Title: Conarium Review
Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Version Tested: PC
Where To Buy: Steam, Xbox Store, PlayStation Store ($19.99)
“You are just air.” – Mechanical Frank Gilman
Fans of H.P. Lovecraft need not fear (well… maybe a little), for the game inspired by the author’s chilling novel, At the Mountains of Madness, is worthy of being called a descendent from the horror novelist’s years of greatness. Conarium blends adventure, horror, and puzzle-like gameplay into a beautiful piece of art. You’ll find yourself terrified, in awe, and bewildered at the visions of Frank Gilman’s puzzling past as he uncovers the truth about what’s going on within the haunted Antarctic base in which he and his other scientist friends discovered the ultimate limits of nature. The game’s story, though, ends up being its greatest and worst aspect.
After Frank Gilman wakes up with no memory of what has happened to him, he must traverse through the Antarctic base in which he and his team of scientists set up shop. As he comes to find, nothing is as it seems and the unknown is sometimes better left as a secret. Frank becomes haunted by cryptic memories and vivid hallucinations of an ancient alien race that lived on Earth well before the Humans. After making his way through a series of mysteriously lit caverns and haunted tombs, Franks comes to find that he and his team of scientists may have overstepped the boundary that separates normal human perception and the limits of a haunting reality.
Conarium is a video game that will chill you down to your core. As you travel through the dimly lit caverns under the Antarctic base, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Even before you reach that section of the game, there are parts that’ll creep you out to the point where you’ll feel your blood turn. I think what Zoetrope Interactive has done is create an environment that not only looks realistic but feels it too. Having the game built with Unreal Engine makes the environment look pretty real, so, therefore, the fear feels real. When taking into account that the game is of the indie genre, this aspect is especially impressive.
The sounds and music also set you up for a terrifying experience. For example, when you get down to the caverns you’ll consistently be haunted by the sound of rocks falling, and since you know it’s a horror game, you’ll find yourself turning towards the noise in fear that something is following you. The soundtrack plays to the beat of the game, but perfectly so that it doesn’t ruin an incoming shock. Play with your headphones in, but with the lights on. Otherwise, you may just go crazy like Frank.
There are some terrifying elements to the game that make it worth playing, especially if you’re into the survival horror genre or H.P. Lovecraft in general. The story follows its source material as closely as you could expect from a video game, making for not only a terrifying experience but also an enjoyable one. The notes and journals you find add further depth to the game. You’ll be left on the edge of your seat waiting to discover what happens at the climax of the story, more so if you haven’t read At the Mountains of Madness.
As great as the story is, I felt that it ended on an anti-climatic note. You’re crapping your pants throughout most of the game until you reach The Mansion for the second time, and then everything sort of dies down after that. There become fewer thrills and, instead, more of an exposition to fill the holes left by the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the rest of his team. Although the story finished strongly with a shocking twist (depending on the ending you choose; hint, there are two), I felt that I should’ve been more terrified at the final act of a video game that haunted me throughout its entirety.
The puzzles that you’re required to solve are more of obstacles than anything else. There’s no real challenge to them. In a way that’s a bad thing and a good thing. Tough challenges could’ve frustrated players more because the game is meant to be of the survival horror genre. But I also thought that more challenging puzzles could’ve boosted the fear-inducing effect the game had, especially if paired with a situation that required you to solve a puzzle while trying to escape a haunting situation. I did like the fact that some of the secrets scattered through the game required you to solve some of these relatively easy puzzles because that at least made the trophies feel like achievements worth discovering.
In conclusion, Conarium is worth the $20 you’ll spend on it for the scares alone. The Lovecraftian nature of the story will leave you wishing Frank and his team of scientists never got themselves mixed up with the arcane arts of these alien life forms, and you’ll have no problem knowing when the climax of the story hits you. Easy puzzles and an anti-climatic ending, though, brought my score down because these aspects of the game could’ve been improved to make Conarium an even more terrifying experience. If you like your horror mixed with a dab of science fiction, this game inspired by H.P. Lovecraft is just for you.
Verdict: Conarium is a terrifying experience that must be played at least once before you die. If not for following its source material At the Mountains of Madness with a masterful hand, at least for the thrills and excellent story that the game has to offer. Although one of it’s key selling points, the story of the game ended on an anti-climatic note, and for a survival horror video game, I thought that it could’ve ended with more thrills and fewer puzzles. While on the topic, the puzzles were relatively easy and watered down my experience a little bit, but did prove worthy when paired with some of the more difficult secrets to find.