It’s the classic sci-fi horror scenario: an unspeakable alien creature has emerged from a secret testing facility. It moves quickly, silently, preying on scientists and guards and begins to kill its way through the facility, overcoming the defences and heading for freedom and the potential doom of mankind. Of course, in the case of Carrion, there’s a twist. The player doesn’t control the hardy hero, a silent scientist with cool glasses, but instead the amorphous red blob that is the monster of the story!
Carrion takes a premise straight out of your classic survival horror games and inverts it, making you the bad guy. You start off escaping a containment flask and scuttle, crawl, swim and infest your way across twelve levels, increasing your biomass by eating delicious humans and gaining new powers ranging from launching webs to being able to assimilate and puppet humans around. It’s worth stating that this game wears its sci-fi influences on its sleeve, with John Carpenter’s masterwork The Thing being one of the main ones. The sound and level design also reference Alien by Ridley Scott with hissing vents, clanging chains and a sense of claustrophobia at all turns.
Gameplay sees you control the squiggly beast, all flailing appendages and scuttling noises. It controls easily, able to traverse pretty much all surfaces and able to take hold of things like doors, objects and, of course, crunchy people that you can drag towards your maw and devour, gaining biomass and increasing your size. At times the creature does handle a bit light and I did overshoot a couple of times, ending up exposed when I meant to stalk someone. This leads to the humans using their guns on you and your red beastie is not bulletproof at all. Hits chip away at your biomass and you’ll quickly get smaller and die if you are shot too much. Eventually you’ll run into pesky security goons with their electrical shields and their flame-throwers. They’ll kill you very quickly, though not as quickly as some of the other enemies you’ll run into in the late game like robot-walkers with mini-guns and laser-turrets. For some reason, the humans don’t want you to eat them or escape. How rude!
But it’s not all just stalking and killing humans; you’ve also got to slowly infest the entire facility. There are hive sites that you can infest, creating respawn spots where you can save the game and regain lost biomass, which is very helpful. One tip, that was painfully learned on my part, is to make sure you nip back and save at one of these sites when you’ve unlocked a new area, as if you’re killed before you save you’ll have to do the whole thing over again. Depending on the situation, you’ll find yourself needing to use stealth to evade the better armed humans – get a vantage point so they don’t just shoot you to pieces and then strike quickly, dragging your victims with you as you go. There’s a stealth element to the game and the AI is surprisingly deft most of the time, spotting the errant tentacle you put out, reacting to attempts you make to open doors, break barriers or noises you end up making.
You’ll also need to have your puzzle solving hat on as the game has lots of them. Most are fairly simple, as I am no puzzle gamer and I was able to solve nearly all of them without the need to look at a walkthrough. Hitting levers, increasing water levels so that you can slip, worm-like, through a grating and turning off laser detection are all barriers to your progress and you’ll quickly find that, as you unlock new powers, you’ve got new ways to get past these puzzles, as well as new ways to reduce the workforce at the facility as you go.
Once you’ve begun to unlock a good selection of powers, you’ll want to work backwards, using the grim-looking tunnels to go back to levels that you’ve already been through to make sure that you’ve killed everyone and explored everything. There are “Containment” levels which lock away useful mutations and many of these can only be accessed once you’ve gotten some additional powers. Having good map making skills will help here, knowing which areas connect to which and how to traverse the labyrinthine facility will help you unlock all the powers you need to make your blob of red goo the best it can be, replete with invisibility, spines and tentacles.
Carrion on Xbox One is rendered in a pseudo-pixel art style, nothing too mind blowing and certainly not 4K. The aesthetic works and allows for a lot of little details, such as broken body parts, hanging chains and lights that short out and fizz as your monster wreaks havoc. Speaking of havoc, you leave a trail of red and green goo behind you as you go, gradually transforming the science-labs into charnel houses. It’s not the goriest game of all time, with most of the gore rendered in blocky style, but the violent chomping sound effects that occur as you chow down on another hapless human are pretty gnarly.
As someone with eyesight issues, I can state that generally speaking the game does a good job of making things visible and accessible. The different types of doorway and barrier are rendered clearly, making it generally quite straightforward to know if that way is barred or breakable. When you reach out a little tentacle, the area is lit with what I think may be a bioluminescence and that’s quite helpful too. At times some of the levels are a bit dark but I didn’t find any significant issues that barred the way. There’s a bit of reading here and there but nothing that will make a difference in terms of enjoyment of the plot or solving the game.
There’s no multiplayer element at present; Carrion is purely single-player with only the one mode of play. The whole campaign will probably take around 3-5 hours to finish and can be done in one long sitting if you feel like it. There is a story, told in flash-backs accessed by your monster, that will show you how things came to pass, and these are nicely done and sparse enough not to feel like you’re being force-fed information. It was a surprise to me how much I was able to empathise with a horrible mutating monster!
Carrion on Xbox One is a very well-designed and crafted game. Whilst it can be frustrating to backtrack and redo levels when you’ve got a new power, the backtracking is part of the design rather than a flaw in the design. The combat is nicely weighted and the stealth elements are light and don’t require too much patience. Whilst it’s a short, punchy game, it doesn’t outstay its welcome or become repetitive. I personally found navigating the maps difficult at times which did lead to some frustration, but you can find decent maps online already.