Lovecraftian style media is hard to pull off right. So many creators of books, movies, and most guilty of all video games tend to mistake the term “Lovecraftian” as horror with confusing routes and the occassional Great Old One/Cthulu based threats. Coming on the heels of another game that claimed to be Lovecraftian and disappointed me, comes Conarium from Zoetrope Interactive ammd Iceberg Interactive and having been keeping a careful eye on community interaction and seeing where the game was going in development had me intrigued. This is our Conarium review.
The way the developers have been interacting with curious gamers on Steam, showed me that they know their stuff. I was eager to see if their knowledge of Lovecraft, and their inspiration to pay homage to the events of At The Mountains Of Madness, would pay off or if it would be another title to fall to it’s own ambitions. An eager descent into a cold, dark madness by the developers and I was ready to follow right behind them.
Mysteries In The Depths
A chilling memory, Frank Gilman operates a small personal submarine through the dark waters of an ancient Antarctic ruin. As he traverses the depths, he encounters something horrific and just as his world goes dark he sees a light. So begins Frank’s twisted adventure through the expedition he was apart of. What happened to him? To his friends and colleagues? Frank is a nearly blank slate, hit with amnesia he needs to desperately put the pieces back together if he is to retain his sanity and solve questions of the unknowns that lurk in the winding halls deep below the ice, and in the uncertainty of his own mind.
From a plot perspective, it’s a pretty solid homage to Lovecraft. There’s plenty of backstory to be had for Frank, his colleagues, and the often unseen but implied threat.
From a gameplay perspective, it’s a slow burn and while that’s fine for me it may be offputting for some. If you’re looking for Outlast or Amnesia, move on. Most of the horror is derived from the environment, the tenseness of the obscure situation, and that uneasy feeling of being watched. It’s a psychological horror, and now and then there are moments where a jump scare can be snuck in, but for the most part it’s the literal Lovecraft brand of horror; creepy and dark, but not in your face with the threat of death constantly. There are some moments like that, but not a near constant like recent horror titles tend to favor.
Dark Eye Candy
Conarium really is a feast to look at. Up close to certain objects, textures suffer slightly as is a common plague in many games but as long as you’re not right next to them they look fantastic. Lighting, shadows, the environments themselves. Area by area, I felt taken in by the dark beauty of the world. From more human settings of warm, inviting quarters with frosted windows and a lived-in feel to the stone laced and curved hallways and arches of an ancient civilization. Soft glows of eldritch devices, natural light sources and unnatural, cast beautiful shadows upon the settings that really drive home that thin line between the knowns and unknowns.
It’s almost like an allegory for man’s need to tamper with things best left alone when it all comes together and that’s just from the visual presentation. The story itself sets the stage, but the visuals really drive it home. The homage to At The Mountains of Madness is as present as Dr. Dwyer’s unheeded warnings were, as it becomes clear this is more of a decades-late sequel to the story that Lovecraft never elaborated upon.
Dream No More
Conarium has pleasantly surprised me, this is as close to a true Lovecraftian experience I’ve had in a game in a long time. The atmosphere, the story, it comes together in such a way that it’s a very good homage (and I insist, nearly a sequel) to At The Mountains of Madness that spares no expense to pull the player in and make them feel enraptured by this dark fantasy. However, it also plays it a bit too safe. In an effort not to misuse the Lovecraftian lable, I personally feel that the developers stuck too closely to the shoreline without delving a bit more into the horror aspect.
There are gut turning moments, there are a few jumpscares involving the eldritch horrors we would come to expect, but when I say few I mean that in every sense of the word. The game could’ve used several more moments offering up a life-or-death fear factor to help elevate it passed a creepy mystery without going overboard and feeling too similar to mainstream horror titles. Perhaps I’m just being too picky, but don’t let this complaint change your opinion overall on the game as it certainly didn’t change mine; Conarium is a damned treat, and even as bleak an individual as H.P. Lovecraft was, I think he’d be proud that his works inspired this.