Carrion review: a feel-good monster simulator

I’m convinced that dismembering bodies in games is a complex art form. One that I have mastered after two full playthroughs of Carrion, a side-scrolling ‘reverse-horror’ game where you’re the monster. 

And I really did feel like one. When my health was full and I had nothing to gain from killing a room full of unarmed innocent scientists, I still mutilated them in ways that would put the goriest movie scenes to shame. And it’s incredibly addictive. I want more of it.

At times, when I was done clearing a level and had no more living humans left to rip apart, I’d grab the remains of the nearest soldier and gnash at his limp torso, just because I love the noise it makes. You see, the sound design in Carrion is some of the crunchiest I’ve heard in ages, and it’s half of what makes it so satisfying to play. As you enter a room, you’ll hear the quick click of guns being loaded by armed personnel who’ll carefully try to avoid you. Their civilian counterparts, on the other hand, will let out heart-wrenching screams as they have a breakdown in the corner or run about frantically and, eventually, straight into your tentacles. I’m not exaggerating, but those screams made me think twice about smashing them onto the ceiling.

And it’s neat to see the enemies react to the most subtle audio cues. They listen to you slithering around. They track you. And if you study their patterns, you can gain an advantage, working out ways to sneak up on your prey – or not. You can choose to skillfully and stealthily open a door, or simply rip it from its hinges. You can move slowly through the vents to get just the right angle to yank someone out of sight, or you can let out a roar and demolish everything and everyone around you. Either way, Carrion gives you a choice. 

I appreciated this, because I most enjoyed role-playing as a shadowy, graceful blob of meat. There are three states available, each with their own set of powers, and you need to switch between them to solve environmental puzzles that block your way. But when you’re hiding under the floor, stalking your prey, that’s when it feels incredibly liberating to have so many tools at your disposal. Carrion is a stealth game if you want it to be. And it can be quite meditative when you take out an entire room without ever getting caught. I don’t want to spoil anything, but you can fight fire with fire and that’s all I’m going to say. 

The puzzles are hit and miss, though. It can feel a little annoying when you move back and forth through the same level waiting for tiny cut scenes to finish every time you pull a lever, and the puzzles usually come down to performing a few obvious steps. They’re not exactly brain-teasers, and that would have been fine, but there are so many mindless versions of the same thing scattered through each level that you do end up wishing they were more of a challenge. And in terms of narrative, there’s not much. You’re an amorphous creature that just broke out of a containment chamber, and you’re trying to escape the facility. The story remains ambiguous and bare bones, although John Carpenter’s The Thing is a clear influence. Indeed, I’ve already seen several reddit threads discussing the craziest theories about how these universes are connected.

Carrion’s weakest moments are its Metroidvania-like systems. Backtracking without a map can feel frustrating, especially when you go back through several biomes and get lost. Plus the optional power-ups are nothing to be excited about, and I quickly forgot that I’d even picked them up because they didn’t affect the gameplay in any way. Rather than a Metroidvania, I would have liked to see Carrion as a roguelite. The core gameplay loop is such a fun experience that coming back to it with procedurally generated levels would have been a delight. 

But this is a minor complaint given what a delight Carrion is to control. The movement feels buttery smooth, and the combat is bone-crunchingly delicious, all backed by Cris Velasco’s eerie, atmospheric OST. It’s brilliant, and what’s more, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. In fact, I’ve already finished my second playthrough in under three hours – and I’ll probably go through it a third time in the coming weeks.

Carrion was developed by Phobia Game Studio and published by Devolver Digital, and it’s available on PC, Mac, Switch and Xbox One. We played the PC version.

Disclosure statement: review code for Carrion was provided by Indigo Pearl. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

Follow A Most Agreeable Pastime on Twitter: @MostAgreeable