“I am forced into speech because men of science have refused to follow my advice without knowing why”, begins H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, a cautionary tale portending the consequences of man’s lust for power and knowledge. Taking place after the novella’s events, Conarium centres around four scientists in their endeavour to probe the limits of nature, transcending human consciousness using the titular device.
Awaking alone from a strange vision in the Antarctic research base Upuaut, you play as Frank Gillman, one of the four scientists. With the ethereal glow of the conarium illuminating the room, you scour the barren base for clues of your peer’s whereabouts. Diaries, notes, illustrations, and photos provide the majority of the storytelling; fevered accounts of the expedition share insights into the unearthly things the group uncovered as they probed the unknown depths of the Antarctic.
The mystery constructed is an intriguing one; the bewildered hyperbole of written accounts befitting of Lovecraftian fiction while authentically capturing the allure of cosmic horror. Descending ever deeper into the ancient chambers below, visions begin apparating before you, rendering some semblance of the expedition and the fate of your peers. The same florid language pervades the dialogue, yet weak voice acting makes this melodrama unconvincing, feeling stiff and amateur.
Rendered in Unreal Engine 4, environments are rich and detailed with a strong aesthetic remaining cohesive from the cluttered halls of the facility to the arcane chambers below. A thick, ominous atmosphere is omnipresent, heightened by an excellent use of lighting, percolating the oddly soothing, methodical gameplay with a constant sense of unease. While some enemies do pose the threat of death, Conarium is much more a walking simulator and puzzle game than it is a survival horror.
Puzzles are intelligently designed for the most part, although a lack of direction can make their solutions overly obtuse. Trial and error is often the course of action, leading you to run around combing every inch of the environment for clues or objects to aid you. Despite this vagueness, puzzles are generally satisfying and rarely become too frustrating, although I did have to reference a guide a few times to prompt my progress.
Narrative wise, I found myself increasingly engrossed in finding out just what happened on the expedition and just what esoteric oddities they had discovered. Both of the game’s ending are equal odd and nebulous, appropriate for this breed of fiction yet a little to abstract and unresolved to be satisfying. This story’s minutiae are what make it so gripping, and the journey is ultimately greater than the destination. At around 3 hours in length, this brief tale is well paced, reaching its conclusion before dragging on too long, while collectibles and an extensive bibliography of lore encourage a second playthrough.
Created by three developers at Turkish studio Zeotrope Interactive, Conarium is an impressive experience which stands out among the increasingly popular genre of Lovecraftian horror. While it does not quite compare to contemporaries like Call of Cthulu or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, both of which it is clearly influenced by, it tells a unique, compelling tale, rich with atmosphere and eldritch intrigue.
Conarium PS4 Review
Overall - 7/10
Rich with ominous atmosphere and convincing Lovecraftian lore, Conarium is a brief but engrossing experience hampered by some weak voice acting, inconsistent storytelling and overly vague puzzles.
– Gorgeous environment and art design
– Tense, ominous atmosphere
– Intelligent puzzles
– Thoroughly Lovecraftian
– Poor voice acting
– Some overly vague objectives
Reviewed using PS4 Pro.
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