In recent years, many games have asked the player to consider the important question of the morality of their actions. Spec Ops: The Line, Hotline Miami, and The Last of Us Part II all ask, in one way or another if we like hurting people. Other games allow players to be the bad guy or the monster without a lot of questions aside from “Are you having fun?” And once in a while, there’s a certain appeal to being an evil killing machine that strikes fear into the hearts of everyone who sees you. Carrion digs into that fun wholeheartedly.
Carrion is a 2-D, reverse-horror, Metroidvania-style video game, developed by Phobia Game Studios and published by Devolver Digital. You’re put in the “shoes” of a red mass of tentacles and teeth, held captive in a massive research facility owned by a company called Relith Science. That’s about where the story ends; Carrion doesn’t waste much time with backstory or explanations. You break out of your containment jar and bam, the game starts. You do have some opportunities to learn a bit more about the origins of the vicious mass you’re playing, but there are only a few of them.
What Carrion does truly perfectly is its movement and combat. You’re able to move in any direction, as the beast shoots tendrils on to walls, ceilings, and floors in order to pull itself around a level; the sight of the tendrils shooting out and then reforming into the main mass, and the sound they make as they move is creepy and satisfying, and gives a feeling of weight and speed to everything you do.
Pressing right click shoots out a prehensile tentacle which can grab people or the various props scattered around the levels. When you do get a hold of an enemy, you’ve got a couple of options: you can whip them around like a dog playing with a chew toy, bashing them against the floor or ceiling to your heart’s delight, or you can eat them. Eating enemies is really a sight to behold: when you bring an enemy close enough, your mass will spawn a jaw full of teeth, and if they’re close enough the jaws automatically tear into them. You don’t even eat them all at once: they get torn in half, only for a tendril to shoot out and pull the rest in. It’s brutal, it’s visceral, it’s nasty…and I love every second of it. Eating is also how you heal and regain biomass, but it’s not instant, so only eat during a fight if you’re about to die.
Biomass is one of Carrion’s most interesting mechanics. At the beginning of the game, you can’t get very big; but once you unlock an ability for the next size tier, your maximum size increases. Max size increases twice throughout the game, and when you’re as big as you can get it, it’s terrifying–a mass of eyes, teeth and tendrils 30 or so feet long, like a freight train that’s gotten a taste for human flesh.
Each size gives you access to different abilities, which play into both the combat and the puzzles. At your smallest, you’re perfect for stealth; the next tier is amazing for aggressive, in your face combat, and the largest size turns you into a tank with powerful long range attacks. Some of the abilities you’ll get include a long-range barrage of barbed tentacles, invisibility, a cobweb launcher that shoots webs at enemies that sticks them to walls or ceilings, and the ability to grow spikes from your body that will impale anybody that gets hit. You can also unlock an ability which can be used by all sizes: parasitism, which allows you to infect a human and control them like a puppet. You can even use a possessed host as a twisted form of “fast travel”. When you get big, Carrion makes sure you feel like an unstoppable force, as you tear through dozens of scientists, soldiers, and drones as if they were flies, destroying armed and armored mechs like they were a plastic toy. This does result in the game becoming kind of easy, and unfortunately there aren’t any additional difficulty settings.
I am a little disappointed you can’t use all the abilities at once, because a trailer from a year ago showed your creature being able to turn invisible even while fairly large. But, abilities being limited to sizes also plays heavily into the puzzles, which can be truly devious at times. Puzzles sometimes also proved tedious, but those instances were few and far between, and I always felt crafty as hell when I managed to get past a particularly tricky obstacle.
There are a couple problems Carrion has that may put some people off: one, it has no map. No map at all. Unlike games like Ori and the Blind Forest, where you can pull up a map which shows everywhere you’ve been, you have nothing to tell you where you are, or what places you haven’t been. This can make it really easy to get lost, especially at the beginning. Secondly, it’s pretty short. My first blind playthrough took six or so hours to complete.
That being said, Carrion is still a fantastic game. It’s short, but I’d rather have a short game that I enjoyed every minute of than a 25-hour slog that I’ll never play again. The freedom of movement and the frantic combat all comes together in a way that just feels right, replicating how I imagine it would feel to be the Xenomorph or the creature from The Thing. And between you and me, people are already making custom levels, so if you’re on PC there’s plenty more to play.
Carrion is available now on Steam, XboxOne and Nintendo Switch.
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