Carrion Review- Carrion My Wayward Son, For There Will Be Pieces When You Are Done
The expectation in most horror games is that you play as the powerless. That the fear you experience comes from a constant vulnerability to an outside force that will end your game at any moment. So Carrion flipping the script by having you play as that outside force is certainly something interesting. For me, it was deeply disturbing in a way I have never felt before, except maybe Prototype. I’m sure many will disagree, but playing this I was feeling secondhand dread watching helpless people cower in fear before their gruesome deaths.
In this game you play an undulating mass of flesh, teeth, and tendril. Carrion begins with you, the Carrion creature, inside of a large tube. Smashing the glass and escaping confinement, you sneak through the vents and corridors of this subterranean base, eating any scientist or staff you can get your tentacles on. Very quickly the Carrion creature grows in size, and before long you are a biomass the size of a rhino that moves as fast as a jaguar. Truly an unsettling sight to behold.
There really doesn’t seem to be much more narrative than that. There are probably three or four instances where a machine allows you to experience flashbacks, where you play as a scientist initially finding the Carrion creature, but beyond that there’s very little. You’re a horrific biomass doing horrific biomass stuff.
And let me tell you, it is horrific. I was not sure that a horror game where you play as the monster could be at all scary, but believe you me. It is. The Carrion creature is such an overwhelmingly powerful entity that just about every person you come into contact with begins screaming immediately, not to mention when a tendril drags them into the enormous maw. I had to turn off the sound at some point because the constant screams were too unsettling for me to handle.
It was almost disappointing how powerful the Carrion creature was. Part of me was hoping for an extended period of stealth, a la John Carpenter’s The Thing. A Carrion creature the size of a shoebox, sneaking through vents and hiding within the reanimated bodies of victims. But for a monster that adds any bio consumed to the biomass, I suppose it would only take a few people eaten before the creature was enormous.
The Carrion creature is really good at killing, albeit not very elegant. Much of the combat consisted of waiting for a person to turn away from a vent before lunging at them and tossing them around. The majority of people are either unarmed or equipped with a pistol, and can be easily consumed. Later you encounter people with forward facing energy shields, machine guns, and even flame throwers that can be devastating. But the strategy remains largely the same. It is possible to throw objects at people, but most of the stuff is too bulky to make this worthwhile, just to shake stuff up. But as with most monsters, stalking and ambushing is the most efficient way to kill.
Carrion has surprisingly fluid gameplay. Perhaps that’s because you play as a creature that is more a viscous fluid than solid. I played on the PC and movement is done by clicking with the left mouse button. The Carrion creature will then lunge automatically across whatever environment you find yourself in, tendrils automatically finding a hold on the background or other surfaces. With the right click you may activate one arm-like tentacle, and use it to interact with objects. Open doors, rip off vent covers, or toss a person into the ceiling before dragging them kicking and screaming into your gaping maw.
Surprisingly, much of the game is more about exploration than combat (that is if you can even consider what the Carrion creature does to be “combat”). The game is composed of probably a dozen different zones. Each of these zones is divided into several areas, connected by pipes and hallways. For the most part, the game is about finding your way through these different zones. By collecting various upgrades, for instance, the ability to smash wood, you can explore areas more thoroughly and find your way to the next place.
As you progress, you gain access to new powers. These powers are dependent on how large of a biomass the Carrion creature is. There are three sizes that the creature can be. Small, which is still like the size of a goddamn VW Bug, medium, which is like the size of two or three SUVs, or large, which is probably the size of a city bus. The small size is more attuned to stealth, whereas the medium and large are for killing and crushing (which the small size is perfectly good at too). Some of the puzzles require different skills in order to progress, and you can deposit a huge ball of biomass into certain bodies of sickly red water.
I found that this style of exploration was not all too interesting for me. Mostly because I was prone to getting lost. Carrion relies on your own memory of the areas, and there is no minimap. Returning the same zones over and over was not all too uncommon, and there was at least once where I considered restarting over how frustrated I was without a map. Of course, when I could easily figure out the direction I was supposed to be going, the game was a lot more fun.
The gameplay loop for each zone goes a bit like this. The Carrion creature begins each zone by crawling out of a pipe from the previous area. Travelling around the zone, you find places where the creature is able to “nest,” inserting itself into the background and infecting the surroundings with its own biomass. This not only functions as a safe zone, where you can respawn and regain lost health, but also contributes to unlocking the next area. Once you activate the four to eight save points, the passage to the next zone is open.
I almost feel like this was a wasted opportunity, because the levels are so huge and detailed, yet you zoom through them incredibly quickly, killing just about everything in your path with relative ease. Carrion could have focused much of the game on exploring thoroughly some of these areas if they had made the Carrion creature tiny. I think this game would have benefited a lot from the smaller scope of The Thing rather than having you embody The Blob.
But I can certainly respect that this is a game where you are the terrorizer rather than the terrified, and in that regard, it certainly succeeds. Subversion of a genre is always welcome. Carrion is a novel horror experience, and anyone who enjoys extreme body horror or just wants to be the one doing the scares for a change will absolutely have a great time with it.