Conarium – Review
Follow Genre: Horror game
Developer: Zoetrope Interactive
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
Platform: Switch, PC, PS4, Xbox One
Tested on: Switch

Conarium – Review

Site Score
8.3
Good: An atmospheric horror experience that stays true to the spirit of Lovecraft's stories
Bad: Feels overpriced for such a short game
User Score
9.0
(1 votes)
Click to vote
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Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)

As we mentioned in our review for The Innsmouth Case, fans of esteemed horror author H.P. Lovecraft have plenty of choices when it comes to video games on the Switch. The latest addition to the lineup is Conarium, a port of a 2017 PC game. With the promise of a deep and suspense-filled Lovecraftian story filled with easter eggs and multiple endings, developer Zoetrope Interactive certainly has set a high bar, but does Conarium deliver? 

Story

True to the spirit of Lovecraft, the game’s ending -which we won’t spoil, for obvious reasons- is drenched in mystery and there is a good chance you’ll be even more confused after completing Conarium than you were at the start of the game. The game’s story isn’t just inspired by Lovecraft’s writings but acts as a sequel of sorts to the 1931 novella At the Mountains of Madness. Reading the novella before you start playing Conarium isn’t required but it does provide you with a better understanding of the events that unfold during your playthrough. The opening cutscene sets the tone, with a dream-like sequence set underwater, after which protagonist Frank Gilman finds himself waking up in the presence of a mysterious device. Gilman turns out to be at Upuaut base in Antarctica. There is no trace of the research team that is supposed to be at the base and there is a mysterious device strapped to Gilman’s hand. With no knowledge of what happened, and left to his own devices, it is up to Gilman to figure out what happened at the base, and how he can get out of this mind-boggling situation.  

Graphics

Conarium might not boast the most impressive graphics out there, but developer Zoetrope interactive used some clever trickery to enhance the game’s visuals without having to push the Switch to its limits. For starters, a large part of the environment feels repetitive, but this makes sense given the setting of an arctic base, which would use only the most basic elements for its construction rather than attempt to be an architectural marvel. Throughout the game, a blizzard is raging outside, so the windows are covered in snow. While you’re outside, the visuals become blurry, in order to simulate the decreased visibility caused by the heavy weather. Clever lighting also manages to hide a large part of the game’s lack of visual details. The creativity and thought that was put into getting the most out of the game’s simplistic graphics are impressive. 

Sound

Most of the exploration of the Upuaut base is accompanied by the sounds of the environment as well as the howling of the blizzard raging outside. The game makes excellent use of this soundscape to draw players in even further. While there is music present in the game, it is low-key and serves more as an underscore to the game rather than taking the front stage. Additionally, the game features full voice acting as well, although a logical consequence of Gilman being by himself means that he doesn’t have a lot to say. It’s highly recommended that you play the game with headphones to really immerse yourself in the game’s mysterious atmosphere. 

Gameplay

Conarium is a Lovecraftian first-person horror game that puts you directly in Gilman’s shoes. While Conarium is a horror game, it’s not a survival horror game. The gameplay mainly revolves around solving environmental puzzles in order to progress through the story. As an example, one of your first tasks is to restore power to the base, which involves going to a separate building outside in order to restart the generator. This seemingly basic task is more complicated than it seems, as you’ll need to navigate through a blizzard and figure out why the circuit breakers aren’t responding. Tasks like these might not seem very exciting. However, these mundane tasks add a degree of realism and contrast nicely with the mysterious and supernatural things that are happening. No matter how simple a task may be, the idea that unnatural elements are present ensures that Conarium never feels relaxing. 

If you’re expecting an action-packed experience, then Conarium will end up disappointing you, but if you’re looking for a slow-paced experience that successfully succeeds in being unnerving, then this game might be up your alley. This isn’t a game that will appeal to the mainstream audience, but if you’re in the right mindset and are prepared for a lot of reading, then you’ll find yourself on a gripping and engaging journey. The majority of the backstory is explained through various snippets of text that are found as Gilman makes his way through Upuaut base. These include service announcements on the cork boards that litter the walls, diary fragments and other writings. Conarium really depends on the player reading these fragments for complete immersion. If you decide not to bother with reading these, then you’ll lose out on a significant part of what the story is about. 

For all the things Conarium does right, there is one major flaw and that is how short the game is. A playthrough of Conarium will take you roughly 3 to 5 hours. The game has multiple endings, and there are also hidden collectibles to pick up along the way. These increase longevity and replayability, but overall, you’re still not getting a lot of bang for your buck here, especially since the game is a port of a nearly four-year-old PC title. Subsequent playthroughs will also be significantly shorter as you’ll have figured out how to solve the puzzles. As such, the €16.99 price is a little steep, and €9.99 seems like a much more appropriate price point. 

Conclusion

While there have been a lot of Lovecraft-inspired games in recent years, most of them simply ram Cthulhu in an unrelated title and call it a day. Conarium, however, stays true to the spirit of Lovecraft’s writings and to At the Mountains of Madness in particular. The game is a tad too short for its price point, but if you can get past that, you’ll find that there is a lot to like here. If you’re a fan of Lovecraftian horror, then you owe it to yourself to play Conarium.

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Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)
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Conarium - Review, 9.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating
SebastiaanRaats


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