That horrible feeling that sometimes follows a decent mid-afternoon nap – who am I, where am I, where is everyone – is the starting point for Carrion. Except here you need to add what am I, as your first action is to slop across the floor in a clot of slopping tendrils, with a tiny razor-lined mouth in a perpetual silent scream. And that feeling never fades, instead driving you forward with a singular motivation: get out.
Out, as is happens, is from a clandestine underground lab buried so deep in the bedrock that it has SECRET GOVERNMENT EXPERIMENT written all over it. In typical Metroid fashion, you’re gently funnelled through a serious of themed areas, each containing blockages of some kind that can be cleared later with newfound powers. These powers, released by squeezing into other sealed biohazard containers, range from spiky to sticky and are all delightfully visceral.
Viscera is the main theme here, as it happens; not just in your own red flesh that gradually grows additional appendages and mouths, but also in the way the poor humans meet their end. The combatants increase as the levels open up, but there is a wide variety of ways to kill them too, thanks to an ability system that sits in layers of mass which can helpfully be jettisoned and reabsorbed in regular pools. Thankfully, though, it’s less torture porn, more horror – think John Carpenter recreating a torn torso with a hundred chunky pixels.
The way your slopping abomination moves is the perfect mix of skitter and grab, denying gravity as more and more red tendrils anchor on corridors and vents for purchase. You can’t help but empathize with this…thing…as desperation creeps in – and what’s been done to you starts to feel worse than what you are about to do to them. Humans are the real monsters, after all. There can be an awkwardness to movement when you’re at your largest, but this is in keeping with a sentient blob that is still learning how flesh moves. And it’s never not funny when it happens.
Games like these live or die by their level design. There needs to be a careful balance between encouraging exploration and leaving you too lost to work out your next move (Hollow Knight unfortunately fell into the second category for me). Luckily, Carrion’s designers have somehow managed to construct a labyrinth of sneaky challenges without ever making you feel like you’ve hit a dead end. The way the puzzles roll into each other – sometimes answering a question you faced many levels ago – makes it hard not to be impressed at the sheer design skill here. So many games can be a chore, but Carrion always feels like a rewarding, unfolding revelation.
As Carrion slithers towards its finale, adding a delicious twist to its already huge set of abilities, it’s almost like you’ve watched a forgotten 80s creature feature full of gore, laughs, suspense and pleasure. Something afterwards would have been nice, be it a set of puzzle rooms or even a New Game Plus allowing you to throw yourself around a bit more in the early game. But even without these, it’s a story that stays in the mind long after the final camera pan, and is absolutely a nightmare you’ll want to revisit.
Carrion is available now on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and Steam