Conarium is a game I’ve had on my radar for quite some time yet. Crafted by Zoetrope Interactive (who previously made the Darkness Within series), this is a game that takes all that Lovecraft held dear, stirs in some of his finest work (At the Mountains of Madness) but progresses the timeline forward to after the events of that novella, and then creates their own experience while still honoring the inspiration and influence that took them there? Yes please. As such, it was with no small amount of pleasure that I gladly took on this preview build of Conarium when the fine folks at Iceberg Entertainment generously offered to pass a copy along the ethereal wooden surface of my existential desk. Conarium is set for full release on June 6. Keep an eye out for it. In the meantime, let’s dive into the experience.
As mentioned above, this adventure takes place after the events of “At the Mountains of Madness”. Since this was a 30 minute demo, much of the story has yet to be revealed. My experience so far is that the protagonist, Frank, is trying to remember what happened to him and his research crew. You start out in a mini submarine heading to the research location, then awaken in the mini sub in your chambers, and eventually are basically sucked into the site. After that, you are really trying to just remember what happened while exploring this distinctly alien looking structure/cavern system. As with most Lovecraft type horror, you can never be too certain as to what is real and what isn’t. You know that an alien evil exists, but just how much of that is real or imagined is hard to say. Typically, you are really glimpsing into alternate realities or planes of existence that are melding, crashing together, or being brought together by outside forces in these stories.
Here is the actual product description for more clarity though:
You, as Frank Gilman, open your eyes inside a room filled with strange, pulsating noises. Patterns of lights executing a Danse Macabre on the walls is presented by a queer device on the table. Having recalled nothing other than that you’re in Upuaut, an Antarctic base located near the South Pole, you find the place deserted and have a distinct feeling of something being terribly wrong. Somehow knowing that your memories cannot guide you enforces a strange feeling of vulnerability, a familiar yet alien sensation of being a part of a peculiar whole… Soon you will discover that having used the device during the expedition, you have died but then returned subtly changed, speaking of strange memories and of strange places. You have lost something important or gained something sinister…
The gameplay, so far as the Conarium demo allows you to play, is more akin to a walking simulator/adventure game. You will focus heavily on exploration with some minor puzzle solving. You will also find some useful objects that will remain in your inventory, and unlock the story via notes, objects found, and memories unbound by the things you see or experience.
I was able to bind the controls to my gamepad using Steam Big Picture overlay, which was nice. However, this is clearly intended for k/m at present. I would like to see an official gamepad control map put into place though. I feel this genre lends itself perfectly to gamepad use.
The graphics in Conarium are phenomenal. This is a game that really takes you to the place you are exploring, offering unique visual experiences that both serve to provide a sense of awe and dread simultaneously. You know nothing natural should look the way it does, and there is always a sinister sensation hovering just below the surface as you explore. This game will definitely capture your imagination visually.
The audio in Conarium is specifically designed to create tension and a growing sense of disquiet, which it is also completely successful with. Whether it is the ambient noise of a blizzard, the creepy dripping of water, or the indistinct sounds that lead you to believe you are not alone, Conarium does not relent in the audio department. Nothing is truly overt, but there is also never quite a moment of silence or solace.
The voice acting in the demo was sparse, but what was there was done quite well. I could easily see Frank as a real person, which wouldn’t be as likely had his voice actor not presented the character as he has.
Conarium promises to be an experience that always keeps you on edge, wondering what is just around the next corner. You will be terrified to look, but unable to keep yourself from doing so. The majesty of the visual arts meshed with the brilliance of pacing and the certainty of terror has me very, very interested in playing the full version upon release. I would definitely recommend giving this one a go.