Now, let me be completely transparent, I don’t like being scared. I hate horror movies, horror games and frequently close my eyes and block my ears if I can sense a jumpscare coming. So I don’t claim to be an expert on fear, but man, I would hate to be one of the poor lab workers in Carrion. One of the latest games from acclaimed studio Devolver Digital, Carrion has been dubbed a ‘reverse horror game’, where instead of running scared in a dark hallway worrying about the scary monster in the vents, you are the scary monster in the vent. It’s a fascinating concept that as far as I know isn’t super prevalent in mainstream gaming, except maybe for games like Doom, where the protagonist is a force of nature and enemies are puny bags of meat.
Carrion works a little differently, you are an amorphous super predator that has become sick of being gawked at and studied in your tiny glass tube, so you decide to break out and eat your local population of scientists. Sadly, you are trapped in a scientific complex that is so large, the PDF I downloaded to navigate it is so huge it crashes my laptop. So crack your boneless knuckles and get comfortable, it’s gonna get messy. The game overall has a lot going for it, it’s pixelated aesthetic actually lends to its twisted body horror beauty, and I’m sure it would have been a lot harder to animate in 3D.
The body horror brilliance of Carrion is evident in the many teeth and eyes that make up your meaty arsenal
For a horror game, it is very easy on the eyes, as you traverse mines, jungles, skyscrapers and underwater facilities you will be struck by the unique visual characteristics of its 2D pixel environments. Each level felt like a minigame in itself. However, the complicated layout of the map as a whole led to me getting confused as to where I was meant to be going, a lot. Since there is no in-game map or waypoint system, a wrong turn could take me back to where I had been 10 minutes prior and make me all kinds of lost, but that might just have been a problem for me.
The main goal of the game is to escape the facility complex, and you do this by spreading your ‘biomass’, which essentially involves finding nice quiet pipes to squeeze into and tentacle-fy the surrounding area. This also works as a logical save checkpoint system, a superorganism spreading through a large area would be able to regenerate itself should part of it be destroyed. You also may stumble across certain evolutions scattered throughout the map, genetic material being stored in similar containers to yours that, when assimilated, grant you neat new powers. Some of these powers include echolocation to find your nearest save point, temporary invisibility and a sort of ranged attack that can glue enemies or get into places you can’t.
Pow! Got em’! The cobweb ability is the most useful in my opinion, but you do have to be small to use it.
Interestingly, you can only use these skills under certain conditions, mainly size. All these scientists and cyborg super soldiers you’re eating go straight to your hips, and while that offers a boost to health, it will limit certain abilities. Your size is broken into 3 levels, and certain skills can only be used at certain sizes, which will occasionally require you to deposit your biomass and lose a couple hundred kilograms to work your way past a stealth section etc.
The enemies you encounter vary in difficulty, some very easy to mess with, while a good hit from others may send you slithering away with your tentacles between your legs. They all have weaknesses and predictable behaviour, e.g. Shield enemies will raise a shield that blocks and damages you as soon as they spot you, as well as shooting at you with a machine gun or flamethrower, but that shield only protects their front, so if you can make a noise behind them or just wait for them to turn around, you can grab them and introduce them to your several dozen teeth. The flamethrower variant is trickier since you can only put the fire out by being submerged in water, but laws of fair game design mean there is usually a small pool in the next room over.
Ow, very hot very hot. Flamethrower enemies force you to be more strategic with your murder, rather than just bluntly slithering and slashing your way through every room.
Overall, the game is a blast to play, with varying challenges presented both in level design and copious amounts of bullets. I particularly enjoy invoking the Alien from Alien Isolation, silently waiting for someone to walk below a vent cover then wrenching them into the darkness and dropping the remaining half of their body in front of their friends. Heh. It’s delightfully morbid and gory, weighed down only by a confusing level layout and a large number of puzzling roadblocks that can ruin the momentum of a particularly speedy massacre. I believe it will stand the test of time as a modern classic.
Carrion is out now on Xbox One, PS4, Steam, Microsoft Windows and Nintendo Switch