From the start, I’ll admit that I have mixed feelings about the H.P. Lovecraftian puzzle suspense game, Conarium. Developed by Zoetrope Interactive and published by Iceberg Interactive, Conarium isn’t the average horror game as you would expect it to be. Being trapped and isolated on the arctic ring, you would think, would make for a brilliant horror setting, but unfortunately this game is more like a walking simulator, with horror elements and some puzzles thrown in. This, of course, doesn’t make the game at all terrible.
You, as Frank Gilman, open your eyes inside a room filled with strange, pulsating noises. Patterns of lights executing a dense macabre on the walls is presented by a queer device on the table. Having recalled nothing other than that you’re in Upuaut, an Antarctic base located near the South Pole, you find the place deserted and have a distinct feeling of something being terribly wrong. Somehow knowing that your memories cannot guide you enforces a strange feeling of vulnerability, a familiar yet alien sensation of being a part of a peculiar whole.
Soon you will discover that having used the device during the expedition, you have died, but then returned subtly changed, speaking of strange memories and of strange places. You have lost something important, or, gained something sinister. The game is based on; as said earlier, a short novel written by H.P. Lovecraft called ‘At The Mountain Of Madness’ and tells the story of a scientist trying to remember where and what he was searching for at an archaeological dig around the arctic ring. Also searching for other signs of life, you traipse forward slowly, descending into the mountain to unravel the mystery.
As you regain consciousness, you find yourself in the barracks of your team’s site. Cold and with no power, you must follow the signs; pointing and clicking your way through draws and cupboards looking for clues and keys to allow you access to new areas and continue on through the game. As you move into new spaces, you’re presented with a ‘sense’ of things that have happened, and short cinematics of ghost-like apparitions will appear to guide you along your path, or to reveal hidden clues if you listen well.
You also reveal clues by talking into a walkie-talkie you pick up at the start, you can trigger your own call-sign which rarely gets a response, or it will activate another piece of a puzzle or clue to progress with a static, snowy response from your lost team. As you progress, you begin to lose your mind, which makes you hear things you normally wouldn’t want to. There is sort of an enemy presence in the game; added for shock value mostly. In typical style, this octopus creature-like civilization invades your mind and has the power to bring mummified corpses to life – which also adds an element of surprise, but rarely can they hurt you.
The game also has a heap of puzzles along the way and although not too difficult, helps to break up the walking around factor. These usually involve finding a handle to a machine or a simple door puzzle of going through the right door to continue on. Throughout the areas you can also find these crystals which can harness the power of the sun in your hands, ultimately helping you clear vines and roots to allow passage to another area. Some puzzles also require you to light a certain staff to keep an area open while you look around, and then leave again.
Action isn’t a big part of Conarium. Apart from the occasional chase scene, and by occasional I mean one, the story is where the suspense comes from, explaining how ancient carvings and strange sun spheres are used to power these old relics of the past. You receive a pretty impressive fire axe to use on walls and broken bricks to clear pathways, but unfortunately that is all. The graphics are X Enhanced and HDR, in which the game looks beautiful running on the Xbox One X, with waterfalls and brilliantly made rock formations and ruins really capturing the essence of the story. In my opinion, I wish there was a little more horror to sink my teeth into, a few more enemies or interactions would have helped.
The sound was also very impressive, especially in regards to earthquakes and tremors, falling rocks and snowstorms. That’s not to mention a brilliant voice cast. It’s safe to say that this is a true experience for the hardcore Lovecraftians of the world, as they will benefit the most from this title. If I had to compare, I would put this one up there with Dear Esther. Gone Home would be another good. Much to be expected for a game of this kind, it’s not overly long at all. That said, if you’re a true fan, you will love the kraken-carved statues that fill the ruins, or the H.P. lore that runs with reading books and notes. If that is indeed you, then you’ll get a sure kick from Conarium.
Exploration is key here, and that certainly shows throughout the game. At one point, you’re in control of a submarine, rising and dipping through rock formations underwater. It’s a short lived moment, but fun all the same. By the end of the whole experience, you have a choice of how you want to end the story, which will give you multiple endings and a rather weird ending at that. I wouldn’t expect anything else from H.P. – the writing of a madman could lead you anywhere. There are some pretty easy achievement points here, such as walking off the map etc.. but also a couple of tricky ones that need multiple play-throughs to unlock. I’ll leave those to the hardcore players.
Conarium is certainly one for the fans of H.P. Lovecraft, despite the fact that it’s less of a traditional horror, and more of a puzzler with elements of suspense present. That said, the game does a wonderful job at presenting a dark and eerie story that follows in the footsteps of its source material, complete with a great setting and several nods to its inspirations. Unfortunately, however, its slow pace and its short length holds it back quite a bit.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.