Inspired by horror movies like The Thing, Carrion delivers a smart, gory, and empowering “reverse horror game.”
When you think “horror game,” you usually think about playing a helpless, feeble human running away from the shapeless horrors lurking in the shadows.
In Carrion, you play that shapeless horror, and it feels incredible.
Who Goes There?
Carrion is what you would call a “reverse horror game” – you are the monster, not the victim. Specifically, you’re a big red mass of teeth and tentacles that devours every human in its path.
The game is clearly inspired by the horror movies of the ’80s. If you’re like me, and films like The Thing, The Blob, and The Deadly Spawn (well, maybe not The Deadly Spawn) are among your favorites, you’ll love Carrion from the get-go.
And it captures the spirit of these movies perfectly, without ever feeling either cheesy or derivative. You’re a monster, and the game just lets you a monster. And I loved being a monster in Carrion.
You can crash through a room and tear every human limb from limb, or lurk in vents and wait to strike at the right moment. There’s no story, no characters, no dialogue – just a primal urge to consume and escape.
Little Metroidvania of Horror
As an unnamed creature of nightmares, your only goal is to escape a maze-like underground facility and reach the surface. Since the whole place is quarantined (there’s a giant biohazard sploshing around in the vents), you need to slowly infect it with your slimy biomass and break the countermeasures.
The facility is divided into several self-contained areas with their own challenges and mechanics. There are a handful of locations, and the overworld isn’t that big, but I still got lost more than once. Each area has clear exit signs that lead you back to the overworld, but finding your way to any other place can be confusing. Especially if you’re trying to find your way back to a level you already visited, and not the next one.
The reason you’d want to go back is that Carrion is essentially a Metroidvania. In each area, you unlock a new ability to give you access to other sections of the map. Gaining an ability is always fun and opens up new possibilities. They give you more tools to deal with the pesky flamethrower-wielding soldiers or solve environmental puzzles.
But you can also use them to discover secret vaults and upgrade your creature even further. These vaults are small, contained puzzle rooms that require you to really master each different ability. The rewards aren’t always worth it, but cracking a vault is very empowering.
Knowing when to use your abilities is a puzzle in and of itself. You don’t always have access to all of them, since which skills are available to you depends on the creature’s mass.
For example, if you need to go invisible to pass through a laser, you have to reduce your mass to the smallest level. But if you want to break through a barricade, you need to grow a size bigger.
Gaining and shedding mass can be done in several ways, and Carrion always makes sure at least one of them is available to you when you need it. However, if also often gives away the solution to a puzzle. If you see a pool of icky pink water that lets you “deposit” a portion of your mass, you immediately know its time to go down a size.
Some later puzzles do manage to remain challenging even when you know how to approach them, but for the most part, Carrion isn’t a particularly difficult game.
The Stuff of Nightmares
It is, however, a good-looking game.
The creature pulls, drags, and swings itself across the levels is a marvelously disbursing manner. You can see its body pulsating and twisting with every move, and it’s really gross – in the best way.
Carrion manages to be gory even with its pixel-art graphics. Flailing a human’s ragdoll body around is not only incredibly satisfying is a twisted way, but it also sends streams of pixelated blood everywhere. Humans, in turn, use mesmerizing clouds of fire to push you back.
Carrion is a must-play for fans of monster movies and creature features. Playing as a neigh-unstoppable blob is so empowering – both when devouring your human prey and solving a puzzle using a new ability.
I had a lot of fun with the game’s 5 hours campaign, and while there’s little reason to go back, it’s a horror worth experiencing.
Developer: Phobia Game Studio
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: Jul. 23, 2020
Our Carrion review copy was purchased by the reviewer.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.