'Carrion' makes you actually feel like a monster

There’s something therapeutic about Carrion that belies its B-movie subject matter. Despite your role as horrifying Meat Monster, a mass of teeth and tendrils terrorizing unfortunate researchers, this ‘reverse horror story’ doesn’t just revel in its violence. Sometimes, it lets you drop the schadenfreude for a moment, and find a simple joy in taking ownership of its labyrinthine map.

Carrion is not a complicated game. It is a simple if satisfying Metroidvania, its puzzles broken up by brief sections of combat marked out by either gruesome eviscerations or tantalizing opportunities for stealth. The star of its show is the player character, the aforementioned Meat Monster.

On the surface a deeply one-dimensional entity, the attention paid to the way it moves turns it into a fascinating central figure, perfectly capable of embodying whatever personality the player wants to ascribe to it. There’s no denying that it’s a powerful and dangerous predator, one perfectly capable of brute-forcing its way through the base, but Carrion also lets you embody a creature that’s intelligent and sneaky, that plays with its food. For a seething pile of mouths and tentacles, there’s a surprising depth.

The design touches that shape Carrion's personality are present from the beginning. As soon as you claw free of your containment unit, you’re scrabbling around this base, tentacles shooting out to grasp at any surface within reach, a constant, gentle pitter-patter as each innumerable tendril finds its mark. Soon, you’re scaling walls, hanging monkey-like from ceilings, skittering across floors and up lift-shafts at improbable speed.

As you grow in size and power, you start to flow through Carrion’s corridors almost like water. Sometimes it feels like you must surely be too big to squeeze through that vent, too long to wind your near-serpentine body through those winding corridors, but then you find yourself speeding from screen to screen with a velocity heightened by sections of the game designed to simply show you moving through them. Cutting through a single, featureless corridor reminds me of shots from horror movies designed simply to remind the audience that even if they can’t see it, something is out there, waiting. Even when you lose your way, this constant, seamless movement lets you feel like you’re still on the move, patrolling your territory in anticipation of the next kill.

For all that momentum, you’ll eventually come swinging to a halt, but even in its quiet moments, Carrion lets you feel dangerous. It can feel as though the Meat Monster is largely uninterested in the lifeforms it shares this place with, but when you find a room full of enemies flanked by a cooling vent that you can slither into, that’s when the malice really kicks it up a notch.

The possibilities are endless - a door can be wrenched off its hinges and used to bludgeon enemies to death; oblivious foes can be plucked upwards into your waiting maw; snaking tendrils can possess unsuspecting guards, letting you take your place in the crowd before you decide to open fire. Speed and aggression can be your friends, but a fine-tuned, stealthy approach is deliciously satisfying.

Eventually, as you embed yourself more and more firmly within these winding corridors, Carrion stops feeling like a ‘reverse’ horror story, and starts to make you feel like this is your house now. You can move through it faster and more freely, turning yourself into part of the furniture as you infiltrate whole swathes of this base, dropping off chunks of meat that you can return to pick up when it suits you, leaving convenient torso-shaped snacks around in case you need to refuel in a hurry.

By twisting this classic horror trope, Carrion sets itself up nicely, but its crowning achievement is the way it revels in the versatility and violence of its expertly-crafted central character.

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