Being the villain in video games often becomes a lot more exciting and interesting than being the dedicated hero. Now I’m not talking about games that emphasise the idea of letting the player choose their own path but instead I’m talking about titles in which your main objective is to be an awful person which Carrion certainly has in droves. However being a terrifying creature of people’s worst nightmares isn’t enough to carry a game on it’s own so how does Carrion match up against the rest of the competition in it’s Metroidvania genre? Time to find out.
The story of Carrion barely exists and is mainly just a framework to carry the gameplay. You are an amorphous mass of flesh, mouths and tentacles which has been experimented upon inside a secret underground facility. You successfully break free from your containment and as a giant flesh monster might think to do you start killing and consuming all the scientists and guards of the complex. It’s then up to you to eat, mutate, grow ever stronger and find a way to escape the facility. It’s got a very B-movie aesthetic to how the story plays out and this is essentially one of those ‘science goes too far!’ movies but with the roles reversed as you play the monster which is fine for establishing a framework as much as the game goes but I feel could have been fleshed out more(no pun intended). There are even parts in which you play as a human scientist trying to find out what has happened in the labs which seems to be working it’s way up into becoming a bigger story element but just ends up not going anywhere. Still at least it helps to make you feel like the monster you are, uncaring about any humans or characters and just there to kill and consume which I suppose is indeed running with the theme and gameplay they are trying to convey.
The presentation of Carrion is aggressively gory and over-the-top which absolutely works wonders for making the game distinct and a visual wonder to watch. It’s obviously pixel-style graphics and as such won’t be winning any design awards however the amount of detail shown in the monster and all the facility wings is staggering and it all runs buttery smooth even when you are consuming five different humans and growing your mass while shooting webs out of your mouth to eat a guard at the other side of the room. It has an almost 2.5D perspective, especially on the human models which makes it seem a bit more visually interesting than just straight pixel graphics. While the environments do seem a bit samey at times the different wings of the facilities are visually distinct enough that you can make out where you are most of the time and it’s nice to see a place where the actual design of the rooms look like they are inhabited by people rather than just a playground for the monster. The parts in which you play as humans emphasises this as you must use the ladders, stairwells and hallways to move around that as the monster you can completely ignore which helps add to the immersion. I also love the sound design from the grim-basement style background music to the screams of terror from the poor people you consume. It really feels as though you are playing through a cheesy and gorey horror film which not a lot of games can pull off well.
The gameplay however is where Carrion absolutely shines. As mentioned before it’s a Metroidvania style game as you work through the facility unlocking new powers which let you go back to older wings to open up new paths and engage in combat in new and exciting ways. The funny thing is that I’d actually say Carrion is more of a puzzle game rather than an outright Metroidvania as combat encounters start off being trivial and you feel like an overpowered flesh deity but as the game goes on enemies start becoming more of a direct threat and you have to utilise the environment and all your powers to the fullest extent in order to beat combat encounters. The game also uses your powers in unique ways as your mutations depend on how much biomass you have so in order to swap between abilities you must dispense some of your mass in blood pools to use other abilities that might require more stealth or ranged abilities. This is woven directly into the map design and helps to make the game seem more thoughtful rather than just an overpowered killing everything simulator as stealth becomes more and more important as the game progresses. The thing I actually enjoyed the most however was just how smooth the movement of your monster is. Moving around huge rooms with tentacles grabbing and pulling onto ledges while then moving into a pipe system by squeezing your huge mass through it and then entering a hallway with an closed door, waiting until the guard comes close to it before ripping the door off it’s hinges and devouring the guard is quite the satisfying gameplay loop knowing that nothing there was scripted and your movement and ability usage is what determined your success. This absolutely feels like a game designed with speedrunning in mind which will certainly make this title have a lot longer of a lifespan than most other games.
There are however some issues with the game. First as I mentioned before I feel as though the story is rather weak and knowing exactly why I should care about killing these scientists such as maybe showing some backstory of the horrible reasons that the monster was created in the first place might help give some context to all the carnage. Secondly the game is rather short at around 4-6 hours which for the price might be a bit steep for some. Finally the strangest design decision I found was the fact that this Metroidvania game doesn’t include an in-game map to help you locate where you are in the facility which is a huge mis-opportunity. You do have the ability to use echolocation to locate save points but they are used more to direct you to the next objective in your escape rather than actually figure out where you are. While you can indeed move through the map fairly quickly due to your agility and as such this isn’t that big of an issue if you struggle to find your bearings then you can become lost very easily.
Overall however I really enjoyed my brief time with the game. Perhaps Carrion could have done with some kind of map editor or scenario-creator to help expand it’s lifespan but I’m sure the speedrunning community will do that just fine. I got the game on the Xbox Game Pass and as a part of that rather than paying outright for it I had a blast of a time. It was a short but very fun and cathartic experience and I’d highly recommend it to you if you happen to also have the Game Pass but for others I’d say maybe wait for a small price drop before jumping in. However if you just want a fun, if short, experience at being a horrible nightmare creature then this might very well be the best game possible for your needs. You strange, strange person.