Review by Matt S.
Carrion is visceral. I’m actually tempted to leave my review at that, because that describes the game’s core motif and aesthetic, its principle appeal, and it’s the perfect word to describe whether the game is right for you or not. Carrion is exquisitely violent, evocatively malevolent, and simultaneously grotesque and beautiful. I often criticise extreme violence on this here Website, but it’s games like Carrion that demonstrate that I’m not inherently against violence. In context it can be very artful, and Carrion is one gorily effective canvas.
Carrion is a horror game where you play as the monster; a thoroughly mundane “twist” that led the publisher, Devolver Digital, to do a very silly thing and dub the experience “anti-horror”, when it is anything but subversive to horror. The monster is fleshy mess; a red blob of tentacles and entrails, along with a furiously sharp mouth that it’s going to make great use of, and frequently. At the start of the game, the monster breaks free of the research coffin that it’s being trapped in, and immediately sets about exploring a labyrinthine network of tunnels and facilities, chewing down on anything in its way. In execution, it’s a bit Metroidvania-like, in that your way forward will often be blocked until you find particular abilities to flick switches and reach new areas, but this game’s focus is anything but on the exploration.
Carrion’s focus is on unleashing the monster. You do that by having it scream into a room, which will send doors and girders flying everywhere, and then tearing up anything organic in the vicinity with a whirlwind of gnashing teeth, spiderweb-like ropes and claws… very, very sharp claws. The intensity with which you can turn this monster into a dervish of destruction is extreme, right from the opening moments, and as the game goes on, enemies become more frequent in number (and more dangerous), and the monster accumulates more power and abilities, the gruesome ballet only becomes even more mesmerising. I say that despite being terrible at these kinds of games, too. I cannot wait to see what talented players can make of it.
The monster is fast and so, so precise to control, and that’s part of why Carrion is so visceral. It’s not just that there’s a lot of blood and screaming. That’s part of it, but the sheer energy and force that you can navigate the world is a kind of pulsing, rhythmical violence into itself. Like the best splatter art, Carrion comes across as angry – claustrophobically so – and everything that you mete out feels justified in the context of it being an exercise in pure fury. It’s almost cathartic, and over an extended play session the impact ends up being much greater, and much grander, than the initially humble presentation would lead you to believe.
It’s also a longer game than I had thought. Admittedly my initial impressions were that the game would only be able to sustain an hour or so’s play, but there is a rich array of skills and abilities that our monster can unlock as its adventure goes on, and each one of those new abilities adds something to the overall picture. It makes the monster even better at killing, every single time (somehow). It gives you new toys to play with and makes environments that might otherwise become mundane (and that would have killed this game) fresh all over again. Most of all, each and every new ability is engaging, and enough to encourage you to plough on, even as the experience ramps in intensity.
Unfortunately a little of the impact is lost when you play on Nintendo Switch. In handheld mode, at least. When the key appeal of the game is witnessing the fury of movement, the dismemberment of bodies, and gore splattering across walls, the Switch screen is just too small to make out the details the way that they were intended. That’s a pity, because on the bigger screen, the animation really does come across as meticulous and, gruesome as it is, creative. On the other hand, as a simplified-down Metroidvania, Carrion is also ideal for the handheld environment, and that would have been my preferred way to play this one if the full vision had come across.
As a horror aficionado, and someone who also likes the extreme ends of horror, I find Carrion to be fascinating. It’s not the kind of game I generally like playing, but it’s pitched at the easy edge of the Metroidvania “genre”. The exploration and puzzles are fluid and in service of the game’s main purpose, which is the most unapologetically visceral thing I’ve played in some time. Not everyone will be able to stomach Carrion’s atmosphere and gleeful violence. But those that can will find an experience that is beautiful in being so grotesque.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb
The critic was provided a copy of this game for review.