23 July 2020
It’s difficult to talk about Carrion without sounding like a serial killer. There’s something surprisingly satisfying about tearing apart the scientists and militia of the game’s underground laboratories, while controlling a sentient blob of viscera and teeth. Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d use.
Carrion is a reverse horror game. Instead of being terrorised by the monster, you are the monster, and you’re tasked with escaping your prison and feeding on whatever warm-blooded creatures that dare to stand in your way. As children, we’re told that eating will help us grow and Phobia Game Studio took that to heart, as our monster grows as it feeds on more and more human cuisine. This brings with it greater strength and new abilities as you progress through the game.
Strangely, I was reminded of the Batman: Arkham series while playing Carrion. Stealth is your greatest ally against enemies armed with assault rifles and other guns, especially as their bullets will tear through your fleshy exterior in no time, so you take to the ventilation systems in order to take your enemies by surprise. Again, like the Arkham games, when you do set your attacks in motion, it’s incredibly satisfying when you take out a bunch of gun-toting bad guys.
The end result is certainly nothing like a Batman game, though. Instead of knocking them unconscious, in Carrion you use your tendrils to grab onto your human prey. Once you have a hold on them and they’re screaming in terror, it’s up to you how you finish them off. Do you smash them into walls like a ragdoll, or drown them in a nearby pool? Or do you simply pull them into your gnashing maw, tearing them into pieces as you devour them?
Let’s not sugar coat it, Carrion is not for the squeamish. It’s a nasty, brutal and downright bloodthirsty game. Each new ability you unlock simply lets you kill humans in more creative ways. I shouldn’t be okay with that, but honestly, Carrion is just so much fun to play and is so dynamic in how you approach each encounter, that I just can’t help but love it.
It’s not without flaws, however. I did find myself struggling to remember where I was going sometimes, especially when heading to the exit of a particular section. Throughout the game, you’ll need to find specific cracks in walls which act as checkpoints, spreading your biomass in order to unlock the door to the next area. Sometimes this will require finding three or four of these cracks, each one opening a part of the mechanised doorway. As the game doesn’t provide you with any kind of map, it can be easy to forget where the exit door actually was, or you might even find yourself circling areas as you try to find the way to a new part of a level.
It’s quite difficult in the early stages too, as some security officers use energy shields that damage your monster. It’s not always easy to get behind them either, to circumvent their shields. It does get easier with certain new abilities, but often patience is needed and you’ll have to sit and wait for the opportune moment to strike – especially when there are multiple shielded enemies in one room.
Humans are always the biggest problem throughout Carrion. You even get to control them sometimes, with a neat special ability. You even control humans during certain story moments, but it always feels somewhat awkward and sluggish in comparison to the fast, fluid motion of the monster.
The thing is, none of that really matters. Sloshing around as a blob of toothy flesh is just a joy, which is something else I never thought I would ever say. The attention to detail is stunning in this pixelated world, as you see individual tendrils reaching out to grab walls, floors and ceilings while you move around like some kind of abominable Spider-Man. Simple twin-stick controls make it easy and fun to play, and its Flashback-like visuals make it easy on the eye. Well, apart from all the blood and guts, of course.
Carrion is a game I’ve watched for a while, and it’s always nice when a long-awaited game lives up to your expectations. It’s such a simple concept that I’m amazed it hasn’t been done before, and I think we can all appreciate new ideas in an age of sequels and reboots. It introduces new abilities regularly enough to keep things fresh and varied, while the core loop of gory death-dealing and biomass spreading (which sounds several kinds of wrong) is great fun. Carrion’s reversal of roles brings a unique take to the horror genre and, above all, it’s disgustingly enjoyable to play.
New abilities keep things varied
A genuinely fresh idea
Early difficulty spikes
Awkward human controls
Carrion reverses the roles of the horror genre beautifully, and playing as a monster has never been so disgustingly enjoyable.