When I ask game developer Sebastian Krośkiewicz if any particular beacons of the horror genre inspired his upcoming game “Carrion,” he responds with an unlikely example: the 1999 “Alien vs. Predator” game, in which terrified marines armed with assault rifles and faulty radars take turns getting their heads chomped off by the two titular movie monsters. “It was one of the few games I’ve ever played that gives you both sides of the experience, what you might call ‘horror’ and ‘reverse-horror,’” Krośkiewicz says. “You get to play as the marines that get eaten, and you feel their fear. But then you get to play as the alien, and you can do the eating, and that makes you feel powerful and badass.”
“Carrion” wastes no time in letting you know which side of that divide it falls on: five seconds into the game, your player character bursts out of its cage to reveal itself as a crimson Gordian knot of wriggling tentacles that skitter and slide across any surface with ease. (As a person who occasionally struggles with grotesque imagery in similar games, I expected myself to find the creature difficult to gaze upon, but the game’s hi-fi pixel-art gives it enough distance that I found it more appealing than upsetting.) Two rooms later, you’re grasping panicking scientists with your appendages and slamming them into walls, cracking their heads open to slake your thirst with their brains. To put it bluntly, it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s also a deeply, deeply satisfying experience.
While the “you are the monster” pitch might seem like the game’s most intriguing aspect, its mouse-and-keyboard control scheme was the real star of the thirty-minute demo. Rather than controlling the creature with the usual “WASD” control scheme, you can instead use the cursor to aim where you want to go, with the tentacles whirling in that direction with a simple left-click If you want to pick up an enemy, you point the cursor at the foe and right-click, then move the mouse around to wrench and throttle them until they stop moving. You can also hold a button on the keyboard to slink around stealthily, assuming you can stay out of sight of your armed pursuers.
Despite the game’s chaotic opening moments, the core of the game is far from a mindless power fantasy. Instead, it’s a highly unorthodox Metroid-style platformer that hides a wealth of new abilities in a maze-like setting marked by devious puzzles and dangerous foes. Despite your creature’s sharp teeth and pulsing tentacles, the human opponents in the game are far from fragile, with even the scientists taking several whacks before they go limp. This suits the manic feel of the combat, which emphasizes disabling particularly nasty enemies such as flamethrower-wielders or heavily-armored grunts as quickly as possible, often by knocking them into water or disabling them for a few seconds with a web projectile. Krośkiewicz says that durable enemies were a particularly key addition to the game, but they came fairly late in development. “In early versions, the enemies would basically just die as soon as you touched them, or with a single attack,” he says. “We learned pretty quickly that that wasn’t very fun.”
Though there are certainly advantages to your monstrous form, things aren’t always so easy. In particular, your vast chitinous mass can present problems when you try to fit through tight spaces. This means that you need to switch between various “modes” by crawling into hives that you’ve created, which also double as checkpoints. While your largest form might allow you to dash through obstacles, such as flimsy 2x4s, it also presents a much bigger target for your enemies to shoot, which makes stealth a desirable option. Since each of these forms has a unique way of overcoming obstacles that block your path, you need to master all of them in order to escape from each level and wreak vengeance on your creators.
While it’s certainly not for everyone, “Carrion” brings a legitimately nightmarish twist on the classic “Metroidvania” formula, and it’ll certainly make quite an impression on its final release sometime in 2020. Krośkiewicz puts it best: “We love horror games, but we wanted to show that it can sometimes be fun to be the creature that’s hiding in the dark. There’s something very cool and satisfying about that, and I think it comes across in the game.”