Horror games typically like to trap you in a setting with a big, bad, powerful enemy. When applied well, it adds a layer of challenge, but more importantly, a layer of fear. It sets a tone that can force you to constantly ask some questions to yourself — “what will I do if they show up?” or “do I really have the means to take them on?” Carrion flips this convention on its head. As Alan Moore once wrote — “I’m not locked in here with you, you’re locked in here with me!”
In Carrion, you are the monster who gets to ruin somebody’s day; make someone else the one who has to ask these questions. With a little strategic thinking, Carrion is one hell of a power trip that implores you to bring out your inner movie-monster.
What Is It?
Carrion places you in the role of a science experiment gone wrong. You awaken in a secret lab in the middle of an experiment with one goal — get the hell out by any means necessary; devouring humans, remote-operating dead bodies, growing so large that you’ll barely fit inside some of the game’s smaller locations — it’s all fair game here. Just be sure to leave the janitorial staff intact, because the messes you will make of blood, biomass, and body-parts cannot be overstated.
Why Should I Care?
Carrion balances its power-dynamics well. Bull-rushing unarmed enemies and even lightly-armed guards will probably work out in your favor, but as the game introduces more heavily-outfitted enemies — drones, walking mechs, and the like — you’ll have to adapt to each situation. Maybe this means a stealthy approach where you find an overhead vent to crawl into, so you can abduct enemies from above — Batman-style — or perhaps you’ll have to hurl nearby objects, such as doors, vending machines, or even bodies down a hallway to knock a few heavily armed enemies off-balance; whatever the case, Carrion does a good job of making you feel powerful throughout, but never overpowered.
There is one drawback to the game’s combat, however, and that has to do with reaching out and grabbing things using the right stick. It has a tendency to be unwieldy; more often than not you’ll end up grabbing something you weren’t intending on. When that happens, it can be frustrating, especially if you’re low on health and trying to make a desperation play before you die. But fortunately, you won’t have to rely solely on this mechanic throughout the whole game, as grabbing enemies is but one of many tools at your disposal in Carrion.
At first, you won’t be able to do much beyond simple movement or throwing enemies around, but it won’t be too long before you get your first upgrade, and from there, they just keep coming. Some upgrades you’ll get just by progressing through the game, such as the ability to shoot webs or plant a parasite inside enemies. But sometimes you’ll stumble upon easy-to-miss containment units that possess a series of optional upgrades, such as the ability to detect edible bodies to restore your health.
No two upgrades feel alike, nor are any of them one-note. They each have a unique purpose in both combat and exploration, and the pace at which they’re acquired feels neither too quick, nor too slow; you get just enough time to check out what one has to offer, and apply it as you see fit before stumbling across the next one. My personal favorite upgrade has to be the aforementioned parasite. You can take control of enemy guards, go behind enemy lines, operate switches switches that can open up new pathways for you, and even take out other enemies in a Trojan Horse-esque fashion as you make your way through the game’s secretive setting.
The game is primarily set in a main hub world which you can explore to find entrances to the game’s various levels, all of which are smaller and more self-contained than the larger hub world. They all feel complete with exciting enemy encounters and thought provoking puzzles, both of which are sure to test your various abilities.
The individual sizes of each of the game’s levels feels just right as well; there’s just enough space for you to explore and possibly find some hidden goodies, but they never large enough to where you might get lost in them, barring one. The large, open nature of the game’s hub world, rife with multiple branching pathways highlights the biggest issue that this game has — lack of an in-game map. It’s not too hard to get lost in this particular area, and without a way to know your exact location, navigating the game’s hub world can be a confusing time should you decide to go off the beaten path.
But at least it gives you a little more time to bask in Carrion’s stellar visuals. The game runs smooth as silk with no noticeable framerate drops, and despite there not being much variety when it comes to how levels and enemies look — intentional or not — it actually ends up working out in the game’s favor. More attention is drawn towards the main character and its unsettlingly smooth, erratic movements.
Watching it funnel through the game’s various narrow corridors and hallways like meat through a grinder was enough to make me squirm in my chair as I thought about how disgusting this thing on my monitor was. Hearing the appropriately timed ‘thwips’ from your tentacles latching onto nearby surfaces, and watching any surface you touch turn red thanks to your bloody exterior only adds to the discomfort; factor in the suspenseful score on top of everything else, and it goes to show that the word “horror” still holds a lot of weight in a “reverse-horror” game.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Carrion ran about five hours on my first playthrough, and immediately after finishing it, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I wanted to play it again. Not just for the sake of finding collectibles to fully complete the game, but because it felt so great to play. If you’ve ever wanted a game that lets you know what it might be like to be the Alien in Alien or any other monster from a horror movie, look no further than Carrion — a triumph in that regard as far as I’m concerned.
Carrion is an excellent spin on the horror genre that switches the power-dynamics of a traditional horror game while still retaining a lot of the tension. Encounters call for strategy, the puzzles are engaging, and while the game may have issues when it comes to exploring the facility you’re trapped in, it at least affords you an opportunity to really admire the fluidity with which this abominable mass of flesh roams about its surroundings. The accompanying audio/visual effects that grossed me the hell out, and the controls that, above all else, made Carrion one hard game to put down.