You know that bit in your favorite scary movie where you get to know your soon-to-be-slaughtered protagonists and the tension is slowly strung out like the string of a bow? Yeah, CARRION doesn’t do that. Instead, it skips right to the good part and gives you control of the monster. You play as an amorphous blob creature who breaks out of a test chamber to swiftly wreak havoc on an underground lab. It’s the stuff all great slasher fiction is made of, only here the “reverse horror” conceit firmly places you in the driver’s seat.
Such a setup might sound incredibly simple, but it’s representative of the risks indie games are often willing to take compared to what you’ll see in most AAA releases. In CARRION’s case, the unique genre gamble absolutely pays off, aided by slick gameplay and the low-fi pixel art that renders the gory action in just enough detail that you can’t help but remain engrossed in this creature feature. This visceral 2D adventure may only last four to five hours but it’s simultaneously disgusting and delightful while it lasts.
Much of what makes CARRION work so well is just how great the traversal feels. You’d think that controlling a near-formless, tentacled beast would prove somewhat of a pain when in fact the opposite is true. Getting from one side of the screen to the other was always an effortless glide with just a push of the left thumbstick on my Xbox One controller. You spend much of your time slithering through the facility’s various vents and elevator shafts, so it’s nice that squeezing yourself in and out while slaughtering innocent scientists is never a chore.
Equally painless is the act of actually dispatching enemies, which early on begins with you moving through rooms and engulfing whoever stands in your way before CARRION turns into somewhat of a stealth game. Don’t get too put off by this, though, as your blob comes equipped with various abilities to help make you the ultimate horror menace – to the point that I was constantly surprised at what crazy scenarios I was capable of orchestrating towards the end of the story.
Ultimately, you always want to use your tentacles to grab unsuspecting humans and pull them in towards you, but you’ll suddenly find this gets harder when guns enter the equation. Because, for all the enormous mass you eventually go on to gain, taking too many bullets is a sure-fire way to cut this horror monster fantasy short. Fortunately, you can employ a host of other tactics to devour your prey: you might want to taunt enemies into a specific location with a growl (for which there is a dedicated button), or alternatively you could remotely control an armed guard to easily mow down every threat. In general, CARRION’s core gameplay loop involves you solving numerous blood-laden puzzle boxes full of enemies to eat.
Release Date: July 23, 2020
Platforms: PC (reviewed), XBO, Switch
Developer: Phobia Game Studio
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Genre: Survival Horror
There is an attempt at a story, though it quickly descends into predictable monster movie territory. Anyone who’s watched John Carpenter’s The Thing or Ridley Scott’s Alien, for example, will know where it’s all headed. Even still, this in no way dampens how it feels to control the flow of the action and, if nothing else, affords you some welcome respite from the default blob gameplay in a way we won’t spoil here.
Growing your blob’s size and evolving your power set never ceases to be fun, so much so that the only real flaw I can level at CARRION is its obscure navigation. You see, when not causing rampant destruction in the underground compound’s various areas, you’ll be traveling between each facility via an overworld of sorts. It works much in the same way as, say, the dungeons in The Legend of Zelda, but whereas those games include a map CARRION elects not to.
This isn’t too much of an issue in the first couple of hours, as hunting down each facility’s hive points is all part of the puzzle in itself, but I’m pretty sure I added 30 minutes to my playtime just purely trying to work out where to go next. I had a particularly tough time finding my way towards the end of the game while searching for the final Bunker area. And while it hardly ruins the overall experience, it does seem like a baffling oversight. Why not just include an overworld map to avoid the frustration? Maybe we could see it in a future update.
CARRION is perfectly primed to satisfy every horror aficionado’s sadistic tendencies, smartly switching up the genre’s rules to twist and contort a premise that would otherwise come over as fairly rote. There are a couple of issues when it comes to navigation, sure, but what’s here is still an effective creature simulator that both looks and feels great to play without ever outstaying its welcome. It’s by far one of the best indie releases I’ve played all year.