“Carrion” wastes no time setting up its story. At the start, a monstrous entity escapes from a hazard-marked container into the bowels of an underground facility. Naturally, all it wants to do is to feed and evolve, so the first order of business is to prey on the human staff. The second is to search for other containment tanks to break into and obtain DNA upgrades. Using the right trigger of the control pad and the right thumb stick you can grab enemies with a tentacle and steer them into your gaping maw.
The facility that lies between you and freedom is patrolled by drones, mechs and armed guards with electric shields that can sap your health should you touch them. To move between sections of the base, you’ll have to uncover save points where you can “spread your biomass,” in other words, infect your surroundings with your malign growth. The larger you become, the more resilient you are to attacks. At the same time, though, your frame becomes more awkward to haul around which can make it a little tricky to, for example, cram yourself into an elevator.
Weight management is an important aspect of “Carrion.” Most upgrades can only be used when your fleshy bulk is within one of three ranges. To knock through reinforced surfaces you need to be in one of the larger ranges, but to use an invisibility cloak you need to be at your lightest and most nimble. Spread throughout the game there are murky aquatic environments where you can store part of your body as pulsating-looking eggs which can be reabsorbed later when you wish. Over time, you’ll find yourself ditching part of your body to, say, use your invisibility cloak to slip through laser traps and then retrieving it to use a temporary invincibility shield that is only available to you in your largest guise.
I was hooked by “Carrion’s” atmosphere and gameplay from the start and satisfied with its eerily subdued ending. Creeping through a shaft before dropping onto one of the poor humans whose vocal cords only allow them to scream or shout never grew old over the few days I played through the game. I never overcame my squeamishness at seeing that slithering foul abomination on the screen. The creature is so hideous it can divide itself into a pack of worms to slip past underwater obstacles or drape a tentacle onto a person to assume control of their body. Yuck!
Perhaps the finest compliment I can pay “Carrion” is that I was reluctant to play it before going to sleep. Truly, the last thing I wanted to see was that infernal creature in my dreams.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.