Keep Calm & Carrion

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Playing as the bad guy has always been an interesting and appealing approach to gaming. Whether it’s obvious you’re the bad guy from the get go or a twist at the end that leaves your jaw on the ground (and there are a few amazing games that spring this on you in the final few moments of the game but I won’t spoil them here!), there is always something extremely appealing about gaming as a villain.

Carrion takes this to the extreme. You aren’t just someone who treads the line between good and bad or someone you can empathise with what drove them to be bad, no, no, no. No sympathy is to be felt for the evil protagonist in Phobias Games’ (the studio behind Serious Sam, The Talos Principle, Hotline Miami and Hatoful Boyfriend) reverse horror game, Carrion (meaning the decaying flesh of dead animals).

You take on the titular role of the carrion, a small (to begin with) and bloody mess of tentacles and organs who breaks free from an underground research lab and decides (if it’s capable of such decisions) to escape. What follows is a 6.5 hours (ish – I got lost – a lot) chaotic rampage through a sci-fi world (in the 8-bit graphical style akin to the much loved Super Nintendo era of gaming) of underground science labs, army bunkers, water tunnels and weird jungle worlds. Carrion is an incredibly addictive action-platformer that is one of the most original games I have played in quite some time.

Controlling the carrion is extremely satisfying – you basically click on the screen where you want the creature to move and he sludges his way to the mouse point. Right clicking will utilise a small tentacle designed to grab nearby soldiers/doctors/scientists/people on the toilet and then you can drag them to your mouth (I think it’s your mouth – it has teeth so it’s a pretty educated guess) which allows you to consume them by shaking the mouse back and forth as their limbs and blood decorate the map like some sort of human fireworks display.

Consuming humans increases your health and helps you grow in size. As you travel through the maze of the underground tunnels and passages you locate upgrades and eventually you can change between 3 different sizes (small, medium and large). Each size allows you to perform different special abilities (once unlocked) and allow varying degrees of mobility. As you progress through the game you need [to change between these three sizes  in order to access and interact with the different parts of the gaming world.

Each “stage” involves finding and consuming another biochemical (type thing) which unlocks more and more powers for you. If you have enough energy and have consumed enough humans, you can unlock the power to smash through walls and put on a protective shield until your energy runs down – however when you are this big, strong version of the carrion you cannot fit your tentacle through small gaps in walls so you cannot, for example, push/pull an important lever to get through to the next part of the game. This will mean you have to find a way to reduce your size (by “depositing your biomass” in a red pool) before you can progress. 

Moving between these three states and sizes depending on which ability you require at any given moment means you are continually having to take in your surroundings and figure out when and where to consume humans or let a load off in a biomass pool. Don’t worry if this sounds INCREDIBLY confusing – the learning curve is pretty self explanatory and it’s fairly easy to pick up the game and how it works. Mastering the puzzles and map is another thing altogether as the level design is INCREDIBLY confusing and can really give you a bloody headache if you get lost.  Although Carrion is an action-platformer, the puzzle element is incredibly engaging (and frustrating), as figuring out how to get through certain parts of the level takes quite a bit of genuine thought (something I struggle with at the best of times).

Overall, Carrion is a unique, violent, bloody, exciting and incredibly frustrating game. The superb soundtrack means you feel like you are in the middle of an 80s sci-fi horror and the continual upgrading of the carrion and switching between the size and skills of the creature means it feels like you are always doing something reasonably different even if the basic gameplay doesn’t offer a huge amount of variety. 

Make sure you don’t rush through the game. I am pretty sure you cannot escape until you have unlocked all the powers for the creature even if you have navigated the main path of the map. I pretty much had to backtrack through the entire game, getting lost 100s of times, because I had overlooked a few things really early on. This is a super unforgiving part of the game and believe me, going round in circles looking for something you’ve missed in a map almost completely devoid of anything left to kill or any obvious landmarks is super frustrating. 

Given there is only one difficulty and no new game modes to unlock the $33 price point might seem a bit steep for such a short game, so you might want to wait until it’s on sale – however if you do go ahead and buy it immediately I PROMISE you, the time you do spend on your first play through is going to be an exciting and unrelenting journey of self inflicted chaos.

Just don’t forget to possess them humans. They helpful as. Stupid tiny humans. Mwahahaha. 

– Ashton Brown

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