- - 9.2/109.2/10
Carrion is both a beautiful and grotesque nightmare that flips you into the role of the monster.
Okay. Here’s the premise that’s given to you:
You are a giant flesh-eating monster that absorbs the biomass of humans you eat to grow in size. Escape your containment. That’s all it is…and it’s bloody fantastic.
As with most metroidvanias, there are obstacles in the way of your escape of course. You have to periodically stop your relentless traversal of the base to pick up…unique biomass for your flesh body. These pieces of yourself are stored in the same containers you broke out of at the start of the game just to keep things clear cut. They give you new powers and abilities you didn’t have before. This just begets more questions: Why haven’t you escaped until now? Just what are you capable of? What AREN’T you capable of? And lastly, what are you actually after besides continuing to break through the levels and eat people? These questions filter in as you continue playing and, surprisingly, the completely wordless storytelling answers almost all of them.
Granted, this is all in the context of playing the role of a monster straight out of John Carpenter’s nightmares.
The art, animation, and music in Carrion need to have special attention brought up as it’s much more impressive than you’d initially notice. The motion that accompanies dragging your fleshy mass through each area is incredible. Individual tendrils reaching out to grab onto the environment pulling you forward is truly disturbing and mesmerizing at the same time. Phobia Studio described this motion in an interview with Tweaktown as “procedurally generated movement physics,” and spent a painstaking amount of time to really sell that you are a monster and not just a bunch of meatballs linked together.
The music, composed by Cris Velasco, also sells the techno-organic horror of you being the monster, the boogeyman these scientists and soldiers are not prepared for. It even has audio stingers that echo through the steel cage-like walls as you reach areas of immense threat. I recommend you stop and listen to the music as you play, it really is a treat.
Then there’s the detail in the levels. Only on a second playthrough did I stop and see the details…and the level variance only adds to this. A claustrophobic series of lab rooms filled with steel walls? Check. An overgrown natural forest on an abandoned part of the facility? Check. There’s even a Reef base with a water filtration system, flecks of dust visible in the water as you swim your way through to the next objective. I wish I could show you these without actually spoiling any of these because you really should see them for yourself.
Alright, let’s talk about the gameplay. I would argue that Carrion has, arguably, one of the simplest control schemes of any game I’ve played in years. Hitting the movement button drags you towards your cursor. another button extends a tendril out to grab onto things. This changes as you acquire new powers for different sizes of your body. Your body will grow in size as you play and at varying levels of mass, you have different capabilities. Your smallest form might not be able to smash open tough barriers, but it can extend out to hit levers.
This isn’t to say it’s all puzzles, levers and such. Combat in Carrion is, like a card-game, about threat assessment. How do you, the sapient creature fight against enemies that can hurt and kill you? You use your tools to your advantage. Some enemies are people with handguns, but as expected in a facility containing a flesh monster, the enemies you run into will have effective measures against you just simply engulfing them. So you have to be smarter, using the physics the entire game is based around to survive.
There is only one thing that might be off-putting in regards to gameplay however and It goes in tandem with the game’s design: Lack of explicit instruction. You may find yourself lost in the corridors, vents, and sprawling levels of Carrion due to there being no map system aside from echo-locating the general direction of a save point. This also left me scratching my head at points as skipping a reveal scene after solving a puzzle left me lost as to where I had to go. This wasn’t an issue on my second playthrough but it’s something to be aware of going into this game: You might get lost.
There’s also a bit of a spoiler I can’t go into explicit detail without posing the wrong kind of questions to you, the audience, but I will say this: Certain sections of the game slow down your enjoyment to a crawl, but add great contrast to the experience you’ve had.
Lastly, I want to talk about the length and replayability of Carrion. I managed to finish my first playthrough relatively quickly in about 5 hours. However, my second playthrough was significantly quicker on account of knowing most puzzle solutions and ended in roughly 3 hours. And the thing is…I loved just about every second of both.
In a stark contrast from my last chat with you all about how games can focus on a message and a story, this game tells you the story while focusing on your hyper-violent quest for freedom. Just running around, tearing through levels and humans alike, This game is so much fun. I cannot recommend this game enough to anyone who wants a unique opportunity to romp around in a puzzle-solving, hyper-violent platformer.
Go give it a shot, you will not be disappointed.
Carrion release on Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, and Steam July 23rd, 2020.