Carrion Review: All-Consuming Carnage

Carrion Review: All-Consuming Carnage

It's the monster's time to shine.

The Thing was never the star of The Thing. It might have been the draw of the 1982 classic: a parasitic, shapeshifting monster from outer space sowing paranoia in a crew led by a dashing Kurt Russell, with a groundbreaking budget to realize its horrific carnage. But it's not what John Carpenter's film is remembered for all these years later. That honor belongs to the mental and societal breakdown of Russell and company as they question everyone and everything around them with increasing violence.

Carrion flips the script for an alternate reality in which the star of The Thing is, in fact, The Thing. It plays out the entire scenario from the viewpoint of the creature from outer space - slithering and squelching around corridors and air vents in pursuit of hapless humans to be slaughtered and consumed. It's an interesting proposition, to throw out all the human nature of the basic pitch of The Thing in favor of a tentacled alien with an all-consuming bloodlust.

This adventure of the creature from outer space plays out as a 2D side-scrolling game. Breaking free from your containment lab in a mysterious location, your only goal is to infect the ominous facility with the creature's biomass, plugging itself into walls and vents to leave gaping maws and masses of tentacles encroaching on the human construct. Carrion reveals zero information at the outset of its story - what need does a shambling parasitic monster have for exposition? - so there's precious little context for the first few hours of the story: a tantalizing if slightly familiar storytelling device of 2D adventure games.

Along the way the creature encounters - and subsequently devours - helpless humans, all of which go screaming and running until they're dragged back into its gnashing teeth by a tentacle or two. This is pulled off with a really fast and loose physics system: aim a tentacle around the screen with the right analog stick, and stretch out to grasp whatever you can with the right trigger, whether that's a door to smash open, a level to pull, or a terrified human to pull into your gaping jaws. It's a physics system akin to comedy games like Genital Jousting, but where it's used to comedic effect with those games, it's used as a form of characterization with Carrion, helping you feel only just in control of the creature as it staggers around the facility.

The creature balloons in size with every human consumed: a particular facet of the creature that can only be canceled out by a bullet from one of the many armed humans around the facility. Carrion ramps up the difficulty the further the monster goes, resorting to humans with riot shields and machine guns to equal the sheer power and size of the creature. Every time it's hit by a bullet, a part of the creature gained through consuming a human explodes in a gory shower, as though the person you previously ate had given the creature an extra life. It's a neat gameplay trick to simultaneously build the physical stature of the monster while also empowering you as the player with added lives to fall back on.

Humans kitted out with riot shield can put up a fair fight. | Phobia Game Studio/Devolver Digital

Additionally, the creature progressively gains more abilities with which to counteract its human foes. Carrion doles out its skills in a manner resembling a Metroidvania: at certain points you'll uncover a testing lab not unlike the one you escape, which you can plug your heaving mass into to gain a new ability. These include a glue-like substance that binds enemies in place, letting you slither toward them and tear them limb from bloody limb with a multitude of mouths for horrific effect.

There's also abilities that let you traverse different sections of the map that were previously inaccessible. A timeworn Metroidvania tradition, the ability for the creature to barrel through barred doors and reinforced walls opens up new areas of exploration. But you're crucially never provided a map for areas to revisit and tick off a checklist, because the surrounding environment is just as alien as the creature is to us. The creature is a stranger in a strange land, and Carrion suitably disarms both the player and the beast by letting them stumble around in the dark; fumbling to find their way through the enigmatic facility.

Plug yourself into walls to spread your icky biomass. | Phobia Game Studio/Devolver Digital

As satisfyingly gory as Carrion's gameplay is, though, I can't help but feel like something was lost in translation in the switch to reversing the story of The Thing. Switching to a story focusing primarily on The Thing cuts out the adrenaline-inducing paranoia and tense social interactions of the film on which Carrion is so obviously based. There's precious little story information to go on at the outset of the game, and a story centering around the creature itself can never be as terrifying and gripping as the story focusing on the humans was almost four decades ago.

Nonetheless, it's an enjoyably gory romp in the many shoes of the creature. Carrion guts and butchers humans with a relentless addiction, and it's all done in a fun but simplistic manner: aim with the right stick, and slurp up your humanoid meal with the right trigger. Carrion does somewhat punish the player for being a little too cocky as the monster - all it takes is a few bullets to decimate the creature - but the leash never feels too tight, and you're given ample planning time to perfectly strike from the shadows and let the bloody fireworks ensue.

Carrion is an energetic and taut game that flips the tables on The Thing, putting you in command of the alien creature and tasking you with simply going to town on the hapless humans surrounding you. The loose physics-based gameplay is satisfying to play, and the enigmatic creature's bloodlust is crucially never too powerful to render the armed humans that challenge you entirely helpless. Although Carrion's story falls largely flat, it's a very satisfying slaughterhouse of gnashing teeth and tentacles.


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Hirun Cryer

Staff Writer

Hirun Cryer is by far the most juvenile member of USgamer. He's so juvenile, that this is his first full-time job in the industry, unlike literally every other person featured on this page. He's written for The Guardian, Paste Magazine, and Kotaku, and he likes waking up when the sun rises and roaming the nearby woods with the bears and the wolves.

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