Carrion review: Reverse horror leaves us hungry for more

When it's your turn to be the villain...

Carrion Hero
(Image: © Devolver Digital)

Reverse-horror game Carrion puts you in control of an amorphous tentacle creature from places unknown. This is an indie platformer, developed by Phobia Games and published by Devolver Games, that's set inside a laboratory facility where you must slither and worm your way to freedom, snacking on humans and growing larger, more powerful, and more ferocious!

While there are some games where the player is the monster, none do it quite so well as Carrion. This has all the earmarks of a classic.

What you'll love about Carrion

At the start of Carrion you're a tiny creature with a fierce appetite that bursts forth from your containment capsule. Players take on the identity of a small blob with a writhing mass of tentacles that grip to surfaces and enable you to slither up walls and into small areas, which will help avoid detection. One of your only skills to start is a growl, which terrifies and threatens the scientists, soldiers, and workers of the sites you're escaping from. You're so smol, how could you possibly hurt anyone?

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DeveloperPhobia Game Studio
PublisherDevolver Digital
GenreAction, Adventure, Indie
PlatformsMicrosoft Windows, Xbox, Nintendo Switch

Well, as you grip a screaming human in your limb, your mouth, decorated with sharp teeth, protrudes from within the mass of eyes, tentacles, and other decorative mouth you have. You'll then have to use a lot of violence to eat humans and get across a range of obstacles the pesky humans set up in order to escape the lab.

I know Momma always said not to play with your food, but dangling them around the room before you tuck them safely into your maw is quite fun. After you have ripped a human in two, I loved how you can get parts of them stuck to you, the monster equivalent of dropping spaghetti down your shirt.

It's addictively fun, but you'll soon run up against a sharp difficulty curve once you start having to deal with obstacles, which had me sighing in frustration but determined to continue. It's almost as though the facility was one day expecting a breakout to happen because the artillery used against you hurts. Not all humans are helpless either, though you will have your fair share of easy pickings, there are plenty of humans armed and ready to shoot if they even catch a whiff of a tentacle.

Carrion Review Heads Up

Source: Devolver Digital (Image credit: Source: Devolver Digital)

You do have some power at your disposal. When you eat enough humans, you will level up to the next size of the blob, bringing new skills and abilities with each evolution. It often comes with the downfall of having reduced health in the "devolved" states, forcing the player to make some risky plays as you dump off biomass to devolve and use certain earlier skills. This makes the game more strategic and thrilling, especially when you scrape through with only one bar of health left, and your monster is the tiniest it can get before being entirely smushed.

Dying doesn't come with any massive drawbacks unless you had managed to make progress without finding the next checkpoint first. The checkpoints are cracks in walls and masonry that you slither into and spread your corruption. Enemies do not respawn, and this is somewhat of a blessing given how squishy you are.

Switching perspectives and changing up gameplay

Carrion Review Biomass

Source: Devolver Digital (Image credit: Source: Devolver Digital)

The game becomes even more complex once you hit the sections where you play as human, lending further to the platformer feel. There are some areas where you play as human characters investigating a large tomb, which feels quite similar to films such as Alien or stories written by HP Lovecraft. You also learn the parasitism skill a little later in the game, which allows you to possess humans, as long as you don't get caught. You can use it in some fun and creative ways to cause maximum carnage.

I also believe it might be possible to complete the game without eating anyone, or at least very few people. A lot of the room design allows for stealth, which you develop a skill for later on anyway, but my first playthrough was more geared towards snacking than sneaking. I enjoyed taunting the humans into position, ripping the grate from above them, and snaking my grip around their head. You will even get an achievement for your first tasty brain!

The soundtrack is supposed to represent the monster's perspective and it's full of howling horns, dancing drums, and scratchy synths — the sounds of nightmares, hopelessness, and angst propel you toward your goal. Cris Velasco, the composer of Carrion's soundtrack, is quoted as saying, "the score is the monster's inner dialogue," and It feels very true. I intend to go back and try to play through it without killing anyone and appreciate the sounds more closely.

Thankfully the controls are simple to use, and the on-screen HUD is tucked neatly into the corners where it doesn't obstruct the view of the game. There is also the bonus of going back and finding extra DNA powerups that I missed. Replayability! Yay!

What you might not love about Carrion

Carrion Review Grate

Source: Devolver Digital (Image credit: Source: Devolver Digital)

The facility and surrounding environments are a Metroidvania-esque network of rooms, pipes, vents, or anything large enough for you to squish your lumpy body through. Pulling switches will remove barriers that block your progress because the facility doesn't want you to get out. Unfortunately, some of the environments are look similar, and though this is definitely on purpose, it can disorient you. I spent a lot longer than I would like to admit going through the same network of tubes before I noticed the switch I needed to hit to open the way. A really long time...

It's worth noting also that some areas that you visit will not be fully traversable until you return later in the game with a skill to punch down wooden barriers, or even draw out plugs. Some puzzles were so challenging I believed I was trapped and had done something wrong and might have to restart the game (I didn't). The solutions are often so simple you will kick yourself for having struggled over it, and it's something I wish would've been clearer at the top of the game.

Should you buy Carrion?

Carrion Review Parasitism

Source: Devolver Digital (Image credit: Source: Devolver Digital)

Many factors make Carrion exceptionally fun to play, and hardly any that don't make it a gorily great way to spend eight hours. It's atmospheric in presentation and sound production, creating a complete package that feels like you're playing the origin story of a creature like The Thing.

Carrion will be great fun for people who enjoy horror B-movies, Metroidvania-esque level design, and using their brains (mmm brains). I enjoyed this "Reverse-Horror" game and hope to see more like it.

Carrion will cost you $20 of your finest bones on Xbox and PC, and is available on Xbox Games Pass. It's also available on the Nintendo Switch. For more games, we highly recommend, check out our list of best Xbox One games available today.

Lauren Relph

Lauren Relph is a games writer, focusing on Xbox. She doesn't like piña coladas but loves getting caught in the rain. Follow her on Twitter!