Carrion Review

Matt Lorrigan

There is something cathartic about taking on the role of a villain in a game. The chance to play as someone - or something, in the case of Carrion - with no moral compass is uniquely satisfying, in the same way that Dungeons & Dragons diehards can have fun roleplaying as an arsehole without any real-life consequence. Carrion performs this feat admirably, casting you as an amorphous mass of meat, maws and tentacles, before setting you loose in an underground base.

From the moment you break free from your containment unit - in what feels like a wonderful subversion of the intro to Super Metroid - you’re on a quest to escape from the facility in which you’re trapped, devouring any pitiful humans who dare stand in your path. The game is structured as a Metroidvania, and as you discover more of the facility, you’ll unlock new powers and abilities that grant access to further areas.


The monster that you play is gloriously rendered, with stunning animation and pixel work bringing the Carrion creature to life. Moving through open spaces will see you extending crimson tendrils to every surface available and soaring ever higher, while travelling through small vents will see your red clot of tentacles and teeth squeeze and lengthen like meat through a sausage machine. The otherworldly animation helps sell the feeling of playing as something distinctly and impossibly non-terrestrial, and while it is never made clear from where the Carrion creature hails, there is no doubt that it feels alien.

This design choice is fantastically gory and unsettling, but does have an unusual impact on how the game feels. Without any real need for platforming, and with the ability to traverse areas at great speed, you’ll find that playing Carrion is strangely frictionless. There’s little incentive to ever stop moving, and rather than planning your next destination, you instead find yourself pushing at the edges of the game world until you find the path of least resistance. It’s thematically appropriate when you’re playing as an unnatural force of nature, but when combined with many similar-looking environments, it makes large swathes of the game largely forgettable.

This isn’t helped by the fact that the game is desperately crying out for a map. I never had too much trouble finding my way forward, but with nine optional upgrades to collect throughout the game – mostly available by backtracking – there’s unfortunately little incentive to stop and turn back rather than push on. Without a map to guide you, there seems to be an assumption that you’ll always remember where to go, but this is rarely the case. You do have access to an echolocation ability, which can help point you in the right direction, but it disappointingly doesn’t allow you to build a map of your surroundings.

Despite these issues, Carrion is still great fun in the moment-to-moment, especially when you enter combat. You start equipped with only your reaching red tendrils and rows of razor sharp teeth, with your destructive capability growing over the course of the game. Smashing down a door and barrelling into a lab as a terrifying tangle of teeth, before proceeding to take out a group of scientists in seconds, really sells the idea that you’re the monster in your own horror movie. With a single tendril, you can grab objects or people, tossing them about like a ship on the ocean. It’s satisfyingly chaotic, and the gorgeously gross sound design reinforces this nicely. If you’d prefer to play as a more thoughtful and stealthy amorphous glob, that’s always an option, as well. Most combat scenarios give you multiple ways to attack, with vents to creep through and sneak up on unsuspecting humans.

You’ll pick up new abilities over the course of the game, and Carrion becomes more enjoyable with each new upgrade you acquire. By the time you’re nearing the end credits, you can parasitically take control of and masquerade as any man or woman in the facility, although the AI will sometimes glimpse beyond the illusion and start firing at you. Controlling the human characters is quite clunky in comparison to the Carrion creature, but this only makes returning to your meaty form all the more empowering.


Unsurprisingly, as you grow in power and size, the resistance you come up against becomes more dangerous as well, with humans arming themselves with flamethrowers and mech suits in an attempt to stop you. These can be a little jarring to deal with at first, but once you get the hang of them, it can lead to some thrilling combat encounters.

You’re not always ripping and tearing through puny humans, though, and elsewhere you’ll have to solve puzzles in order to further your escape attempt, such as flipping switches to open doors or drain water. Carrion features an unusual mechanic where you never have access to all of your abilities at the same time. You’ll increase in size if you consume people, but shed mass if you take damage, and you’ll have different abilities available at three different sizes. This means that some puzzles require you to “deposit biomass” in special liquid pools in order to gain access to lower-level abilities, and then return to your larger size to switch back. It’s a slightly confusing system, and while any puzzle that requires this will always have a pool nearby, I’d have much preferred to have all of my abilities available at once.

Carrion nails its premise of ‘reverse-horror’, and provides a wonderful power trip as the monster. However, the game’s Metroidvania influences, which promote patient exploration, often run contrary to the moment-to-moment action and linear world design of Carrion. The result is a title with too many ideas that feel a little muddled, but despite these frustrations, the strength of the central premise alone will carry you through to the end of its five-to-six hour adventure.

Carrion

Carrion is an excellent power fantasy that casts you as the monstrous villain in your own horror film. The wonderfully gloopy animation and conception of Carrion’s meaty monster makes it enjoyable to play, especially when tearing through the unfortunate humans that stand in your way. But dull exploration, a lack of memorable environments and disparate gameplay ideas that never really come together, mean that Carrion never truly reaches its full potential.

Form widget
70%
Audio
80%

The music and sound design is nice and foreboding, especially when you’re the reason for it. You’ll hear some wonderfully sloppy sound effects as you squeeze your blobby body through the corridors of Carrion, and it’s all appropriately gross.

Visuals
80%

The blood and gore looks better than it has any right to be in pixel form, and the Carrion creature is so wonderfully animated that it’s almost hypnotising to watch it move. Unfortunately, a drab setting and samey locations let the visuals down.

Playability
75%

Controls can be a little fiddly, and puzzles are made overly complicated by the biomass management system. However, grabbing humans with your tendrils and chucking them about is great fun, and the game offers multiple ways to take down your foes.

Delivery
65%

Carrion runs exceptionally well, and its core concept is strong. But the game’s Metroidvania structure doesn't mesh well with the tone of the game, and optional backtracking is never anything more than a slog with the absence of a map.

Achievements
80%

The majority of achievements are unlocked by finishing the game, with the rest obtainable by finding all nine optional containment units. Even though backtracking can be tedious, this is still a nice list to work your way through.

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