By EVAN MILLAR
If you’re a fan of John Carpenter’s THE THING and have been dying to know what it’d be like to actually assume control of the titular extraterrestrial biomass, I’m happy to report that developer Phobia Game Studio has crafted just the game for you.
Structured as a Metroidvania set in a remote underground laboratory, CARRION is a “reverse horror” game that tells the story of a trapped organism whose sole purpose is to flail, maim, and smash its way to freedom from its human oppressors. Featuring some grotesquely slick animation and frantically kinetic gameplay, it’s a revelatory premise that reinvigorates a genre that’s seen its fair share of stagnant entries, elevating the game to an instant body horror classic.
Starting your humble journey as a small red blob with a singular green eye, players seek out sustenance in the form of human flesh, as each consumed body increases the size of your monstrous form. Taking control of the facility through cracks in the walls that function as both a save point and an opportunity to further spread the infestation, you’ll explore and seek out containment units scattered around each section of the map that unlock abilities corresponding to the three tiers of the creature’s size: small, medium, and ungodly huge.
These range from powerful projectiles that fire from your entire body, an invisibility cloak, and my personal favourite: the power to possess your enemies and turn them against each other. Occasionally, you’ll also take control of a group of scientists that initially discovered the organism, and these serve as a nice break of pace from the utter chaos of the main story. Enemy types are varied and keep things feeling fresh overall, as you’ll be dealing with standard scientists, heavily armoured guards, flying sentry robots, and even piloted mechs.
Without seeing it in motion, CARRION has a retro aesthetic that seems like it could potentially run on a 32-bit console. When the action begins to unfold, however, its fluidity is mesmerizing and brings to mind PC titles like ANOTHER WORLD’s smooth rotoscoped visuals. Navigating tight corridors by firing out tendrils that allow it to whip from surface to surface, the monster is endlessly entertaining to watch and feels amazing to control.
Smaller details such as how red slime covers everything you touch and the smashing of light bulbs and computer displays upon contact only add to this satisfaction. Environments are detailed and feature some extremely pretty particle effects, particularly in areas with water and unconventional light sources.
Adding another layer of tension and intrigue is CARRION’s fantastic auditory accompaniment by composer Cris Velasco, undoubtedly known to horror fans for his contributions to BLOODBORNE and RESIDENT EVIL 7. Ranging from sweeping orchestral work to despondent electronic whirrs and clicks, it only serves to make the entire experience more grandiose and cinematic. Sound effects are appropriately gross and squishy, and the panicked wails of the lab’s workers when they spot you never gets old.
If there’s one downside to the game, its the lack of a working map for reference. This is especially puzzling for a Metroidvania, as it makes things needlessly frustrating when you’d like to revisit specific areas after unlocking new powers in search of more containment units to crack open. Still, CARRION does much of what it sets out to do flawlessly, offering up a power fantasy that I had no idea I needed so desperately. When the monster first became fully-sized, a twisted nightmare of mouths and eyes roping its way through the facility and flinging multiple bodies spread across two rooms, I realized CARRION was truly something special.
Well, that and cramming my entire mass into a small elevator and pulling the switch with a tentacle to great success. Going down, anyone?
CARRION is out now on PC, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. Review code provided by the publisher.