Dated posted: 24/09/2023
Originally released in July 2020, the version of this game that I played was a PS5 port released in April 2023. The game was developed by Phobia Game Studio and published by Devolver Digital. The game is described as a “reverse-horror” and uniquely (at least as far as I am aware) the payer taking on the role of the monster in a game rather than trying to escape from it.
The plot of the game, such as it is, basically begins with a mass of tentacles escaping from a containment unit and proceeding to chow down on any humans in the nearby vicinity allowing it to grow in mass. The facility the creature (let’s call him Cuddles) is confined in is a mass of interconnected passageways and tunnels that Cuddles must navigate its way through in order to not only spread its bio-mass but also discover more containment units containing other parts of itself but also escape the facility.
In terms of plot that is basically it, there is no dialogue, unless you count the terrified screams of the people in the facility as dialogue. Cuddles is a mass of tentacles and teeth so is not capable of talking to any of the humans that you are free to munch on to your heart’s desire. This game is basically taking on the role of the Thing from the film of the same name. When you initially start off the people you encounter are unarmed so have no hope of defending themselves, as you travel further you encounter humans with guns, then some kind of artificial life form that carry machines guns, or flame throwers as well as energy shields, both of which can wreck your shit in pretty short order if you aren’t being careful. You must content with mechsuits with mini-guns, and automated turrets amongst other hazards. Cuddles can grow pretty massive but a single human with a gun can easily knock down huge chunks of your health or outright kill you if you are not careful.
The game is presented as a 2D side scrolling game with pixelated graphics that look like they belong on the PS1 but they work. You can easily identify who is who just at a glance and must negotiate your way around the facility knowing when to be stealthy and when to be aggressive.
Cuddles moves by simply pushing the analogue stick in the direction you want to go, throwing out tentacles to move him around in a way that puts Spider-Man to shame, however, whilst controlling him is easy when he is relatively small, it becomes harder when he is an elongated mass of tentacles about half the size of the screen. I think you are controlling roughly the middle of him but once he has reached his full size you are not so much controlling Cuddles as offering general suggestions on which way to go and which enemies to attack.
As you explore the facility you find different containment units, some of which are necessary to progress in the story, and some which are not. The game won’t tell you which you need and which you don’t. If you keep getting killed at a certain point (which I was) it is up to you to decide to try looking in a different location to see if there is something you missed. In my opinion the game could do with a map, now you could argue that the reason their isn’t one is because we have virtually no idea how self-aware Cuddles actually is and therefore may not even be capable of mapping his surroundings. I get that, but it is annoying to me as a player when I am trying to find something and keep getting turned around. I was able to complete the game without looking up any maps online but when I was looking for the remaining containment units I did resort to looking up some maps online to figure out where in needed to go.
Carrion is in part a puzzle game as you have to figure out when to activate switches, when to raise and lower water levels and even when to parasite an unsuspecting victim’s body to bypass certain obstacles. Most of the time these puzzles are not that hard to figure out which means the game is able to walk that very thin line between a fun challenge and an exercise in annoyance.
That being said there are moments when frustration can start to rear its head.
Now the majority of enemies are little more than annoying and the unarmed humans are no threat what so ever. Personally I enjoyed leaving some of them alive just because in my head canon they would be left to wonder why this murderous creature chose to spare their lives whilst slaughtering so many others. It reminds me of my everyday life on Earth when I spend any time away from my ship trying to decide whether to vaporise anyone who asks me for spare change. But the guys who can throw up shields could be immensely irritating. Basically they are like so many enemies in games that put up a shield an instantly become immune to your attacks, if you are playing a Batman Arkham game a thug with a shield might prove a match for Batman, who is just a human, but Spider-Man being thwarted by a guy with a shield seems less likely. It is the same in Carrion, the fact that the game is 2D also adds to the irritation because an enemy can instantly turn around and activate their shield as Cuddles is mid-lunge. If he is, then he is reduced to a non existent pile of mush in seconds. By the final stages of the game he could be the size of a couple of train carriages but if the shield is active then he is screwed. If you get two of these guys working together them you can be ripped to shreds in a matter of seconds, plus if they have flame-throwers and you get set on fire, if there is no water nearby then Cuddles is dead and there is sweet FA you can do about it.
I am also a little puzzled whenever Cuddles spreads his biomass. Now to give you context there are certain points in the levels when you must spread your biomass into a hole in the wall or drain pipe or something. As I understand it, this involves Cuddles leaving a part of himself behind. These nests become save points and continuation points if you die. The thing that I don’t get is that when you die, you return to one of these nests but all the enemies respawn, so you might have cleared out an area but got set on fire and died before extinguishing the flames. You plop out of the nearest nest but must then kill everything in that area again. If Cuddles is depositing part of himself into these crevices then isn’t he being duplicated and therefore if one of his forms dies another copy appears from the nest??? I ask because some areas with multiple shield guys with flamethrowers or mechsuits with mini-guns can be quite challenging and it is more than a little annoying to clear most of them out, only to die after a mistimed lunge at a shield guy that have the reflexes of an especially twitchy cat after a hundred cups of espresso, then have to clear them all out again.
The fact is though that there wasn’t really a point in Carrion when I did not want to carry on, as it was a refreshing change from the endless searching for things in the Expedition of No Man’s Sky or the now rather samey and grind-y Freelancer mode in Hitman. The puzzles take some figuring out but are not that difficult, yes the game can be annoying because some of the things Cuddles can do the game doesn’t tell you he can do, which led to me having to look up the solution to one puzzle online. But note that I said one puzzle online which I think reflects good design. If you cannot get past a puzzle try another route and there is either a way to get around it or a containment unit that adds another tool to your arsenal.
Does the game have any replay value? Not really, it is not going to be the kind of game that gives you a new game+ option but I had fun with it and whilst it was not that long, it was long enough for the puzzles not to start repeating themselves, the enemies to get too repetitive, or for you to get lost in the labyrinth of pipes, tunnels and corridors that make up the facility.
When all is said and done it is fun to play at the titular monster from The Thing and allows the player to maim or scoff down every human they come across, but also knows when to throw a more challenging enemy that requires a little more thought to take down. I got the game when it was on sale and think it was worth its purchase price. Games like this and Man-Eater are power fantasies and give players the opportunity to kill any NPC that looks at them funny or let them live just so they can spend the rest of their lives wondering why they were spared.
I am happy to give the game and Thumbs Up and urge any horror game fan to check it out, because it makes a nice change to be the monster for once, instead of running from it.
8/10 – Yes, the lack of a map is a bit irritating, and yes the shield guys are super annoying. However, the games in which you play as a mass of barely sentient tentacles and teeth are conspicuous by their absence, so currently there is nothing like Carrion and for that reason alone it is definitely worth a look.