Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), Switch, PC
There are a lot of scary moments in Carrion from Phobia Game Studio… if you’re a pixelated scientist or security guard, that is. Dubbed a reverse horror game, Carrion puts you in the shoes— er, tentacles of a big, red blob monster. The end result is a game that’s meant to make you feel like a destructive force in a horror movie. And it works — for the most part.
A playable monster movie
Carrion doesn’t waste time to get going. Within the first few minutes you begin to wreak havoc as you destroy a facility and kill people in lab coats. You can use your tentacles to grab these victims and ragdoll them around or splat them up against walls. You can also rip metal doors off their hinges and fling them at your prey.
Yes, the scared scientists and aggressive guards you encounter are most certainly prey. Just like you can toss ‘em around, you can also have yourself a little snack. The more people the creature eats, the bigger it gets, which means it’ll be stronger and able to withstand more damage. If you do get shot at or lit on fire, you’ll lose some mass. Take too much damage and you’ll return to your last checkpoint, which likely won’t set you too far back as checkpoints are pretty fair.
Carrion isn’t just about one-dimensional destruction, though. The game features a really novel abilities system. As you play you’ll unlock new abilities for the monster — charged forward smashes, web shots, cloaking, and so on — and these are tied to the size of the creature. You’ll only be able to perform the forward charge attack, for example, if the monster is a bit bigger. On the flip-side, when the monster is made up of less mass, it can spit out its web. It’s a neat little feature that makes for some fun situational moments.
As cool as the many abilities you gain along the way may be, they’re not as fun to actually perform. That’s due to the somewhat awkward feeling of the controls. Actually moving the monster is smooth, fast, and responsive, but grabbing people or doors, lunging forward, and spitting web are all actions that just don’t feel as good. In fact, attacking feels pretty clunky most of the time.
Another issue is the world itself. Yes, it’s cool exploring all the areas in the game, but you might find yourself accidentally backtracking due to the similarities between a few parts of the game map. Eventually you’ll find your way, but going around in circles is never enjoyable.
When you’re not playing as the monster, Carrion takes you through playable flashback sequences where you play as a scientist and explore the facility. These moments aren’t very fun at all, and the scientist controls really poorly — climbing and descending ladders is especially annoying.
The Blob, The Thing, and Now Carrion
Monster movies often have a very distinct aesthetic. The Thing from John Carpenter had some of the best practical effects of its time. King Kong from 1933 was stop motion bliss. Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive was gooey, splattery awesomeness. Similarly, Carrion is a very stylish creature feature in video game form. It utilizes super detailed pixel art. Dark caverns are decorated with lush greenery. Facilities feel cold and sterile. There are even bubbly, blue underwater areas. Visually, everything is very striking. In addition, the monster’s movement looks remarkably fluid.
The squishy, creepy, crawly sounds of Carrion are like something out of a splatter film. Hearing the monster munch and crunch on humans, as well as listening to the wet pitter-patter of its tentacles as it crawls around is surprisingly soothing — in a twisted ASMR sort of way. Then there’s its guttural roar, which is unsettling and menacing. Adding to the horror tone of the game is some really good ambient music that creeps right along with you.
It’s a little flawed, but even with its issues Carrion is a lot of fun and succeeds at creating a monstrous reverse horror experience. The game is fairly short and can be completed in about four hours, but that helps keep it from overstaying its welcome. Ultimately, the not-so-good controls and slightly disorienting map are annoying, but taking on the role of a huge, slimy creature is really, really cool and works well the majority of the time thanks to all of the devastation you can cause.