Conarium is a single player camera-driven puzzle/adventure game with Lovecraftian inspired horror elements. It is developed by Zoetrope Interactive and published by Iceberg Interactive. It is currently available on the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC via Steam.
Conarium is played very similarly to many other adventure games with heavy puzzle elements. Since it is camera driven, everything largely takes place in the first perspective. You’ll take control of one Frank Gilman, a member of an Antarctic expedition team with mental maladies including amnesia. There is no real action to be had in terms of platforming or button-mashing sequences, but Conarium places you in many puzzling, creepy, and troubling situations which are enjoyable to anyone who loves Lovecraft or mysteries in general.
As you explore the expedition site alone and confused, you will run into various events and clues which help unravel the mysteries of the base. Most of these will be innocuous, and will take the form of letters, objects, and books. You can also examine these items by rotating them for additional observations. Some of these objects are collectibles, some of which have an obvious relevance and those which do not.
You’ll also take possession of several items to aid in your progression. Just about all of them are to advance the story in meaningful ways. Many of them, such as refueling a generator are obvious while others are less clear and may take a bit to find out what their relations.
One of my favorite parts of Conarium was the various scenery. From a base with frigid and stormy surroundings to a subterranean murky depth. All of these scenes are very indicative of Lovecraftian lore and scenery.
The setting of Conarium does attempt an occasional jump scare, but most of the horror element is from the deeply Lovecraftian “unknown” aspect. Those who enjoy reading mystery, sci-fi, and other dark novels will get a lot more out of Conarium than someone looking for scares from a slasher flick. If you’re willing to explore all of the nooks and crannies of the Upuaut expedition’s macabre footprints, you’ll find the experience to be more rewarding. That being said, you may spend some time stuck in exploration loops since there is no map and you may miss objects of interest needed for progression. Conarium isn’t always straightforward and if you’re easily frustrated, it may be painful at times.
As Frank Gilman, you will explore the depths of the Upuaut Antarctic expedition and attempt to learn the fate of the missing explorers. After waking with severe memory issues, Frank will run into scenes, settings, and objects which cause him pain. Some of these will grant him visions which will aid in locating the truth behind the expedition. There is also limited contact with some individuals at specific intervals, but otherwise, Frank is isolated.
That feeling of isolation, mystery, and dread is really the hallmark of many Lovecraftian stories and Conarium does a great job of telling the tale. Without spoiling the story, any rabid Lovecraft fan should enjoy sinking their teeth into the plot. Non-fans will still enjoy a dark themed mystery laced with cryptic puzzling elements.
“I believe that no longer can we harbor ourselves to the safest shores for there are things that cannot be undone!”
Much of Conarium’s story is relayed through the visions you’ll have as you progress deeper into the unknown. The further you explore, the more unsettling and subterranean the scenery gets. To understand more of the bigger picture, you’ll want to read the items you’ll find in desks, on walls, and in many other common places. Some of these however, are hidden well and may take good angles or crouching to find. There are also two endings to Conarium which are the result of a choice towards the end of the game.
Admittedly, the Switch’s analog sticks are my least favorite of any system or controller, so I will admit that I am biased in my dislike of them. Since Conarium is camera driven, stiffness is a killer. Thankfully there are options for look sensitivity. Otherwise the game handles just fine and I never ran into any issues.
Another option I found intriguing was a silent mode. Silent mode keeps the protagonist from talking to himself. This affects the game by making your next move less obvious as Frank will not blurt out the next step.
I found the graphics in Conarium to tell the story incredibly well. Every stage and setting looked exactly how I would expect an area to be described in a novel. The touch of Lovecraft themed mysticism was oft portrayed in the game’s textures, lighting, and shadows which I found to be not only convincing, but rather enjoyable to look at. Some things like plants and certain biological growth were a little less fleshed out, but overall nothing detracted from the scene-selling. The most important aspect of graphics is how they help tell the story and Conarium does an good job in this instance.
Sound was hit and miss for me. For the most part is does extremely well. For instance, the underwater bells and whistles and lo-fi recordings were phenomenal and had a lot of attention to detail. Any time there’s a vision or scene where the adrenaline ramps up, the sound comes through in exemplary form. Other aspects, like footsteps have far less attention to detail which strikes me as very odd by comparison since you have a lot of potential to exemplify the qualities of each area with accurate sounding steps.
The voice acting could be great at times, and then would hit odd strides throughout the game. By the time you think you have a handle on Gilman’s accent, he comes out of left field with an oddly pronounced word leaving you guessing yet again. The “I don’t remember where my keys aaaaare.” line was a shining example. Dr. Fausts’ transmissions were very fitting however and did a great job of portraying the era. Since immersion in story based games is important, Gilman’s accent detracted from the experience a bit but it was never too unbearable or at overly cringe levels.
The music in Conarium is ambient and only present when used to set a scene. Otherwise the game is largely silent. Though I’m usually not a fan of this approach, it tends to work here in the interest of promoting a dark ambiance which is pivotal in this genre. The occasional somber piano piece was very haunting and beautiful and quite fitting for the atmosphere.
Overall, the game knows what it is and doesn’t try to stray from the path. Conarium tells a Lovecraftian tale well, using dreary lighting, somber sound, and an darkened ambient presence that the Elder Things themselves would be proud of. While Conarium doesn’t break the mold in any way, fans of Lovecraft’s writing or mystery-themed games will find themselves having a great time.