Carrion

A game by Phobia Game Studio for PC, Mac, Linux, Switch, and Xbox One, originally released in 2020.
Carrion is a grotesque horror actioner that sees you taking on the role of an amorphous tentacled monstrosity that’s killing everyone, rather than a hero who must save the day. The creature is a gibbous mass of eyes and mouths and tentacles that can grow from a couple of feet in diameter to an uncomfortable room-filling thing that would make MacReady think twice about lighting his flamethrower.


The creature has managed to escape the confines of its specimen container, sending biosuit-wearing scientists running for the nearest exit as the twitching fleshy organism slinks and slithers across the floor, up the wall, and across the ceiling. Alarms sound and red lights warn of the breach as panic sets in, and for good reason… once you get within striking distance of a tender lab technician, it’s feeding time. You use your tentacles to tear people in half, or just drag them screaming into one of your waiting mouths to devour them, regaining health and growing larger in the process.


You are able to stick to any surface and slink through open rooms and narrow passages with ease, as the game’s procedural animation takes care of sending out tentacles to pull you forward, while you simply concern yourself with the direction of travel. Movement gets somewhat more complex as you grow larger and have to worry about extra parts of your body hanging off ledges and being exposed, and your largest form has a less well-defined center, making movement slightly more cumbersome… which is part of the gameplay design. The smaller you are, the more precise your movements, but growing larger grants you more health and new abilities.


Of course, the game would hardly be worth playing if you couldn’t directly control some of the tentacles. You are able to manually reach out to grab people, flip switches, open doors, tear open vents, break through obstructions, open electrical panels, and occasionally grab hovering drones out of the air to repeatedly slam them against the wall until their humming winds down to silence. Throughout the game, you’ll find specimen containers that may be broken open, granting abilities that give you new environmental exploration and combat options, allowing you to slowly reach new areas and more thoroughly explore previous locales.


Size is a key factor in how you are able to interact with the environment. You start out as a medium-sized creature… larger than a human but still reasonably able to enter any space that a human could. At certain key points in the game, you gain the ability to increase your total size by two additional levels, resulting in a large creature that can stretch to perhaps 25 feet in length, followed by an extra-large size creature that can fill a small room or stretch the length of the screen.


There are four action buttons, each of which is displayed in a corner of the screen. One button causes the creature to roar, which allows for echolocation to give the player an idea where the nearest save point is, since there is no map. In a nice touch, the roar can also strike fear into people, with scientists screaming in fear and running away, and soldiers backing away slowly with their guns drawn. The other three buttons are locked to start, and their functions change based on whether the creature is medium-sized, large, or extra-large.


The first new skill you gain is the ability to shoot a cobweb-like arm through narrow openings that are too small for you to pass through, allowing you to pull switches and stun enemies. This ability can only be used by the medium-sized creature.


Later, the player earns the ability to smash through wooden objects and slash enemies, but this can only be done in the large form, and this replaces the cobweb arm ability. As a result, the player may need to consume humans to grow larger and gain the smashing ability, or find reddish pools that allow him to temporarily deposit some of his biomass – thus reducing his overall size – and allowing him to use the cobweb arm ability.


Throughout the game, you are faced with environmental puzzles that require you to consider the abilities that are associated with each of the three possible creature sizes. Abilities allow you to bypass laser tripwires, pass through small underwater openings, and overcome stronger obstacles, and some of these abilities draw from a secondary meter that is refilled by zapping yourself on electrical panels.


Perhaps the most interesting ability is parasitism, which allows you to temporarily take control of a human host… When using parasitism, you extend a tentacle outward from your body, and it can travel a much greater distance than your standard tentacles, but it cannot interact with anything besides humans. Part of the challenge here is navigating tight spaces with a slightly-too-fast tentacle without running into obstacles or being detected by enemies that can fight back. Once the tentacle makes a connection – with a living host or a dead one – the human slowly rises to his feet and you assume direct control.


Usually, you’ll use these sapient meat sacks to flip switches that you can’t reach, but sometimes you’ll use their weapons to murder their unsuspecting comrades before relinquishing control and leaving their husks behind. There are also several interstitial scenes where you take control of a human as he explores an underground installation, although it’s unclear when these scenes take place in relation to the current events.


There isn’t much of a narrative other than your presumed desire to escape the massive underground complex. Your movement is quite restricted at first, but each new ability allows you to branch out a bit more. The lack of any kind of map makes it difficult to understand how the structure is laid out, what your intended end point is, and whether you’re making any progress toward it. This can also make exploration challenging as more of the world opens up, because it becomes more difficult to remember where you might need to go to make your way to the next challenge. That said, the game frequently locks the player off in a given area, thus communicating that the player must overcome a self-contained set of challenges before moving forward.


Throughout the game world are numerous doorways that remain locked until the player finds special cracks in the walls (called “hive crevices”). Entering each of these results in a short scene that shows the biomass expanding outward and corrupting a small area around it, followed by a close-up shot of the exit door with red masses growing over it. Each door has a certain number of panels on it, indicating the number of crevices the player must enter to open the passageway. Each passageway also contains a sign showing the player’s completion percentage and whether or not the area’s containment unit has been breached, which indicates whether the player has located the new ability (or energy meter extension) in each area.


Players have infinite attempts to complete the game, and they are generally free to return to save points to restore lost biomass, although there are numerous 1-way tubes that temporarily prevent backtracking. At first, the save points appear to offer a narrative explanation as to how you can come back to life after being killed, since you’ve essentially left some of your biomass behind, but returning to the most recent save retains no continuity… You’ll still need to kill the same bad guys and overcome the same obstacles, so it’s really just a regular save point like any other game.


The game is fairly generous with health. The player begins the game with a 5-unit health meter, and each new size threshold increases this by another five, eventually allowing for 15 units of health. Health is divided into three sections, each corresponding to one of the creature’s size thresholds, and losing enough health drops the creature down to the next smaller size. Humans are common enemies, with some carrying handguns, some carrying machineguns, and others carrying flamethrowers. But killing and eating humans restores some of your health, so the key to staying alive often means killing everyone in your path and taking care to eat the corpses afterward... or you can eat them alive so you can hear the screams. Many areas also have unarmed scientists that are free to enjoy for your snacking pleasure.


Enemies with handguns aren’t terribly dangerous on their own, but they can drain your health quickly if there are several in a room. Fortunately, they have no other defenses, so rushing is a reasonable tactic to eliminate them before they cause too much damage. Guys with machineguns can be quite tough, as they deal damage quickly and can put up electrical shields that prevent you from attacking from the front. Fortunately, many rooms feature ventilation shafts and other passages that allow you to slink through and get behind your targets. Flamethrower guys can be especially dangerous (but the flames are quite pretty!), as they not only cause a lot of damage but also set the creature on fire, so it’s best to deal with them quickly or sneak up on them... and if you do find yourself immolated, you can dive into a pool of water to put yourself out quickly.


There are a few other dangers to deal with, such as hovering drones, turrets, and explosives, but one of the more complex enemies comes in the form of a mech suit. These mech suits can deal a tremendous amount of damage in a short span, making them impossible to deal with head-on. Instead, you must move in quickly or come from around a corner, and then grab the mech with your tentacles and retract quickly. Doing so yanks off a chunk of the mech’s outer protection, and once you’ve pulled off enough pieces, you can grab the pilot right out of the thing and eat him. Using parasitism, you can also command a human to enter a mech suit and unleash a heavy spray of bullet butter on everything around you.


Aesthetically, the game is built around selling the reverse-horror aspect where you are in control of a terrifying creature. The procedural animation of the tentacles, along with the mass of eyes and mouths, really emphasizes that this is some unknowable and unstoppable killing machine that could threaten the entire planet should it escape the complex. The atmosphere builds upon this with an ambient horror score and lovely lighting effects – and even some breakable light sources – along with whimpers of panic and screams of fear and pain as you come rolling into a room smashing and devouring everyone in sight. There’s plenty of opportunity for players to forego a direct assault in favor of more of a lurking horror approach, as they slide around the outside of a room and then grab people through the vents to kill them or take over their minds.


Even a small amount of imprecision in the controls – which becomes more pronounced as you grow larger – helps you to feel that you are inhabiting this grotesque monster. Sometimes you may find yourself surprised when a tentacle reaches out from a part of your body that you weren’t expecting, or when you suddenly send out a half dozen tentacles to secure yourself as you glide effortlessly (yet grossly) across a room. Oh, and the sound effects for the tentacles making contact with surfaces is spot on… someone definitely watched a few horror movies to get the sound design right on this.



2D CRED
Carrion was developed by Phobia Game Studio, based in Poland. The studio is headed by Sebastian Krośkiewicz, who previously worked on Butcher, and he is credited with game design, art, and programming. Krzysztof Chomicki is credited with game design and level design. Music for the game was directed and composed by Cris Velasco (who has composed for numerous AAA games, including entries in the Resident Evil, Darksiders, Mass Effect, and God of War series, among many others), with music and sound design by Maciej Niedzielski, and additional sound design by Joonas Turner (Downwell, Environmental Station Alpha, Nuclear Throne, ScourgeBringer, Noita).

The game was published by Devolver Digital, which has published a number of 2D indie games including Serious Sam: Double D XXL, Luftrausers, Broforce, Foul Play, Fork Parker's Holiday Profit Hike, Hotline Miami, Hotline Miami 2, Titan Souls, Not a Hero, Ronin, Downwell, Enter the Gungeon, Mother Russia Bleeds, Serious Sam’s Bogus Detour, Minit, The Swords of Ditto, The Messenger, Crossing Souls, Gato Roboto, and Katana ZERO, and Witcheye.



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