The very thought of an overpowered apex predator tearing through the soft skin from our very bones like a slow-cooked chicken has been terrifying moviegoers for decades. Carrion – which literally means “the decaying flesh of dead matter” – turns the tables of the cinematic horror tradition from rooting for the familiar role of the human lead that needs to overcome a monster, to standing in the shoes of what causes the fear itself.
The first thing that hit me when controlling a gory bundle of orifices, teeth and tentacles is just how grotesque and powerful I felt straight out of the test tube. The weightlessness to the way the monster moves as slimy appendages automatically hook and latch to the environment securely enforces this feeling so naturally, that before I’ve even started the killing, I already felt like an incredible force of nature.
Once I directed my creature towards its first taste of the addictive mixture of water, salts, iron and protein there was no going back. Suddenly I was the meek that will inherit the Earth, like Seymour feeding Audrey II in The Little Shop of Horrors. At first, the early contact with the fine delicacy of human meat played havoc with my moral compass as I slung a room of defenceless scientists screaming for mercy into walls, floors, ceilings and eventually into one of the creature’s many gullets. However, it didn’t take long until the taste of power and plasma began to overwhelm my creature as it suddenly doubled in size.
It’s within this simple yet unforgiving structure where Carrion shines bright with crimson, experimenting in different ways to approach prey as our biological mess of mass searches for the means to evolve. Newly adopted abilities found throughout the game become contained within the various possible sizes of the creature. This leads to the importance of depositing and consuming organic matter into pools of incubation fluid becoming an important tactic when searching for ways to press forwards.
While it’s easy to go off trail at first across a sprawling underground secret laboratory, I’m grateful that there wasn’t a map to depend on. The thought of a big giant blob of gore reading an A to Z would have probably thrown me off quite a bit. I liked the idea of independently launching myself around the place searching for a weak spot leading to my next meal or upgrade. After all, I’ve spent hours in the past wandering around aimlessly in far more famous games of a somewhat similar type. And while it can sometimes seem that way in Carrion, I rarely ever got lost to the point of frustration.
I think the point I’m trying to make is that gathering of ability upgrades within a sprawling maze-like environment makes Carrion fall into the, dare I say it, Metroidvania category. However, the gameplay routine that this game abides by is more fast-paced and puzzle-focused by nature.
The sole aim is for the monster to seek resting points to infect and spread its genetic signature, which works as both a save point and a place to regather its potential maximum size. Finding all the spots to spread biomass will, therefore, breach entryways to new areas providing an indication to what would usually be regarded as a new stage.
The seamless transition between connected environments and solving ways to find them work well to a certain degree. Although, Carrion does become quite predictable within its overall gameplay structure very quickly. In fact, you could say that it almost struggles to break free from being little more than a tech demo of a clever concept. Even with that being the case, the sense of satisfaction born from experimentation brings out that curious and cruel child playing with ants in all of us.
It’s why I’ve chosen not to give any insight on upgrades available in an effort not to spoil the hunting possibilities for the player. Without stumbling across those all-important discoveries for yourself and knowing everything beforehand could potentially box in my point even further.
Carrion is a relatively short and fairly easy game to crash through, taking less than half a dozen hours to see everything it has to offer. The short length is more than adequate though, as I did find that my attention began to wane towards the end due to the game’s rather repetitious layout.
The initial illusion of being all-powerful can be put into check when set on fire with a flamethrower, and it’s when the humans really begin to fight back where Carrion is at its best. It begins to force a more calculated approach that fits relevantly to role-playing as the Xenomorph in the first Alien movie. While humans do eventually arm themselves with damaging shields, drones and mech weaponry that are very effective at cutting our creature down to size, it’s a shame that even with all the arsenal they have on their side, the artificial intelligence of humans is utterly underwhelming.
The same can be said when pressing towards the final portion of the game. I wanted to use all my newfound abilities and really put them to the test. I craved to oppose a sizable army of challenging soldiers, and for them to dare throw everything they had to try and contain the creature’s existence. The game tries to do that to some degree, but never quite strong enough to really earn a satisfying conclusion.
Carrion does many things right when it comes to creating a feel for becoming the monster. The cinematic soundtrack is fantastic too, setting the tone and putting the player in the mindset of the beast perfectly. The way the monster moves under control is excellent, and massacring a room full of scientists and soldiers rarely ever gets old. It’s just unfortunate that the overall structure that surrounds the novelty of the core gameplay mechanic is never quite as unique in comparison.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Devolver Digital