Have you ever fallen in love with a game just because of its atmosphere? I wouldn’t say I’m head over heels for Conarium just yet, but I’m getting there. The only problem is that Conarium’s demo build leaves me wanting a lot more, and doesn’t offer too much of substance. Developed by Zoetrope Interactive and published by Iceberg, the game is most decidedly steeped in the trappings of H.P. Lovecraft. Not just influenced by Lovecraft like so many games before it, but genuinely set in his literary mythos. Conarium pledges to be nothing less than a sequel to Lovecraft’s groundbreaking novel At the Mountains of Madness, asking what would happen—physically and psychologically—to the survivors of that doomed expedition?
Like I said, Conarium nails its presentation, but its narrative is a bit more vague, at least based on its preview build. As far as I can ascertain you play as Frank Gilman, a character unrelated to the original story but nonetheless dreaming—or hallucinating—visions of the Antarctic base from the novel, and the accompanying ruins. You start the demo off in a submersible, then transition to the base, and then finally end up in the ruins. As you move along you can examine and collect important objects—books, tools, eldritch artifacts—which either flesh out the plot or act as crucial items later on. I have to commend Zoetrope on their graphical artistry; Conarium is no cheap asset swap or buggy alpha. The areas they have crafted possess the same foreboding, chill-down-your-spine quality as Lovecraft’s writing.
That said it’s the gameplay that leaves me wanting more. For starters, the controls are rather unconventional and you can’t rebind them, at least in the demo. Movement works like a typical FPS, but the spacebar is used to interact with the environment and the C key of all things manages inventory. Accessing items is a bit cumbersome, as I was never sure if I had something equipped long-term or if I could only use items in context. For example, you get a pickaxe pretty early on which is used to break down weakened walls and chip away at ice, but there was no indication that I could equip it persistently or use it as a weapon. There’s another item—an odd sort of artifact that can be charged by the many otherworldly lanterns in the ruins—that is used to push back vines that block your way.
The ruins contain a handful of puzzles that I could only half-solve. In one room an intimidating orrery of sorts dominates the center, and while I could manipulate its position I could never get it to activate. As I made my way through hallways of alien vines I eventually came across a sarcophagus, inhabited by a long-dead reptilian creature. Pushing onward, I encountered a tracing puzzle where I had to replicate a symbol that was supposedly scribed somewhere else in the ruins.
I recharged my artifact and doubled back to search, but before I could get much farther I was confronted by some kind of eldritch terror and the preview abruptly ended, suggesting that I be more cautious. Considering I hadn’t run into any other enemies or encountered any kind of combat or stealth gameplay, I was a little puzzled by this apparent admonishment. The preview build for Conarium sets up a lot of great tension and has some top-notch production values, but aside from some exploration and puzzle solving, it’s pretty light on gameplay.
I hope Zoetrope has a lot more going on than they’re showing in the preview. I’ve been hungry for a genuine Lovecraft scare ever since Eternal Darkness way back in 2001. Conarium definitely has the potential to deliver, but for now the only thing I’m afraid of is the possibility that this game will turn out to be another walking simulator.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been gaming off and on since I was about three, starting with Star Raiders on the Atari 800 computer. As a kid I played mostly on PC--Doom, Duke Nukem, Dark Forces--but enjoyed the 16-bit console wars vicariously during sleepovers and hangouts with my school friends. In 1997 GoldenEye 007 and the N64 brought me back into the console scene and I've played and owned a wide variety of platforms since, although I still have an affection for Nintendo and Sega.
I started writing for Gaming Nexus back in mid-2005, right before the 7th console generation hit. Since then I've focused mostly on the PC and Nintendo scenes but I also play regularly on Sony and Microsoft consoles. My favorite series include Metroid, Deus Ex, Zelda, Metal Gear and Far Cry. I'm also something of an amateur retro collector. I currently live in Columbus, Ohio with my fiancee and our cat, who sits so close to the TV I'd swear she loves Zelda more than we do.View Profile