Devolver Digital is known for publishing games that are a little quirky, perhaps more than a little violent, and plenty strange. Carrion is a game that checks off all those boxes and more. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I sat down to play an early demo for the self-described “reverse horror experience,” but I was soon hooked by its bloody tendrils.
In Carrion, you play as an amorphous red blob with tentacles that escapes from containment. From there, your goals are mainly to acquire food, grow bigger and more powerful, and infect the whole base with your presence. As it happens, there are loads of tasty humans ready to be absorbed into your biomass, but be careful because some of them fight back.
Other goals include picking up new abilities by finding and smashing jars of experimental liquids — probably your unborn siblings — and absorbing them into yourself. The creature can also infest large cracks in the base walls, which converts those rooms into restart points.
Feeling your way around in Carrion
The first thing that struck me about the game was how easy it was to move around. Although the game has gamepad support, using the mouse to lead the creature around is incredibly intuitive. Soon, I was scaling walls, crawling across ceilings, and making my way through small ducts to get to critical areas, leaving a trail of gore wherever I went.
The creature is strong enough to pull basic doors off its hinges, but of course heavy blast doors require more creativity and effort. This usually means finding a path to activate a switch located a screen or two away. The downside of this is that there isn’t much feedback indicating what you just did. That means you have to pretty much rely on the game’s linear level design to know that the lever you just pulled is associated to a door you recently encountered. This led me to mindlessly hit every switch and button I encountered because I knew that they’d probably help me somewhere at some point.
There’s only a moderate amount of backtracking involved with the Carrion demo, so remembering door locations is usually straightforward. However, there were times when the levels started to look kind of same-y, making it hard to remember the path to get back to certain areas.
Also, progressing to certain levels requires the player to find all the infestation rooms, which can become a pain if you get lost in the maze of tunnels.
When food fights back
Fortunately, the base personnel seem only vaguely aware of the fact that there’s a killer monster on the loose, and they’re only alerted when you come busting through a door, so there’s plenty of time to explore and pick up some food. Eating is about as gruesome as one might expect from a pixel art game, with some nice crunching sounds when you munch on an unsuspecting scientist or guard.
Grabbing up a snack is as easy as reaching out a tendril, wrapping it around a human, and bringing it back to the central mass. You don’t have to necessarily shake them to death, smash them against walls, or tear them in half, but sometimes you can’t help playing with your food.
You grow bigger as you absorb more biomass, making it easier for armed guards to hit you. Although the creature looks like a gelatinous blob, it is still susceptible to bullets. But the worst damage comes from flamethrowers. The only way to extinguish yourself after being lit on fire is to dunk yourself in a pool of water, but those aren’t always handy. So, players will need to try using stealth by knocking out lights and perhaps using camouflage to quietly sneak past these menaces. Otherwise, players will have to try their luck at quickly dashing around, hoping to eliminate flamethrower soldiers, while also hoping that there’s a pool of water somewhere nearby.
My main disappointment with Carrion was with how certain lightly armored enemies can’t be consumed, even after you’ve killed them. Protected by vests and helmets, nothing about these soldiers suggested that they were completely inedible, especially since you could easily consume scientists dressed in hazmat suits. I also found it hard to believe that a giant blob creature couldn’t rip the armor off their corpses.
Additionally, the only thing surprising about the creature’s abilities are some of its limitations. For example, the active camouflage requires the creature to find a power junction box and absorb electricity from it. Once the power is active, players need to move at a slow crawling pace to maintain invisibility and pass through laser sensors. Messing this up means returning to the power box to recharge. This was a minor nuisance in the demo, but it could end up being a big pain when the game is finished.
Otherwise, the abilities appear to mostly be functional. The creature certainly gets bigger, stronger, and more menacing, but none of the abilities in the demo were especially shocking or terribly unexpected. At no point did I feel like I was outsmarting my enemies by distracting them or luring them into traps. Instead, the experience was mostly about using speed and brute force to tear through situations. Hopefully, future versions of the game will have more creative abilities, like creating a flesh decoy or reshaping leftover body parts into horrific beasts under your control.
Escape is imminent
Although the Carrion demo turned out to be more of a straightforward puzzle platformer than I had hoped, I still got hooked on playing it. There’s something about being a killer blob monster that creates a thrilling experience, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the game evolves.
Developed by Phobia Studio, Carrion is expected to release next year for PC and consoles by way of Devolver Digital.