Fans of H. P. Lovecraft should be very familiar with his novella, At the Mountains of Madness. Although it was published in the 1930’s, this chilling tale of an expedition to the Antarctic continent by a group of scholars is still a chilling part of the Cthulhu Mythos. It is clear that indie developer, Zoetrope Interactive, are big fans of Lovecraft and his work as Conarium was inspired by his novella. However, it takes place after the original story and focuses on a character named Frank Gilman. The game opens with Frank waking up at an Antarctic base only to find the whole place deserted. As Frank is suffering from some form of amnesia, players must help him explore his surroundings and uncover what really took place as well as what happened to everyone else. Of course, as is fitting for a Lovecraftian game, the answers Frank finds might just cost him his sanity.
Conarium is a first person title that is powered by the Unreal Engine 4. Although it was created by a small indie team, you wouldn’t have guessed it by looking at the impressive visuals. There are a couple of rough spots when scrutinizing everything up close, but the overall look of the game is very good. It is also very true to the source material, so fans of Lovecraft will have a blast exploring the gameworld and uncovering all its secrets. While your adventure starts in the creep corridors of the Antarctic base, it soon progresses to an ancient city. To make things even more interesting, Frank also experiences frequents dreams and visions, which takes him to other locations and will leave you questioning his sanity.
Lovecraft was a big fan of psychological horror and this is captured very nicely in Conarium. While you do occasionally encounter monsters, and can get killed, most of the game focuses on exploration and puzzle solving. Conarium doesn’t resort to cheap jump-scares to keep you unnerved either, but manages to keep you on edge nonetheless. This is thanks mostly to your oppressive and spooky surroundings, along with the visions that Frank sometimes experiences. Lovecraft fans and those familiar with his Cthulhu Mythos will definitely get the most out of this game, but thankfully it also does a great job drawing in players who are new to this setting. This is accomplished with notes and journals that Frank can find while exploring. In addition to being very interesting to read, these notes are also worth tracking down as they contribute to your “completion rating” along with trophy items and secret areas you discover. The result is a game that really captures the atmosphere of the books and it doesn’t just feel like a horror title with some Lovecraftian elements sprinkled in.
While the visuals are outstanding for the most part, the audio is a bit more uneven. We quite enjoyed the music, which is pretty low-key, but helps to build the tension. Sound effects are also quite good and exploring your dim surroundings is a little bit more tense when you hear all kinds of strange noises in the distance. Of course, like all good games in this genre, the audio is best experienced with a decent pair of headphones to fully immerse yourself in the experience.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the voice acting, things are a little less convincing. While the actors appear to be doing their best delivering their lines in an appropriate manner for the 1930’s setting of the game, they rarely sound very natural. This does detract a little bit from the experience, but thankfully it is something that you can get used to.
The focus of Conarium is very much on exploration and puzzle solving, but this doesn’t mean that you have free reign to go wherever you want. The areas that you explore are rather large, but for the most part your path through them remains linear. There is a little backtracking here and there to find the correct keys or items to proceed, but when you get stuck the solution is often nearby. The puzzles in Conarium are also quite varied and in addition to finding keys or levers to unlock new areas you’ll also have to figure out some strange devices. The game also features a couple of chase sequences to add a little action to all the wandering about and at one point you even get to operate a submarine. It is best to take your time and thoroughly explore everything on your first playthrough as Conarium doesn’t have a lot of replay value. It can also be completed in under five hours, so anyone rushing through it would be doing themselves a disservice. The game does feature two different endings, but these are based on a single choice in the final chapter and not on your actions throughout the game. Thankfully, the game not only autosaves frequently, but you can also manually save at any time.
Anyone who is a fan of Lovecraft will definitely get a kick out of Conarium as it is one of the few games claiming to be inspired by the author’s work that actually gets it right. Players who are not fans of Lovecraft will probably not enjoy the experience as much since it is steeped so much in his mythos. However, it is also a great psychological horror in general as it doesn’t rely on jump-scares and gore to get its point across. Obviously it would be impossible to perfectly capture the fear and madness so prevalent in Lovecraft’s books using a visual medium like gaming, but Zoetrope Interactive has done a great job nonetheless.
- OS: Windows 7 64-bit
- Processor: Intel Core i3-4160 @ 3.60GHz
- Memory: 6 GB RAM
- Graphics: NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 480/570/670, ATI Radeon HD 5870/5850
- DirectX: Version 11
- Storage: 8 GB available space
- Additional Notes: Using an AMD Crossfire setup might result in performance issues. 4:3 Resolutions are not supported
- OS: Windows 7 64-bit and above
- Processor: Intel Core i5-4690K @3.50GHz or AMD FX-9370
- Memory: 8 GB RAM
- Graphics: NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 960 or AMD Radeon R7 370
- DirectX: Version 11
- Storage: 8 GB available space