You Should Play: Carrion

Have you ever wanted to play as the monster lurking under someone’s bed? Well then Carrion has you covered. It is a reverse horror game where you play as a mess of tentacles, flesh, and mouths that slithers around levels consuming unsuspecting victims. The concept is simple, but Carrion manages to deliver on it well leading to an enjoyable and interesting experience.

Developer: Phobia Game Studio
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: Jul 23rd 2020
Available on: Switch, PC, Xbox One, Gamepass

The premise of a reverse horror experience is Carrion’s one unique selling point and manages to stand on its own for the duration of the game. There is something intensely satisfying about skulking through the shadows only to drag someone to their doom. You really have to get in the head-space of being a sneaky monster as you terrorize and destroy everything in your path.

In addition, Carrion makes a handful of small decisions in service of getting players into the mental space of the monster. The game begins with a cold open and gives players no indication of where you’re meant to go, nor what their goal is. Instincts becomes your guide with killing being something you’ll do out of necessity as every NPC is hell bent on killing you. This may feel very video gamey, but I found it helped to put me in the mind-set of the monster. I was roaming around trying to survive rather than acting as some cold calculated villain.

As players explore their surroundings they’ll evolve and unlock new abilities that will help them progress further. As the monster evolves so too does the player’s understanding of their circumstances: presently you’re trapped being held captive in a laboratory. Obviously, no one wants to be trapped so your goal shifts from survive to escape. Using your new suite of abilities, players can act in a more calculated manner and thus both the player and the monster are now acting with intention, meticulously killing off everything that stands between them and their goal.

One of my favourite instances of this happened live on stream while I was playing the game. I’d recently unlocked the mind control power and used it to take control of the most heavily armed guard in the area. I then proceeded to use him to kill everyone in the area before killing him myself.

While it doesn’t necessarily add to the gameplay, Carrion somewhat deceives the player into becoming a willing participant in villainy. By aligning the player and monster’s goals while also providing tools that make you an increasingly active participant in said goals, Carrion turns you into the savage monster on screen.

I think that you could just as easily play through the whole of Carrion without ever really bonding with the monster on screen. However, I really enjoyed how Carrion unwittingly made me an active participant in the savage carnage that was expected throughout the game. This aspect, along with the unique role reversal angle, make Carrion a very interesting title that you should play.

8 thoughts on “You Should Play: Carrion

  1. Here I was, thinking I’d get any work done today. Instead, it’s comment-writing time. Oh, boy…
    While I did enjoy Carrion, I wouldn’t give as much credit to it. It was a nice game, but that’s about it.
    In my opinion, the “reverse horror game”, which is the main selling point, did not hold up at all, for multiple reasons:

    1) There’s no characterisation of your adversaries. True, it’s possible to bond with the monster (I enjoyed the drastic changes in feeling between scrawny tentacle-spider and Tier 3-Uber-Monster a lot), but the humans are nothing more than video-gamey opponents.
    Normally, these games/movies are about a group of people that fights an uphill battle against the monster. While the group gets more and more decimated, the survivors get to know each other and become a tight force to be reckoned with. Slowly, but surely, they figure out the monster MO and manage to fight back. In a twist, the monster adapts, and kills off a few more, before the final one-three members of the group finally defeat it (or did they? Cue the post-credits scene…)

    Regarding the monster, everything is “translated” top-notch. It does adapt its predatory style, and it does coldly analyse and stalk its prey. But for something settled in the horror genre, I think the dynamic between the monster and the humans is one of the most important aspects, and that was lacking almost completely. Even worse, the game had its chance to do it. We have these “human sequences”, where the game easily could have shed light on the human side of the situation. Sadly, it didn’t…

    2) In fact, if anything, the game was more of a parody of a horror-game, given how many little jokes and charming details were in there. Don’t get me wrong, these things were great, but it was no reverse horror-game. I am probably far too nitpicky here, but if a game advertises itself as “reverse X”, then I expect to witness a deep understanding of the genre at hand, and a genuine “discussion” (I don’t know how to say what I mean here in English) about it.

    A good parody does many of those things anyway (albeit in a more relaxed and funny way), but Carrion does not dip into the horror genre at all, save for the most obvious of tropes. None of the game’s jokes are quibs at the horror genre, but just “general” jokes, like funny announcements, toilet humour, or noticeably boring office spaces brimming with secret weaponry. Again, I very much enjoyed these things, but they have nothing to do with what the game should have been/wanted to be. If you’re supposed to write about coral reefs, but end up writing about sea horses, then you missed the point, no matter how good your essay about sea horses was.

    3) I don’t know why everyone keeps saying “you really need to plan your approach”. Most of the time, I found the most effective strategy to get as big as you can, rush in, and just smash everything the fuck up. Even the huge challenge rooms could be cleared in seconds without loosing more than 3 hitpoints.

    Sure, that’s not how the game is supposed to be played, so most of the time, I did try to get into the mindset of a sneaky monster, but your options are severely limited. Controlling a Heavy and having him killing everything feels great, but there’s not really a lot of depth here. Even when that’s not an option, it’s more about exploiting the enemies’ (obvious) weaknesses, rather than adapting to a situation and/or planning ahead. Every room can be cleared in every size, apart from puzzles (which were pretty easy, since it’s not a puzzle game) there’s never the need to switch forms.

    To round this out, I know it sounds like I absolutely hated the game, which I didn’t. I enjoyed it for what it was, but personally, it would not be make it onto any Top-Lists or anything. As always, I have some ideas to combat the issues I had with the game, but I think I’ll make a separate “What Could Have Been” post for that. It might be a nice contrast to this article 🙂

    Keep Calm and Carrion,
    Quietschisto

    Liked by 1 person

    1. More or less agree with the broad strokes here. I wasn’t exactly looking for a game that went as deep into the idea as you were, but it’s totally justifiable to criticize it saying that it is thing X while only really scratching the surface of that idea.

      Still though, this would be why Carrion didn’t chart for my end of year lists and instead was relegated to a “maybe check this game out because it’s interesting” post. But it wouldn’t be a Quietschisto comment without meticulously picking something apart. I mean this in the kindest possible way, which I know you know – I’m clarifying for everyone else who doesn’t know that we talk a lot outside of our blog comment sections.

      Like

    1. Absolutely. Short, sweet, and to the point.

      The relatively low skill floor also makes it easy to get into even though it never really evolves much meaningfully beyond that point. But sometimes you just need something light and easy to enjoy.

      Liked by 1 person

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