Carrion Review: A Compelling Embrace of the Monster

Carrion has a unique proposition for players: you've spent a lot of time shooting at formless [...]

Carrion has a unique proposition for players: you've spent a lot of time shooting at formless monsters across any number of video game titles, but what if you were the gruesome baddie tearing after humans and caring only for your own survival? It's a simple enough premise propped up by an arsenal of formidable abilities to acquire and master and some surprisingly challenging puzzles. Carrion sometimes struggles to maintain its momentum, but its lower moments don't stop it from being an enticing flip of the script.

Tension and a bit of mischievousness come together to create an unusual start to Carrion. The abrupt opening doesn't tell you much, but it shows you what you need to get going. Whatever you are, you were supposed to stay in containment, and now that you're out, the people who we'd assume happily kept you crammed in tight quarters are now the ones trapped. Your vulnerability is compensated with nimbleness thanks to your small size, but you can't get to the humans yet. That'll come soon afterwards, though the brief look-but-don't-touch tease gets you primed for your first encounter.

After you make your big debut, you're hooked on the carnage. The first unassuming human came apart pretty easily with smartly restrained but still fulfilling splatters, and so did the next one and the one after that. Even if your health is maxed out and you don't quite need to take down the person cowering in the corner, it's hard to resist testing your powers in different ways to see what works and what doesn't and what you like best.

Beyond your first few encounters, gradual acquisition of more creative powers helps fulfill the monster fantasy Carrion hopes to achieve. By not giving the creature a personality nor much of a set-in-stone backstory, players get to start from a nearly blank slate to decide what kind of monster you want to be. Do you dash in and harpoon everything in sight, or do you shed your larger mass to go about situations stealthily at the risk of being more vulnerable? Sometimes these decisions are made for the player in order to progress through puzzles, but there's a surprising amount of player agency in place that lets you make what you want of your creature.

(Photo: Devolver Digital)

These abilities, and the back-and-forth exploration of a few areas that become more open to you the more you learn, create a rewarding difficulty system that scales with players' encounters and encourages creativity. It occasionally rewards players with those fleeting moments of monstrous supremacy where there's nothing that can stand in your way only to yank the feeling away with a new, more powerful enemy to give players something to work towards again.

There's also something to be said about the game's traversal system and how players move around through the depths of the labs, whether you're sneaking or smashing your way through obstacles. Flitting around through vents or squirming your way through doors and cracks in the walls is equal parts grotesque and sinister. Even without an art style that revels in gore and big-budget violence, the game is able to perfectly replicate monstrous scenarios like a creeping tentacle reaching up from the water to snatch someone from a ledge and drag them back down.

For everything Carrion does right, momentum plays a big part in the enjoyment you get out of it. The lack of direction provided to players isn't much of an inhibitor when everything's fresh and you know where you're headed, but take a break from the game for a while and come back and it's not so easy to get started again. This leads to you backtracking and feeling like you're butting your head into the same areas over and over again without much progress until you find the one door you haven't checked yet. There's an echolocation system in place to help you find your next objectives to take over as you spread your influence throughout the labs, but the feature's not particularly easy to read and often just leads to more exploration on your part anyway.

Carrion is not a particularly long game, but it does a lot with the time you'll spend with it. It's more involved than it initially appears, and its blank slate approach coupled with the confidence to begin and end as abruptly as it does is something others can learn from. A succinct and sometimes challenging diversion from the norm, it's worth the experience to live it up as an amorphous, crafty monster.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Carrion is now available with more information available through Devolver Digital's site. A review copy for the Nintendo Switch was provided by the publisher.