What is Horror?
Horror games have became a staple in the indie scene ever since the Slenderman first blessed early Youtube with his jump-scare goodness. Or perhaps you could credit games like Cry of Fear for that. Regardless of the validity of my opening statement, I would say with complete confidence that not many horror games are based around the player terrorizing NPCs. Carrion could best be described as a reverse horror game. Here it is you that takes on a “Thing” like entity that rampages around a facility, striking terror in the hearts of men while ripping out said hearts for fun. It's a game that makes you feel the relentlessly savage joy of being a formless monstrosity as you make your way through everything in your way.
The Story of Terror
The story of this game is not easily told. You start off the game inside a test-tube and then escape, killing or avoiding everyone in your path. You don't know the reason for the imprisonment; all you know is you want to escape. When story bits are divulged to you, they are not told to you in words but actions and imagery. This means that the game is cut into two different modes and two divulging stories that come together nicely in the end.
How it goes is like this: a group of scientists enter a long forgotten ruin. Perhaps it's on another planet, perhaps not. But you, playing as the head scientist, venture into the facility where you find bodies and the fossilized remains of strange organisms unknown by science. Eventually after solving environmental puzzles, you reach the inner sanctum and find what you've been searching for: a pool of red liquid and flesh. You take a sample and leave. What happens after that, and what becomes of the scientist?
Fast forward and the monster escapes its containment. It's rampaging through the facility. It grows in power and eventually leaves the facility. However, the exact method will go unspoken here. Play the game.
I would describe this game as a side-scrolling platformer, except that this is no Mario game. You play as a formless mass of flesh and tendrils that can move fast and climb walls faster. You can also fit through many crevices to get the jump on your enemies. Speaking of enemies, you will find that even though you are able to rip apart steel girders and vents, you are not invincible. Take too much damage from gunfire or, heaven forbid, fire, and you will die quickly.
You start off small and grow in girth by ripping through enemies and eating them. In your smaller forms, utilizing stealth is your best bet. Sneak above your foes and pounce on them using vents or use the environment as cover and grab them using your tendrils to rip therm apart in your great toothy maw. And as enemies get tougher and bigger, so too will your arsenal.
Playing through the levels, you will encounter containers that hold within them pieces of you, genetic enhancements. Once you find one of these, break them open and the key to your evolution will be unlocked. With each evolution, you gain more abilities and can grow into an even bigger mass of Eldritch terror. The game is quick to capitalize on this. For instance, in late game, you will run into javelins that fire from guns in the wall. They are equipped with explosives and will instantly kill you once they are set off. So one of your abilities is to harden your skin, effectively tanking the blast like a Chad.
On the other hand, you may come across a lever you need to smack to progress. You can't open the door any other way. But, lo and behold, your girth is just too great. So you back track to a pool of red liquid and dump off some of your mass. This allows you to use an ability only available in one of your smaller forms, where you shoot a string of webbing to grab and pull the lever. There are several abilities to use, like possessing human and using it like a puppet. If no other humans see you do this, you can walk freely among them and can even interact with the environment without arousing suspicions. You could even start killing other humans if you want. However, if they see you take control over either the living or the dead, they immediately become hostile towards your vessel and attack it.
This brings you to taking damage and therefore dying. If you die, there are places in the map that you will respawn. The way this works is that the monster leaves pieces of himself in nests which allow him to regenerate after being terminated by humans. It's also a good place to regain any lost mass, if you left pieces of yourself in a puddle somewhere.
Combat is only one facet of this game. While, yes, a good portion of the game revolves around the genocide of the entire human population to progress, you need to solve several environmental puzzles. This game wants to make you think a little, and while the puzzles are not the most amazing, they are normally based around your powers and enemy placement. It really makes you feel like an alpha predator.
With all the above said, this game handles wonderfully. The controls are solid and once you get use to everything, it's a blast to play. There are not many things that feel cheap. You have enough control over you monster to have a fair shake at things. Just don't overestimate yourself. Even at max mass, you are still killable. And fire is the worst thing ever invented by mankind. Thanks, Prometheus.
Graphics, Pixels & Blood
Carrion is a 2D sprite game. In fact, this game is what people back in the 90s wanted to make but couldn't. Each kill is gory and juicy, with giblets bouncing off the ground and making a huge mess. The monster itself is a work of art. I don't know how they were able to achieve the look and function of the monster, but it is great. Moving around the level never breaks the illusion that its a wad of flesh and bone instead of (probably) several planes of texture sprites.
The pixel art is something to be admired. Masterfully crafted, the scene is alive with color, and the lighting really sets the mood for each scene. There was clearly a lot of effort and talent put into the game, and it shows. There are some areas where there is not enough contrast between interactive objects and the background, but they are few and far between. If you like pixel art games, I think you will appreciate the aesthetics of Carrion.
Overall, when I play this game I feel like a monster on a uncontrollable rampage, ripping through human bodies and using them as meat puppets. I am a beast terrorizing the human population, and I revel in their fear and screams of pain. It's an amazing experience. The storytelling is minimal and vague enough for interpretation, but it's solid enough for you to get a good enough grasp on what's going on as you rip through the human trash.
Play the game if you are interested in a good time, and especially if you have Xbox Game Pass.