Singular in intent and action, Carrion sees the monster of the story take revenge on so many men. An interesting take on the idea of reverse horror, if not an entirely successful one.
Carrion is gross. Gloriously so. The titular Carrion beast is a ball of flesh and sinew, bounding along in a gruesome 2d world. This is a game defined by the skittering sound of tendrils as you throw the beast around the screen. The languid swaying of the carrion beast flesh as you hold yourself aloft. The slight pull of a scientist desperately trying to escape the maw of the beast.
It is a joyfully grotesque game that matches mayhem to mechanics.
Left stick to move around the screen with strings of ichor hooking automatically on to any surface. Right stick to fire out your tendrils and then right trigger to grab at any unfortunate human who happens to be in your way, then release for deliciousness. Then a few extra buttons for additional powers. These, you’ll pick up as the game progresses in order to solve puzzles/eat chewier targets.
Most of the time, you play as a hideous fleshy wrecking ball, swinging wildly through areas and destroying all. Or play more precisely and cautiously. Luring enemies with your cry, carefully displacing barriers to stealthily strike your opponents.
The issue is that even the most subtle plan ends wildly battering various foes with their dead mates. It’s not a bad thing, it suits the tone of the game, it’s entertaining. It just then becomes a slight skill jump later in the game. Especially as you’ve got to then actually think about some enemies abilities.
The health and size of the Carrion Beast is determined by how much Biomass it’s accrued. Fortunately there’s quite a lot of biomass running around and screaming and shooting at you.
Catch, eat, heal and eventually grow bigger. Partially through feasting, but also reclaiming other experiments dotted around the lab at the end of each zone.
Because Carrion itself is a simplified metroidvania. A series of labs and zones within the facility, each with power ups and some hidden secrets that require a little backtracking. Beginning from the moment of escaping from your laboratory confinement, the next 3-5 hours are a rampage of violence. Track through the various labs and spread your biomass through the facility. Saving is impressing yourself upon the world, corrupting it with tendrils of red/blue flesh. The progression and finding the various upgrades form the long term goals, while the room to room challenges keep things interesting.
That’s where the challenge of the game really is. The puzzles of the game end up being about using the specific powers of each of the Carrion forms to solve the various obstacles in your path.
The most interesting idea in Carrion is where you can only use some abilities when you’re the right size. So you need to gather or deposit biomass within the level accordingly. Making you tougher or weaker respectively. You might need to be big enough to use your vent barrier breaking ability, but then small enough to use your web shot to flip a switch. There’s a fair bit of backtracking, but the movement of the Carrion beast is usually rapid enough to mean it’s not too frustrating. In particular, when you pass through an area, it will become covered in blood and viscera. Partly from your form slithering over it, partly from the bodies you leave behind. Between this and clearing all possible enemies and obstacles, it’s actually not too much of a chore backtracking, even to pick up the last few upgrades.
What can be frustrating is when the Carrion beast gets really big. Taking up too much space, fine motor control becomes difficult as you steer a literal mass of meat around a warren of tunnels and tight spaces. When you’re trying to avoid machine guns and flamethrowers and more, it gets really messy.
Similarly, the actual narrative pacing is a problem as the game goes on.It just ambles along like the carrion beast. Each time you complete an area you seem to launch straight on into the next one, rapidly picking up speed as the game progresses. I didn’t actually realise I was completing the game till the final screen and the context shifted. For a game that only lasts around four hours, maybe five to six depending on backtracking for upgrades, it means the end of the game sneaks up on you incredibly fast.
It’s a slight frustration in what is otherwise a very entertaining and well designed experience, one that’s definitely worth experimenting with.
Developed by Phobia Game Studio and published by Devolver Digital. Carrion is available for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One (Included in Games Pass) and the Nintendo Switch.