In Carrion you move so fast, so malevolently, it’s genuinely unsettling… even though you’re the one in control. And controlling this repellent offal-beast is never better than when you prepare surprise attacks for well-armed military forces.
Two machine gun-toting army boys, with anti-me shields fizzling in front of them, thought they could be the heroes. One wandered into the room I was in, quietly hidden in an air duct in the ceiling. I waited until his back was turned and lashed out toward him. He roared in terror in the seconds before he was dead, slung into my mouths and chewed. His buddy came running, shields and guns ready — so I disappeared. Back into the safety of my tunnel in one monstrous slithering movement, leaving him impotently firing his gun at the ceiling. I was The Thing, an Elder, the creature that once lived under your bed. I killed him moments later.
I have never played a game with movement that feels this good.
I really want to emphasise the heft of that statement: I’ve been playing games for a living for over 21 years, and none have ever felt as good to move about in as Carrion. It is extraordinary.
Carrion’s also wonderfully macabre and grotesque, one of those most rare things: a game in which you get to be the enemy, that’s not rubbish. In fact, it’s brilliant. In a sort of reversal of the traditional Metroidvania format, here you play a repulsive be-tentacled beast of dripping meat and viscera, spreading your contagious biomass throughout an underground research facility, and devouring any humans you encounter.
Usually such games have you clearing up the mess after, Samus or whomever doing their best to wipe down the walls and put everything back on its shelves. So what a joy to get to create the havoc and then move on. That doing so offers the most sublime and revolting grace I’ve ever encountered is quite the bonus.
You crawl and glide about the levels, somewhat reminiscent of Spider-Man’s Venom, all tendrils and teeth, clinging to ceilings and floors at the same time. See a human and you can thrust out a tentacle to brutally grab it by a leg, then draw it into your maw as they release blood-curdling screams of pure terror. Other scientists will panic, screech, attempt to flee, but honestly, they don’t stand a chance. Perhaps they’ll take a few shots at you with a weapon, reducing your size with each hit, but spew a thread of viscous web toward them to see them pinned to the wall, then drag them in to replenish your waistline.
Grate in your way? A right-click sends out a tendril to grab, then a yoink of the mouse tears it from its moorings, yours to fling around — ideally to crush the feeble flesh of a paltry human against a wall. These movements feel so dynamic, so intricate, that you feel a mastery as you play that’s undeserved, yet so rewarding. The same is true for plucking an armoured drone from the air, and then just bloody slamming it and slamming it against the walls and floor, smashing that bastard thing to scrap. You feel so villainous, so evil, so intensely bad.
There are so many moments of feeling exceptionally inhuman. The way you learn to stop even considering moving around the scene to reach a switch, but rather just thrust out tentacles in that direction to feel for them. Or when encountering something new, approaching it like the octopoidal beast you are, experimentally touching it with a writhing arm to see if it’s safe, then lunging forward if it is, or recoiling backward should it electrocute or attack you. Slithering to safety at such creepy speeds captures this feeling too, where you’re the source of such unnatural movement and terror.
As in life, the more human flesh you consume, the larger you grow, until you’re just covered in mouths. At larger sizes you can smash through barriers, but at the cost of not being able to spit repulsive web-snot, or later, turn invisible. Fortunately if you find a pool of pink-ish water, you can deposit a portion of your biomass within, then slink off more stealthily. Then you can either return to re-consume your sloughed-off portions, or feast your way bigger again.
Ideas keep pouring in, new abilities added at a ferocious speed. By the time you have possession, your status as pure evil is entirely confirmed, puppeteering enemies to do your morbid bidding, or turning them on their friends in bullet-ridden betrayal. Naturally gaining control of a person’s mind is as wretched and blood-soaked as you could hope.
Carrion is an absolute masterpiece of the macabre. It’s truly repellent in its delivery, pixel graphics managing to convey something far more awful than modern raytraced blood particles could ever have hoped. If there’s any criticism to throw at Carrion, it’s that it’s slightly too easy. And heck, that’s a rare phrase to use these days, and frankly, pretty welcome. Still, it could have done with offering a bit more challenge earlier on, beyond some very smart environmental puzzles.
BACK OF THE BOX QUOTE
What a carry-on!
TYPE OF GAME
Horrific gore, utterly monstrous behaviour, and the most sublime movement in gaming.
A little too easy early on.
Phobia Game Studio
PC / Xbox One / Nintendo Switch
July 23, 2020
Just over 10 hours
It’s also far longer than you’d expect, possibly reaching double-digits in hours if you’re meticulous enough to return to previous areas to hunt down all the hidden extras. Yet it constantly refreshes itself with new ghastly abilities. Oh, and let’s not forget to credit its soundscape, from the haunting, malevolent soundtrack, to the effects that make every moment more dreadful. Imagine pouring blood-soaked spaghetti from container to bowl — that’s a pretty evocative description of both the sound and the art right there.
Most importantly, Carrion’s smart. It’s an extremely finely crafted game, so much so that you’re essentially playing a meat-smeared Metroidvania without a map, and you won’t even miss it. That’s quite something. Add in the excellent puzzles, ever-growing cast of enemies, and constant sense of progress, and Carrion is much more than just the gore. But ho boy, the gore.