Discussing the creature design in his gruesome 1982 adaptation of The Thing – a movie which, incidentally, opens with Kurt Russell losing his shit over a computer game – John Carpenter once observed that “I didn’t want to end up with a guy in a suit”. It’s a pitfall many so-called “reverse-horror” games tumble into. You Are The Monster, goes the premise, but does that really mean anything beyond a squelchy skinjob, wrapped around the same old anthropocentric understanding of the world and what it means to act and thrive within it? Even the Alien, horror’s apex killer, rarely seems that alien when you slip inside its head in Alien vs Predator, nimble and deadly yet reassuringly bipedal, a pack hunter with binocular vision and the usual appendages.
It’s to Carrion’s great credit, then, that the monster it turns you into is so aggressively inhuman, though I’m not sure the game’s wider design quite delivers on its abhorrence. A 2D pixelart game from the aptly titled Phobia Studio, it begins with you exploding from a vacuum tube deep in the bowels of a mysterious laboratory. Screams fill the air as you ricochet around the room, a squirming knot of tentacles snapping wetly in all directions, grabbing onto surfaces and bodies at random. Any human you reel in is devoured in two writhing bites – unlike the Alien, the creature only has a jaw when it needs one – your body swelling and deforming as the victim’s biomass becomes your own.
Unleashed upon an underground maze of ransacked temples, nuclear reactors, weapons factories and waste disposal sites, all of civilisation’s sins packed into a single, winding ossuary, you must track down other vacuum tubes containing pieces of your flesh, gaining abilities with which to overcome hazards and obstacles in finest Metroidvania tradition. Along the way you’ll infest evenly spaced wall fissures to create spawn points, slowly corrupting the architecture till you can burst through a central door into another region. This straightforward campaign framework is the game’s big letdown – it gives this avalanche of inchoate flesh a disappointingly human spine. But as games built around ability-gating go, Carrion is solidly wrought, and the monster is revolting enough to keep you locked-on when the puzzles threaten to bore.