As poet Fernando Pessoa once said, “I know no greater pleasure in life than that of tearing someone in half while they’re on the toilet.”
Okay, I may have taken liberties with that quote but I’m pretty Pessoa would feel the same way if he’d ever got his hands on Carrion. This pixel-art fleshoidvania is at its best when you’re stealthily slipping a tentacle around a hapless human, hauling them off and devouring them before their friends have time to turn around. Even when your many-mouthed abomination has grown so large you can steamroller most foes, sneak kills remain a glorious, gruesome joy.
Carrion makes you the antagonist of your own monster movie; not the tedious schlock that Dean Cain usually turns up in, but proper 80s classics like The Thing and The Stuff. Imprisoned by a company only marginally more competent than the Umbrella Corporation, you smash out of your storage container and spend the rest of the game crawling, slaughtering and chest-bursting your way to freedom.
“This pixel-art fleshoidvania is at its best when you’re stealthily slipping a tentacle around a hapless human”
Barely beholden to gravity, you slither through vents and skitter across cavern walls, whipping out tendrils like Spider-Man’s worst nightmare. You have near pixel-perfect control of the tentacles you extrude; combined with Carrion’s gorgeously fluid animation, it really puts you in the monster’s slimy shoes. So much so, in fact, that you almost start feeling sorry for your hapless victims. Think trapdoor spiders are scary? Imagine seeing a tentacle emerge from a vent, grab your fellow scientist and drag him back in, all in one swift movement.
Being the entity responsible these nightmare encounters is an amazing feeling, but it gets so, so much better as you progress through Carrion. Like other Metroidvania-style titles, certain areas are fenced off until you acquire the appropriate ability. Get the spider-web skill, for example, and you can activate switches that were previously out of your reach. There’s a fair amount of to-ing and fro-ing, and, since the base you’re exploring was built with research, not interior decor, in mind, the areas you explore aren’t all that visually distinct. However, oozing around is entertaining enough that making your way through previous areas isn’t usually a pain.
“Carrion’s atmosphere is bolstered by a barrage of gruesome sound effects and a superb John Carpenter-style soundtrack”
What sets Carrion apart is that your abilities also have combat applications. Yes, you can possess an enemy and use him to unlock a door. But you can also use that same ability to commandeer a mech, gun down a whole room full of enhanced soldiers and feel supremely smug about it. Carrion’s atmosphere is bolstered by a barrage of gruesome sound effects and a superb John Carpenter-style soundtrack; close your eyes and you can almost see Kurt Russell fleeing in terror.
Couple that with the way your creature grows, getting bigger the more people you munch, and you feel like you can take on the world. Some of the game’s enemies can cut you down to size – you lose biomass with each hit – but frustration is rarely a problem. Instead, like all the best movie monsters, you sit seething in a corner, planning your vengeance. And when it comes, it’s so very sweet.
“When Carrion starts to lose momentum, there’s nothing to give it a sorely-needed kick in the tentacles”
A smart twist is that dropping down a size can be beneficial, particularly if you’re tackling one of the Carrion’s scattered puzzles. Short of being shot in the face by a cybernetically-enhanced soldier, there are specific pools you can visit to dump biomass. Skitter back to a security camera and you’ll discover that, with your new svelte form, you can use invisibility to sneak past. When you’re an oozing behemoth, sometimes, less is more.
Sadly, this sentiment hasn’t been applied to Carrion’s level design and, as a result, it eventually runs out of steam. About four-fifths of the way into Carrion, the area you’ve unlocked becomes so vast that traversing it is a chore. With no automap, you’ll be struggling to remember which areas have a barrier you can now breach and just how you get there. Enemies don’t respawn, so you don’t have the joys of combat to fall back on.
“It’s a real treat for horror fans and one of the most original games I’ve come across”
Carrion has lot in common with John Carpenter’s The Thing, but what it’s really missing is a MacReady, an identifiable “hero” who could serve as a foil for your malevolence. Hearing him taunt you over a loudspeaker would, at least, serve as an incentive to keep on crawling. But the foes you face are so anonymous that when Carrion starts to lose momentum, there’s nothing to give it a sorely-needed kick in the tentacles.
Carrion is, for the most part, a bloody good game. It’s a real treat for horror fans and one of the most original games I’ve come across. There were so many moments that left me with a grin a mile wide, from pulling a string of victims up into the ceiling to turning a soldier against their former friends. But if you choose to wreak your own brand of horror upon Carrion‘s hapless humans, just be prepared to step away when there’s no-one left to torment.