Carrion has turned heads as a reverse-horror game in which you play as a blob of biomass, pulsating and oozing as your tendrils lash out and drag you across floors and through grates as you seek out organic prey in order to rip it to shreds and add to your own being.
Carrion is that, of course, but it’s more accurately a Metroidvania-like puzzle game equally about clever thinking as horrific murder. Your goal is to evolve and conquer, moving through an underground scientific facility and the various obstacles that are put in your way. As a baby blob, you’ll have few skills at your command (at least, initially); a right-click can open doors and break small grates so you can continue on, but more importantly can lash out and drag unwitting humans into your gaping maw. Movement is through the left-click, and quite honestly I’m clueless how the same fluid, seamless control scheme will work on Xbox One or Switch. Ultimately, I’d imagine that Carrion will have a lot in common with twin-stick shooters in that sense.
There will be points in the facility that will impede progress; it’s here you’ll need to find alternate paths or, most likely, track down containment sources that add to your power base. The small blob’s first useful power is a targetable tendril (via the ‘E’ key), one that can be fired at baddies (goodies?) or at switches that can open large barriers. As you grow in size, so too does your power base; the larger blob will soon find a power that lets it launch its entire mass at objects, enemies and whatever else you desire.
It’s here that puzzle elements really shine; while the large blob can break through larger grates that the smaller entity cannot, it’s unable to fire the tendril to flick a distant switch. Similarly, the small blob can suck electrical current from the facility and use it to go invisible, bypassing security lasers, while the larger blob can take over nearby organics.
Playing as the sentient biomass, you’ll need to identify what needs to be done in order to progress and then actually get it done — this usually means completing bits as the large blob before dropping off some of yourself at the pool (literally). If you mess up and need the powers of the larger boi, don’t worry — you can always eat what you’ve lopped off. That, or just find some more scientists to devour. In each unique (though not very unique) section of the facility, you’re ultimately looking to take over subpoints that feed into a larger door that leads to the next area.
That’s the true magic of Carrion. What starts as a gorefest really becomes a puzzler; its overly red colour palette becomes another element that ultimately fades into the background. This can be a good and bad thing, though — the facility’s various corridors all look the same and without a map to guide you, it’s very, very easy to become completely lost. While you have the ability to ping biomasses to theoretically give you an idea of where to go next, the ping doesn’t differentiate between those you’ve fused with and those you’ve not; if you’re lost, you’re truly lost.
While Carrion is all about puzzle elements, combat is at times spotty. Enemies with a shield can be hard to isolate and hit from a non-shielded angle, while security drones seem to intermittently drop with a large blob’s mass-charge. While it’s very clear what needs to be done to progress through the environments, combat sometimes feels more trial and error (or plain ol’ luck-based) than anything else.
As Carrion obviously owes a lot to The Thing, in which a blob of biomass attempts to take over everything it can, I was saddened to see flashback sequences in which more of its origins are uncovered. To me, the creature from the unknown is more terrifying than one that can be explained; I’d have preferred it if we knew as little about the blob as possible.
Despite its flaws, Carrion is immensely enjoyable, though I would imagine its grotesque nature will turn some away. If you can stomach the gore, it’s well, well worth the play. Carrion heads to Windows PC, Xbox One and Switch today, 23 July. Carrion is also available for free to those on Windows PC and Xbox One via the Xbox Game Pass subscription program.
Carrion was reviewed using a promotional code on PC via Steam, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.