H.P. Lovecraft is a name which the majority of people will recognise instantly. His most popular works of fiction are based around Cthulhu, a beast with tentacles on its face who resides within the ocean awaiting the summoning from its dedicated worshipers. However, Lovecraft also wrote other fictional stories set within the same universe yet with a variety of otherworldly beings and disturbing entities. One such story was At the Mountains of Madness, a tale set within the Antartic and the inspiration for Zoetrope Interactive‘s Conarium.
Although the game takes a lot of inspiration from the novella above, it’s mainly set after the events had happened, yet you don’t need to know anything about Lovecraft’s story as you’ll uncover the information as you progress. We’ve seen a few Lovecraftian inspired games recently from Call of Cthulhu to Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics, but Conarium is the one which left me feeling the most uneasy, let’s find out why…
I don’t want to dive into the story of Conarium too much, as half the fun of the game is uncovering what has happened and wtf is going on both to yourself and others around you. However, I’ll explain the first ten minutes or so. Frank Gilman is our protagonist, a member of an expedition who had gone to the Antartic in order to uncover and research strange markings and beings which were found deep within the ice. However, upon your awakening, you find yourself in a small room with a strange mechanical device activated upon the table. It appears to be spinning and shining lights, all of which are giving you the biggest headache!
Unable to recall what had happened, you search the rest of the base for your fellow crew members yet all you can find are empty cabins and no sign of life. Well, no sign of life apart from a few ghostly apparitions which you catch a glimpse of as you explore the confined rooms. Through the documents you find, the items you look at, and the headache-inducing memories you recall, you’ll begin to piece together what the crew were up to, what you found out, what happened to your colleagues, and why you don’t feel okay and keep having visions of the past.
As previously stated, I’ve kept it vague as I believe you discovering the information for yourself will lead to a much better experience overall. However, if you’re really into your Lovecraft lore or love playing games with a supernatural and creepy vibe to them, you’re going to absolutely love what the developers have done – there is a great balance between horror and suspense along with some revelations and really interesting backstory.
But, let’s move on. As I’ve mentioned a few times, Conarium is an adventure game first and foremost with an emphasis on exploration and discovery. It reminded me a lot of the new Call of Cthulhu game only with no NPCs to interact with. As you make your way through the base and the horrors which lie beneath, you’ll be both looking for the aforementioned exposition clues as well as solving puzzles. The puzzles weren’t anything too difficult, they mainly consisted of obtaining an item to operate a device or looking for a clue elsewhere so you can figure out the combination for a lock or puzzle.
The thing I liked about the puzzles, in general, is that they were all different and you couldn’t just guess your way through them. You need to find the solution or hints in order to figure out what you need to do. This pushed you to explore more and in turn, discover more information on the lore and backstory. You do have an inventory yet you hardly pick anything up, unlike in other adventure games. So you’ll usually only have the items which you’ll be using within that particular area.
If I was to compare Conarium to other games which are out there at the moment, I would say it’s a cross between Call of Cthulhu, SOMA and Layers of Fear/>OBSERVER_. How? Well, Call of Cthulhu for its strong Lovecraftian themes and disturbing imagery, SOMA for its hiding from enemies (which I’ll get to next), and the Bloober games for their immersive horror elements that draw you in and makes you all agitated and scared throughout the whole experience (without jump scares).
As mentioned above, even though this is an adventure game, there is a rather annoying combat section in which our protagonist can’t fight. There’s a trophy for not dying on a single playthrough of the game, this is the reason why I failed at achieving this trophy. At one point, an entity appears and summons some undead creatures to chase after you, it’s up to you to evade their advances and get around them and to the exit. I absolutely suck at running away from things (IRL and in-game), so this lead to countless deaths. Eventually, I got past it by unintentionally discovering a glitch you can perform to make it a lot easier!
Just before doing this review I looked up the actual solution on YouTube, to see where I was going wrong. As I thought, you just have to take your time and go about it in a stealthy way – something I’m not very good at. So, this one part of the game did annoy and frustrate me to the point where I was going to give up, but if you’re into games where you run and hide from beings (such as SOMA, Outlast, Alien Isolation etc…) then you’ll probably be much better at it than me.
Conarium presents us with a very surreal and atmospheric world, both in terms of the audio and visuals. Above ground, everything looks very realistic and calm as the only person wandering around the base. As soon as you go down into the depths though, things become much more fantastical, alien, unusual, and demonic. The music and ambient noises adjust accordingly to create an uneasy atmosphere and the visuals look very disturbing and creepy. In terms of the actual quality though, the game looks and feels fantastic on the PlayStation 4.
If we touch on that a bit more, the real-time lighting and reflections all look superb, the texture quality is very good, the overall aesthetic is perfect for the setting the devs were going for, and the documents you find are all very realistic. The only issue I had was in the beginning as your torch isn’t very bright so it took me ages to find the can of petrol for the generator – which I felt really stupid about when I worked out where it was!
Another feature Conarium has is full support for the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X. In the settings menu, you can opt for a boost in resolution or framerate. However, just like a lot of games recently with this toggle, there is no information on what these toggles actually do. The one request I have for all developers is, if you have a toggle for favouring resolution or framerate, add a tooltip next to the option which tells you what you’re getting/sacrificing. For example, if the resolution mode is 2160p @30fps but the framerate mode is 1080p @60fps – let us know. I switched between the two modes and the resolution toggle looked a little better and clearer but the performance felt the same on both settings.
Thanks to Wccftech, The PS4 Pro runs at 1404p in resolution mode and the Xbox One X is 1728p – both with support for HDR10.
Conarium is a truly atmospheric Lovecraftian adventure game which represents the genre perfectly. Set mainly after the novella “At the Mountains of Madness”, the events that happened prior unfold as our protagonist learns of them at the same time we do through many documents and visions which are both disturbing and informative. As an adventure game, expect a lot of walking around and puzzles to solve, with a small ‘run and hide’ segment, yet the gameplay never drags as it remains suspenseful and exciting throughout the whole experience.
Fans of H.P Lovecraft, and those who just like to dabble with strange and unusual games which venture into the unknown and surreal, should check out Conarium today on either the PS4, Xbox One, or Steam.
- - Very atmospheric and disturbing
- - Great soundtrack which fits the game perfectly
- - A few very visually distinct locations with their own set of secrets and collectables
- - Multiple endings
- - A nice selection of unique puzzles which require logic to solve
- - The 'run and hide' segment was a bit irritating and annoying for me (others my get on better with it)
- - Those looking for an action-packed adventure will be disappointed as Conarium is more about exploration and discovery (not affected the score)
- - The ending I got wasn't very satisfying, I can't speak for the other endings though
- - At around five to six hours in length, the price seems a bit too much, especially when the PC version is £10 less