How many games have you played where you’ve found yourself pursued by some nasty relentless monster that wants nothing more than to spill your blood on the walls and eat your remains? Happens all the time, right?
CARRION, the new release from publisher Devolver Digital and developer Phobia Game Studio, flips that idea on its head by letting YOU play as the monster and do all of the hunting. Dubbing itself a ‘reverse horror’, you take on the role of a red tentacle-filled monstrous blob that has an array of brutally powerful abilities and go on a killing spree through the secret underground laboratory where you were being experimented on. There’s not much more to it other than that as far as context is concerned… just know that it’s very gruesome and a whole lot of fun because of it.
Most of your time in CARRION is spent traversing through the fairly expansive laboratory, with progression made by opening a variety of gates by imbuing yourself into cracks that are found across the map. This causes your biomass to become a part of the laboratory, which doesn’t only open up new pathways but also sees you unlock new abilities along the way. There’s plenty of killing to be done too, though some encounters are actually optional. Of course, you’re a monstrous blob… you’re going to want to kill everything you see around you, right?
Playing as a blob made up of tentacles is slightly unusual though, which is something that’s made evident fairly quickly with the game’s controls. You can quite literally attach yourself to any surface around you and it almost feels like you’re essentially gliding through the environment because of it at times, which can make everything feel a little floaty and weird early on when playing. Thankfully, after about ten minutes of practice, it all starts to feel natural and very intuitive – there’s actually something really satisfying about sloppily slipping your way through the world as this big blob of gore, with the way that the monster morphs as it moves animated wonderfully in-game.
CARRION actually adopts a Metroidvania-like approach with its progression through the game, with players able to venture through the different areas of the laboratory (some of which were previously inaccessible) by using the varied abilities you unlock. See a lever in the distance? You’ll want to use your web-like ability to grab at it. Obstacle blocking your path? Burst through it with your lunge ability. Need a pair of helping (and literal) hands? Better control the mind of one of the humans…
There’s a degree of environmental puzzling tied to these abilities too, with some of them needed to be used in a clever manner in order to bypass some of the obstacles in your path. Don’t get me wrong, there’s rarely anything too taxing for players to figure out and you won’t be left scratching your head for too long with CARRION’s conundrums, but it shows there’s a whole lot more to the game than simply decimating every human around you. It’s fun stuff.
Talking about decimating humans, there’s a heck of a lot of killing to be done in CARRION. Whilst those aforementioned abilities that you unlock will often provide a satisfying means to dispose of a foe, sometime you’ll just want to grab them with your tentacle and have your fun by launching them across the room, smashing them against the floor and ceiling, drowning them in some nearby water, or simply eating them and leaving just a few body parts behind… just to name a few examples. I told you it was brutal.
Whilst it’s undeniably (and perhaps a little morbidly) rewarding to kill your enemies in CARRION, it could feel a little bit finicky at times. Lunging across rooms and manually aiming your tentacle to grab out and latch at humans could take a fair bit of coordination to pull off smoothly, which could be a little bit difficult when they were fighting back. The same applies when you’re grabbing at doors or boxes to clear pathways, which utilise the same controls when reaching for enemies. Again, like the movement controls it just takes a bit of time to figure it all out, but it could be a bit cumbersome early on – even it was always destructively gruesome and chaotically satisfying.
Whilst you’ll be able to overpower most humans with ease thanks to your monstrous abilities, there are some that are able to fight you off. Even sci-fi creatures like the Xenomorph have been beaten, so why can’t you? Especially since some enemies are armed to the teeth with assault rifles and flame throwers…
Much like the Xenomorph, this is where being sneaky and utilising the vents can come in handy, with players able to play stealthily and take out unsuspecting foes from above or below. When the odds are stacked against you, sometimes you’ve got to pick enemies off one by one and exploit their weaknesses by using the environment or some of your abilities. You can’t ALWAYS simply overwhelm foes with your ferociousness but have to outmanoeuvre and outsmart them in order to survive. Don’t get me wrong, your enemies aren’t too clever and it’s not like you’ll be playing a strategic game of cat and mouse with them, but you do have to think outside of the box in order to survive at times.
Whilst CARRION is a really fun game to play for the most part, it does have some flaws. For one, the lack of an in-game map could get a little frustrating when trying to backtrack to previously visited areas. Sure, it makes sense contextually (since you’re a big monstrous blob) and you could just follow your trail of destruction to see where you’ve been before, but a little bit of sign posting or a map to cross reference would have certainly helped given the game’s Metroidvania-style setup.
Then there’s the fact that there’s not much to the core gameplay loop outside of simply unlocking new checkpoints and opening new areas by injecting your biomass into the environment. You’ll do a lot of the same things over and over in CARRION with very little changing up throughout your time playing, whilst the lack of a fleshed-out narrative means there’s no real story to hook you in either.
Fortunately, these flaws don’t stop the game from being a whole lot of fun to play. It might have some repetitive aspects to its gameplay, but taking on the role of a gross monster that can play with its prey, unleash vicious abilities, and slip its way through the environment with ease is always enjoyable. It’s almost like you’re in a sandbox where you’re just a brutal beast who gets to do exactly what it wants at times, and believe me, the ‘reverse horror’ tagline is certainly fitting during these moments – even if the gameplay cycle behind it all could feel a little limited in scope.
CARRION is gloriously gory and playing as a tentacled monster is fun from start to end, even if the main gameplay loop could grow a little repetitive in places. Slipping your way through the laboratory and pulling off all sorts of gruesome kills was always an absolute blast though, whilst unlocking new abilities always felt rewarding – especially when they had to be utilised in some of the environmental puzzles or when stealthily sneaking past some of your deadlier prey.
It is a shame there isn’t an in-game map to make traversal easier and simply unlocking new biomass points could get a little repetitive at times, but it’s hard to complain too much when you get to wreak havoc as a destructively monstrous blob of gore and tentacles.
Best. Protagonist. Ever.
Developer: Phobia Game Studio
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC