Author André Gide once wrote, “I do not love men: I love what devours them.” Taken literally, this sort of sentiment would no doubt be enthusiastically shared by any monster you’d find in a typical horror movie. Too often they are kept cooped-up by curious, ambitious humans. In Carrion, you have the opportunity to play as one such captive monster, and humans are what’s on the menu.
The plot of Carrion is quite simple: players fill the role of a tentacled monster trapped in a subterranean lab that has recently broken from its confinement. Wanting what any young monster wants, it quickly begins to make its escape to sweet freedom. Naturally, the lab is populated with workers, so the monster will have to defend itself and make sure it has the energy to complete the journey ahead of it. Everybody’s gotta eat!
In its travels through the laboratory complex, the monster comes upon several large machines. Once entering them, players take control of a group of humans in some kind of vision of a different time and place. The context for these scenes is unclear until the game is completed.
The core gameplay of Carrion is navigating through the lab areas with your tentacles, sticking to walls and squeezing through caves. Players use the left stick to move and the right stick to aim their tentacles. Once aimed, tentacles can grab objects after pressing ZR. This is used to activate switches, rip open grates and door, aim certain abilities, and to grab humans. A quick way to incapacitate human enemies is to eat them, which can be done after grabbing them and letting go of the right stick, allowing them to be dragged slowly to your salivating toothy maw.
The controls are easy to understand and master. The problem is maneuvering the hulking mass the monster becomes as it grows throughout the game. You are tasked with squeezing through small openings and making sharp turns through corners, which become very cumbersome since no matter what direction you are moving in, the front of the monster seems to stay the same. So if you go around a corner and try to move up the other side, sometimes you end up going right back up the side you came from. Another scenario is when you attempt to sneakily grab a human while sticking your head around a corner, the tentacle comes from the wrong side of the monster, as the “head” you’re peeking out is in fact the backside. This requires you to rearrange yourself completely so the correct end of the monster is facing toward the enemy. These control issues can get in the way of the bad messy fun players get up to.
Not everyone enjoys the sight of a giant bloody monster barreling into the room, so players can expect some resistance during their time in the lab complex. Enemies range from normal employees who’ve armed themselves with handguns to soldiers employed to guard the complex, who use automatic guns and energy shields that prevent you from grabbing them from the front. Players will also encounter machine enemies like mounted turrets and drones, which offer their own challenges. Humans can also pilot mechs, which are probably the most dangerous enemy for those unprepared.
The environments are designed so that you have options for engaging enemies. Players can always just go in through the door, but it’s often much wiser to creep around the perimeter of rooms, looking for small points where the monster can get a tentacle in a snatch somebody. You can also grab objects and wield them as blunt weapons to knock down enemies, which is especially useful in killing soldiers that love to block you with shields. This room for variety means players of all styles can have fun stalking and wreaking havoc.
Should players find themselves on the bad end of a gunshot, their health will quickly go down (as will their overall size). Considering the monster’s considerable size compared to the size of their bullets, this may come as a shock, but frankly, the game would be too easy if the humans couldn’t do some damage. The good news is fighting back and grabbing the humans makes them available for consumption, at least if they are a civilian and not an armored (and thus unappetizing) soldier, who will merely be chewed up and spit out. You can also just grab and manhandle them all over the room, killing them and leaving their yummy remains for a later meal.
Along the way, players will find numerous glass vats containing DNA samples that will give the monster new abilities. These range from spike skin to invisibility, and open new strategies for combat and act as a means to reach new areas as well. Collecting certain abilities will also increase the monster’s size and max health, expanding the health bar into color-coded tiers. Each ability is displayed on the HUD at the four corners of the screen, and only certain abilities can be used at health/body size tiers. Pink pools can be found throughout the lab that will allow players to leave some of their mass behind, dropping them down to a lower size/health tier so they can use an ability to progress in that area.
Additionally, hidden in the game are nine containment units, which house optional glass DNA vats that give you perks. These augment your existing abilities, such as granting more tentacles to grab with. Some are useful to have, but can be tough to find because they sometimes require some serious backtracking. With no map, this can be a time-consuming endeavor, especially considering the perks are almost never worth the effort involved in obtaining them.
A fun ability to use is parasitism, which allows you to sneak a tentacle over to a human and attach, enabling them to be controlled. This changes the control scheme completely, allowing you to walk and climb ladders. Should you take over a soldier, you can even use their energy shield or flamethrower, should they have one equipped. Mechs can also be piloted, which makes for some satisfying action. The practical application of parasitism is the ability to sneak through a room of enemies undetected, finding the right angle to take out the room while the monster can hide in safety outside.
There are several regions to explore in Carrion, and backtracking will be necessary after you’ve acquired new abilities in order to open up more areas. Save points can be found in the form of hive crevices, which you can infest and turn into a place to save. This also serves the purpose of methodically opening hatches that lead to a new area. Often multiple hive crevices need to be infested in order to pry open the hatch.
Every region has an electronic board providing information about it. These are found at one of the region’s entrances, usually the one created after you finish that region. These show how many of the areas entrances have been opened, how many ability vats have been found, and if the secret containment unit has been found. These are helpful tools for any completionist trying to keep track of what still needs to be found, or if something was missed.
Carrion technically falls just short of being a “metroidvania” type game, since there is no map of any kind, a key element of the genre. Backtracking, using abilities in previously traversed areas, and the presence of multiple connected regions you can explore at your leisure are all hallmarks of these types of games, so one could likely call this a metroidvania and not be completely wrong. Players should note that not having a map in a game that expects you to backtrack frequently can be a pain, and should be prepared to get lost on more than a few occasions. Even so, the maps are not too large, and the monster can navigate quite quickly through when there are no enemies.
From the moment you boot up the game and are met with rows of teeth, flesh, and a roving tongue, you know what type of game this is. The art style of Carrion can be summed up as retro gory. The game’s environments are reminiscent of 16-bit era platformers, and the carnage that ensues in this game will leave every pixel stained with the viscera and blood of anyone who gets in the monster’s path. Everywhere that the protagonist even crawls is left soaked, as the character itself is a bloody mass of eyes, tentacles, and teeth. Everything about the game’s look screams horror.
Players will appreciate that each area has a relatively unique style. The monster will venture through industrial areas, caves, and even offices. Every area is rendered in beautiful pixels, and the occasional glimpses of the environment outside show art that evokes a feeling of being in a completely different place in every region.
Much of the music in Carrion is minimal, atmospheric sound. This builds a suspenseful, tense environment as you slither through hallways and vents. However, once you engage with enemies, the full music kicks in and terror permeates the scene. The music does a fantastic job of being tense when needed and energetic when it’s appropriate. It is a perfect compliment to the gameplay experience.
After finishing the game, it can be loaded again from the last save point, should the player wish to obtain any last containment unit perks. Outside of being a completionist, there is little reason to do this after the game’s over, as completing the game with everything explored has no added benefit. What is unlocked after the game’s been completed is a demo version of Carrion, presumably the one used at trade shows where the game was shown. This is a map that combines many of the elements seen in the main game. It doesn’t last very long, but it is a fun experience for those wanting a bit more after the credits have rolled.
Carrion is a classic monster movie fan’s dream game. The soundtrack, art style, and gameplay all combine to create a terrifying setting. What really sets it apart is that you’re playing as the monster itself, so you are the source of terror. This “reverse horror” concept is a treat to experience. Any person who has ever rooted for the monster to win, or just simply wants to see what it’s like to play as the enemy for a change, would do well to pick this game up. It’s a bloody good time.
Final Rating: 8/10.