You awake alone in an empty room. Your head is swimming. Bizarre lights fill the air, casting strange shadows in even stranger colours. And you have no memories of where you are. Of how you got there. Of why you’re even there.
That would be bad enough for anyone to deal with, but it’s even worse when you’re in one of the most inhospitable places on the planet: Antarctica. With no chance of rescue, you have no choice but to push forward to regain your past and find out just what happened to everyone else in the Upuaut research station.
Originally titled “Mountains of Madness”, Conarium is a Lovecraftian adventure game developed by Zoetrope Interactive and originally released on PC way back in 2017. 2019 saw the game hit PS4 and Xbox One and now it’s made it’s way to Nintendo’s Switch.
Taking on the role of Frank Gilman, a researcher at said station, players have to explore the environment in first-person while solving puzzles and piecing the missing pieces together through diaries, notes and the strange visions that Frank occasionally has. Right from the get-go, Conarium throws you into the deep end of Lovecraft mythology, combining many of his most famous stories such as At The Mountains of Madness, The Nameless City and From Beyond, with various pieces of his other stories such as The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and Call of Cthulhu on cameo duty.
Like most walking sim and adventure games, Conarium is more interested in telling a story that links all of these various pieces of Lovecraft together with the various puzzles playing second fiddle to the narrative, set dressing and atmosphere. The game aims to entrench you in a sense of isolation and loneliness while the level of weird ratchets up around you with each new area you enter. The central conceit of Conarium, the desire to transcend the physically mundane and breakthrough space-time and human limitation, is used to present memories of the past to you, aiming to make you question what’s real and what isn’t. As a Weird Tale brought to life, Conarium embraces the pulpiness inherent in most Lovecraftian fiction but doesn’t truly reach the level of outre that it could or truly explore the themes as in-depth either. Most of the metaphysical heavy lifting is left to you to ponder, especially when presented with at least one of the games two endings.
Where the game succeeds immensely is in embracing the human need for exploration and discovery, the idea of finding the remnants of long lost and possibly alien civilisations and descending into their depths. As such most of the history of the civilisations you encounter is couched in murals while the architecture itself veers from cubic to slightly Giger-ish.
Here too Conarium exceeds for its set dressing is superb. The architecture through the various alien cities you explore is fantastic. It may not reach truly Cyclopean heights but it is stellarly realised and makes for some fantastic areas to walk through and explore. This is in no small part due to the development teams art design and the fact that they’ve managed to port an Unreal Engine 4 game to the Switch and keep it visually stunning. Not having played the PC versions – it was a slideshow on my ageing laptop – or the console versions, I can’t compare them to the Switch version to make a definitive assessment over which assets have been tweaked.
Despite the life-threatening nature of your predicament, outside of one experience, Conarium doesn’t have a sense of urgency to it. Exploration, soaking in the atmosphere, is the name of the game. The languid pace may put some off though, but if you’re looking at getting this or interested in this genre at all, high urgency isn’t at the top of your list.
The game’s puzzles aren’t difficult though. Keen exploration of the environment will give you all the clues you need to solve them. I never found myself at an impasse or stumped at any time. For the most part, they were a nice diversion from all the looking and staring that makes up the bulk of the game.
While I did wish that the developers had chosen to limit just how much of Lovecraft’s work they could fit into one game, overall I enjoyed the experience and the story that Zoetrope was telling. The atmosphere created by the alien environments along with some solid voice acting leads to an entertaining and immersive experience that would not be out of place in a Weird Tales issue.
You can purchase Conarium here for £14.99 minus any disocunts
Conarium was Developed by Zoetrope Interactive and Published by Iceberg Interactive
Conarium is available on the following Platforms Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC.
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