With Carrion, you can finally live out the dream of being the monster in a horror game. Specifically, you’re a ravenous, gelatinous flesh monster comprised and several mouths and many tentacles that has escaped containment in one of the worst biological research facilities on Earth. You slither and crawl your way through dark and narrow corridors, pipes, and crevices to feed your endless hunger by chomping up all the hapless workers and killing the security guards. Along the way, you’ll also grow and evolve by absorbing new powers and abilities.
You start the game by munching down on handfuls of unarmed civilians while learning different tricks for flipping switches and unlocking doors. But your food inevitably begins to fight back, forcing you to change up your tactics and pick up new abilities. Things escalate with armed workers, armored security personnel, high-powered mech suits, automated security, and plenty of traps. Both the challenge and frustration come from finding ways to counter these defenses to access new areas while feasting on almost every human being you encounter.
One of the most striking aspects of Carrion is how fluidly the monster moves around. It follows the mouse pointer by continually stretching its tentacles out and dragging the rest of it along. You’re able to quickly slip in tunnels and hide until you’re ready to take the humans by surprise. It’s always fun to watch an oozing flesh monster cram itself into a corner or crevice, waiting for a human to come close, then tearing them apart with destructive powers. However, things can get a little sticky when you try to grab people or objects when they overlap with each other. You could be reaching out for a person to eat and end up grabbing a computer instead.
Although it can be tough for a gigantic flesh monster to be stealthy, I loved the thrill of stalking people and looking for clever ways to rip them to shreds. As the threats continue to grow, so do you. The creature has three levels of growth, each adding hit points while making you a bigger target for guns and flamethrowers to hit.
You’ll absorb powers that include shooting out debilitating webbing and covering your outer skin with soldier-impaling spikes. The different sizes also have unique power sets associated with them. If you need a specific ability, you need to go to special nutrient pools to shed some weight. However, this system is often used as a setup to hamper the player before major events such as a boss fight, which can make the game a bit predictable at times.
Also, these abilities usually include cursory descriptions and little in the way of instructions. For instance, it took me a long while to figure out that the possession power worked on both corpses and living people. Getting accustomed to your powers requires the same kind of trial-and-error process as figuring out how to get past obstacles. That’s usually fine until you encounter something completely new, like an automated trap or drone. Then it becomes an issue of trying to figure out whether you have the tools you need to deal with the matter, or if there’s some clever tactic the game expects you to employ.
Theme aside, Carrion ends up being a relatively straightforward Metroidvania-style action-adventure experience with all the elements one would expect. As such, there’s a considerable amount of backtracking as you acquire new abilities that allow you to access new areas in previously visited levels.
Everything you kill stays dead, so you don’t have to worry about enemies respawning. That’s good news because I couldn’t find a map function, meaning that’s it’s incredibly easy to get lost in a maze of corridors and darkened tunnels. Entering a dead silent, bloodstained area is an indicator that you’ve been there before. As a result, I spent painfully long periods of time slithering around in circles trying to figure out where to go or what to do next. Sometimes, it’s something small, like missing a spot where you can establish a nest to infect the base. Other times, it’s a matter of unlocking some doors on some other level for some new powers. It’s up to you to figure out which one it is.
Another unintended consequence of not having a map is that there’s little reason to go out of your way to collect bonus upgrades such as extra energy reserves for certain abilities. They’re nice to have, but you don’t need them to finish the game. I picked up a small handful of upgrades almost by accident, but I couldn’t bear trying to make my way back through all the maps and doors just to get 100% on all the levels. Especially towards the end of the game, when practically everything is dead and there’s nothing challenging enough to warrant extra strength.
Although the bosses can be quite a challenge, the regular soldiers tend to be of so-so intelligence. Most of them will spend their time shooting at walls while only making modest efforts to find better firing positions before forgetting you exist. This ended up being okay, since it gave me an opportunity to figure out new and creative ways to eliminate enemies from my path. My favorite is taking possession of a solider, having him step into a mech, and letting the chaos happen.
My least favorite parts were the flashback sequences where you play as a human research scientist who discovers the mysterious and malicious biological creature for the first time. Being forced to climb ladders and walk around after spending multiple levels whipping around on tentacles with near-total freedom of movement was just terrible.
Another unfortunate aspect is that Carrion is pretty much a one-and-done game. Even with my time wandering around lost, it only took me about eight hours to beat the game. The ending is satisfying enough, but there’s no emphasis on replayability outside of personal challenges such as speedruns and becoming a completionist by finding power enhancements you don’t need. Some sort of puzzle mode might give the game some longer tentacles, but as it is, there’s not much to do once the credits roll. I suppose now I’ll have to wait for the horror movie sequel.