Carrion is described on paper as a ‘reverse-horror’ game where, rather than jumping at shadows and orchestral stings, it’s you that goes bump in the night. As an amorphous lab experiment gone wrong, you slither and writhe through a clinical testing ground of secret doings, exacting unstirred revenge on those who inhabit the facility, from the prodding scientists to the militia that hope to secure the base and prevent your freedom march. It’s certainly a fun premise and it’s a game that certainly fits the Devolver model. Like most in their roster, Carrion is even more fun in practicality.
To get the buzzword on everybody’s hot lips out of the way, Carrion falls into the mishmash genre known as Metroidvania though it only borrows a few of the elements, not all. Though the facility is made up of several interconnected biomes for you to dismantle during your great escape, there is no conventional map to speak of. This makes the twisting, labyrinthian vents and corridors a genuine test of memory and it, in context, makes a lot of sense. This monster, though sentient by our hand, does not need to map his trail of destruction like a misshapen Magellan. That isn’t to say that Carrion doesn’t encourage exploration, it’s at the epicentre of the experience and Phobia Game Studios do a superb job of establishing the game’s early power struggle that, throughout the game’s all-too-brief four-hour run, evolves alongside its titular mass of carrion.
The game’s story is far from straight-forward on the surface and it feels as though much of it goes unexplained, though the mystery feels inconsequential to the monster’s quest. The very nature of the game’s world goes largely untouched as we’re never made aware of just how an underground, top-secret lab came to specialise in genetic mutation with an army at its disposal, though this intrigue subsides with your prisonbreak taking centre stage.
Given how beautifully the game handles with a mouse and keyboard, it’s hard to imagine it performing as well elsewhere. Unlike other precise platformers where movement is balletic and graceful, Carrion is akin to a shark, thrashing and ensnaring its prey—effective, but ugly. Using the left click to control the monster’s movement and the right to arm its tentacles and drag bodies into its open maw, there isn’t a platformer like Carrion that marries its movement and combat together in such visceral yet satisfying splendour. Although there are a handful of trying combat encounters that are bound to take you down a peg here and there, the game excels at delivering on the promise of power. It’s particularly exceptional nearer the endgame, once your final form is unlocked and you have an assortment of abilities at your disposal that you feel irresistible.
Like others in the genre, Carrion gates off portions of its map in anticipation that you’ll learn the skills needed to advance. From stealth-cloaking to bypass sensors, to reducing the monster’s composition into a pack of writhing eels to cram through underwater ducts, Carrion is a best-of when it comes to high-concept sci-fi creativity. With only four skills hot-keyed at one time and dictated by form, there are goop pools in which you’re able to deposit ‘biomass’ to decrease in size. As you’d expect, this leads to a lot of clever puzzles that’ll confound at times and force a bit of lateral thinking. It also offers more possibilities in conflict resolution than you’d expect from a game about causing as much wanton destruction as possible, every so often framing the covert option as the more attractive.
There’s an air of confidence to how the artists behind Carrion utilise pixel-art with a complete mastery of lighting and using darkness as a weapon to set a mood that permeates the entire game. On face value, the game looks terrific though it’s easy to take for granted the effort spent perfecting the debris that chip away from every surface the monster flounders into. There’s a creepy, eldritch dread that accompanies every moment of this blood and guts show and it’s thanks in large part to Cris Velasco’s unsettling score that captures the alien essence of the monster. It reminded me of moments in the score from Alex Garland’s Annihilation, a siren song of unknown origin beckoning players deeper into the facility’s bunker.
Although it’s short-lived, tearing through what I’ve seen described as a mean-spirited interpretation of the ending of Playdead’s Inside is a unique experience. This monster mash is a show of force from a developer with a terrific handle on how to craft an arcane setting, deliver a sense of intoxicating might and stand out in one of the medium’s most overpopulated genres.
THE PC VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS TESTED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Carrion is another hit from a publisher that has built its name on delivering to us unconventional and unexpected experiences. Devolver’s seal of approval is more than ever evidence of a classic as Carrion’s credentials as an incredible Metroidvania title as well as an inverse horror experience will never be in question.