H.P. Lovecraft is one of the first weird fiction authors that I read as a kid. Other luminary authors within the venerable and mostly forgotten genre include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, M.R. James, and Edgar Allen Poe, to name a few. Weird fiction (since hardly anyone has heard of it) is a genre that blended several other genres into its fold, and includes shades of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. This was before horror became known strictly as horror and from there got divided up into lots of cutesy little subgenres, such as slasher, psychological, and so on.
With this in mind, I’ve been in a state of bafflement after reading many of the reviews on Zoetrope Interactive’s new game, Conarium. In an age where everyone is running around recording videos of themselves getting freaked out by cheap jump scare games, and then uploading them to YouTube in order to see how many hits they can get (complete with the typical goofy faced thumbnails on said videos), game reviewers seem equally baffled by this title. But let’s talk about the game first…
Conarium is an attempt to capture the essence of H.P. Lovecraft’s fertile imagination, and to that end it largely succeeds. Instead of starting off with some hackneyed plane crash, mass murder scene, or some other such loud and noisy gimmick, Conarium sets off subtly, and gradually escalates with a slow burn.
Conarium is the sequel to one of Lovecraft’s most famous works, At The Mountains of Madness. For those who are unfamiliar with the source material, it tells the tale of a team of scientists who took an expeditionary trip to the frigid wastes of Antarctica in order to perform research. It is alluded to that the team, led by Dr. William Dyer, encounter some form of malevolent forces there which are so terrible that he ordered his team to seal off the area, and attempted to erase any evidence of the team even being there. In other words: They covered their tracks so that whatever horrors they discovered would remain hidden from humanity.
Of course, years later a group of intrepid researchers decide to track down the mysteriously vanished research expedition in order to discern what happened to them. The games starts off with you stepping into the shoes of Frank Gilman, one of the men who was part of the search team. You wake up dazed and confused, and lacking any memories as to what has transpired. You quickly discover that you are in Upuaut, which is a sprawling underground research base located in the Antarctic.
You also soon realize that something has gone horribly wrong, and that you may not be alone. One of the things that I initially noticed about playing Conarium is that it really evokes the creepy atmosphere of Lovecraft’s novels—strange things stir in the darkness just out of sight, bizarre sounds can be heard just barely above the hum of machinery. The developers completely nailed the sense of impending doom that Lovecraft’s stories are known for.
From your mysterious entry point, you must guide Frank throughout the Antarctic base, uncovering various clues in order to discover what exactly happened there, as well as finding out the murky secrets that the original research team tried so hard to cover up.
Only by exploring the Antarctic base, finding clues and gathering snippets of information, can you then find out the secrets that the original exploration team tried so hard to keep hidden away. There are also many puzzles present in the game that need to be solved in order to advance to different areas of the research base. Although most of the puzzles are logically implemented into the environments, sometimes I did run up against a wall or two. You have various items that you collect during your travels, such as handles, keys, and the like, but at certain points I didn’t know where I could utilize them.
This in turn resulted in what happens with many frustrating adventure/puzzle games that I have played in the past, in which I had to try and use everything within my inventory with every environment that I came across. Needless to say, this can normally become quite tedious, but fortunately for Conarium, these instances were pretty rare. Most of the times, the puzzles make sense and/or were relatively easy to figure out.
The game’s story is primarily told through the numerous audio logs that Frank comes across. While the voice acting contained within these logs is pretty good overall, Frank’s own voice acting sort of falls flat in places. But since the atmosphere present in the game is so spooky and immersive, this never really became an issue for me.
As stated previously, the works of H.P. Lovecraft are considered weird fiction, a precursor to horror, which many people don’t seem to be aware of for whatever reasons. Therefore, it doesn’t play like your typical YouTube jump scare fare, but rather is more in line with adventure or thriller games. However, there are plenty of horror aspects to it, but they are more of the disturbing and mysterious variety rather than being gory and trite.
Conarium’s graphics are well suited for what the game is trying to convey—a creepy, fear-inducing mood modeled after the works of Mr. Lovecraft. Too a large extent, they accomplish this quite well, and there were many times when I was hesitant to open certain doors or peek around certain dark corners. The sound department also really nailed it. They give you a sense that all is not normal within the research base. You’ll hear strange creeks and groans from time to time, or some odd sounds emitted behind certain doors, for instance. They really creeped me out.
Conarium is a no-brainer for fans of Lovecraft’s work, but I also think that it’ll appeal to gamers who love a good adventure or thriller experience as well. It’s well thought-out, decently paced, morbid in tone, and makes you think about it long after you’ve played it. I would definitely recommend giving this one a try.
Conarium features graphics that are more than good enough to wow your friends with. However, you want to have a pretty beefy gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:
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