. He does this by delivering vital packages from point A to point B, all the while reconnecting the UCA (United Cities of America) to a network that will reunite them.

It’s kinda weird, man

Let’s be honest here, Death Stranding is a weird game. I mean, in one encounter with the game’s ghostly enemies – BTs – a trike I was riding got stuck in some black goo that rose up from the ground. A giant tentacled whale then dropped from the sky, ate me, then when I found my body (after floating through water), a giant crater had suddenly been created, surrounded by dead fish. I wish I’d remembered to get a capture of it: It was wild. Seriously, WTF, Hideo?

In another encounter, the aforementioned tentacled whale returned, but I threw three grenades made out of Sam’s blood at it and it exploded in a shower of gold flakes. Another time, I clearly overloaded poor Sam with too many containers, causing him to stumble and fall, dropping all his cargo and causing the baby strapped to his chest in a pod – a BB which can help Sam sense the BTs – to cry. Again, WTF, Hideo?

Death Stranding PC - Norman

Anyhoo, this review is focusing more on the technical aspects of this PC port. How it looks, how it works with mouse and keyboard and, importantly, whether higher frame rates mean a better gaming experience. [Spoiler alert: of course they do].

better, stronger, faster on pc?

The tweakable graphics options for this PC version of Death Stranding aren’t massive but there is enough to show that the Decima engine on which this game is built is hugely scalable if you’ve got a moderately good graphics card (ie current or last generation). Kojima Productions have clearly spent time getting this conversion right.

You can customise the level of graphics quality you want [I ran a mix of very high and high settings]. There’s no tweakable FOV slider, which will frustrate some people, but a really nice touch is that you can select the maximum frame-rate, which goes from 60FPS right up to 240FPS.

I’m running an AMD Radeon RX580 – a still capable GPU but not current generation – and I  locked the frame rate cap at 120FPS.It’s liberating at how much smoother game play is when you’re not locked at 30 frames per second like with console games.

With my RX580, I was averaging 100 frames per second. I can only imagine how high the frame rates are with a top-end GPU like an RTX2080 or higher.

Death Stranding already looked good on the PlayStation 4 but it really does look stunning on PC. With highly detailed environments, characters and weather effects – it just shows how talented the team at Kojima is.

If you’ve got the hardware, you will be impressed with how good Death Stranding looks. I did notice a few stutters, however, in early cinematic sequences which seemed to sort themselves out after a quick restart.

Death Stranding PC - Tricycle the fun!

keyboard or traditional mouse & keyboard?

Using the mouse and keyboard took a little getting used to for me as lately I’ve been more used to using a controller. Using the standard W-A-S-D set up for movement was familar and worked. I had to stretch my fingers a bit when using V for melee combat against MULEs but it was doable. You can use a controller. Although I had no luck using my wired Xbox 360 controller which the game wouldn’t recognise.

The game has a comprehensive photo mode (all the photos in this review were captured using it) and it brings a tonne of options for in-game photographers.

However it took me a while to work out how to actually take a photo: There is no on-screen “capture” button. It was only after a bit of sleuthing using Dr Google that I found you have to use either Steam’s photo capturing software or something like nVidia or AMD’s photo capturing solutions to take a screen shot. It’s a bit finnicky so an actual on-screen “capture” button would be a nice addition.

Death Stranding PC - wind in my hair

I’m more hours into a Hideo Kojima game than I’ve ever been before and you know what? I actually think I’m starting to like it. I’m not sure whether it’ll completely win me over but I’ve found myself kind of enjoying creeping through its BT-infested plains and silent valleys.

Death Stranding is one of the most polarising games in recent memory and I’m still to be convinced that Hideo Kojima is a genius. The bottom line is it is absolutely stunning on PC and provides frame rates that only a current generation console could dream of.

To that end, I have high hopes for games like Horizon Zero Dawn, another Sony game which is also PC bound and uses the same Decima graphics engine. It’s a pretty exciting time to be a PC gamer.

Norman Reedus Winkie