Conarium Review
Conarium Review
Even though the hero does not triumph in the traditional sense, the game draws to a logical conclusion and still gives the player the satisfaction of having completed a necessary and difficult journey
Posted: 06/16/17 | Category: Review | Developer: Zoetrope Interactive | Publisher: Iceberg Interactive | Platform: Windows

Genre: Adventure
Release date: June 6, 2017

Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself  
 

Conarium is a horror adventure developed by Zoetrope Interactive. It is described as a “chilling Lovecraftian game.” Although I’ve heard the term often, I was not 100% sure what “Lovecraftian” meant. So, in the true spirit of discovery, I went to Google.

H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) is an American author known for horror fiction which includes such titles as The Call of Cthulhu and At the Mountains of Madness.

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Writer Pete Rawlick describes it as “cosmic horror” in his essay Defining Lovecraftian Horror.  He notes certain common themes:

1. There will be evidence of artificial mythologies and inhuman intelligence. 
2. Humanity is generally clueless as to their own insignificance in the universe or their true nature.
3. Lone individuals may gain glimpses of reality but this often leads to madness.
4. The hero has little hope of a successful outcome and often the results of his/her actions are catastrophic.

My next question for Google related to the game’s title. “Conarium” refers to the pineal gland – a structure deep in the center of the human brain that is believed to produce melatonin. This gland is also referred to as “the third eye” and has been of interest to many across the ages. French philosopher René Descartes described it as “the principal seat of the soul.”

Armed with my new-found knowledge, I jumped into Conarium with both feet.

Into the Abyss  
 

The game opens underwater and then shifts to the Upuaut Base – an Antarctic research station built above a web of catacombs. You are Frank Gilman, a member of an expeditionary team led by Dr. Faust. When you find that your team members are all missing, your search begins for signs of life.

The first order of business is to restore power and then to explore the base itself. This leads you downward, into the catacombs which contain prehistorical artifacts and ancient structures. A relationship between man and an alien presence is documented in wall murals, statues, and mummified remains. Most disturbing is the apparent presence of psychic energy that has survived time.

The environment is dark and foreboding, with an original soundtrack that leads you to believe that there is menace around every corner. The catacombs are littered with remnants of a long gone reptilian-like species. You also find objects and research notes left behind by your scientific team, which has been searching for answers to this cosmic mystery.

As you explore, you think out loud in a stream-of-consciousness-and-memory. It is important to locate various notes and journal entries left by the scientific team to understand the backstory. Some flashbacks return you to a real experience in your past which occurs in a different location. You also continue to experience vivid visions of past presences in your current location. It is more than a bit confusing, which mirrors the fractured psyche of the main character.

Confusion aside, Zoetrope has done an excellent job of gently guiding you through Conarium. Although some areas are maze-like, I had no trouble navigating and I was never lost. Completed areas tend to be closed which eliminates backtracking once you have gathered everything you need. Often, you are given a hint that moves you in a positive direction and keeps you from getting stuck (if you are paying attention).

Game Mechanics 
 

Controls are standard for a game powered by the Unreal engine. I would have liked to use my directional arrows rather than the WASD keys for navigation. Zoetrope is working on an update which will allow you to bind keys instead of using default assignments, which will improve game flexibility.

The game auto-saves but also provides multiple slots for explicit saves so you can return to a previous point in your game. This is a feature that I truly appreciate!

There is a good bit of find-and-use inventory and most are objects that are required to operate machinery elsewhere. There is an axe and an energy source that you carry with you and can “equip” for use in specific situations. Along the way, you will encounter a handful of puzzles that are solved by paying attention to symbols found in the environment. And, there are machines that need to be operated…buttons to push, levers to pull, elevators to ride, and a submarine to steer!

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The game records key information and symbols in a journal that is automatically updated as you play. This removes any need to use pencil and paper for taking notes. Finally, there are secrets to unlock and treasures to find. These are tallied but not integral to the story itself. When attacked, your only option is to run in the other direction since no weapons are provided. I am personally grateful that there was only one very difficult evasion sequence and there is no penalty for dying often. I would describe Conarium as an adventure game with one particularly stressful escape.

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All Roads Lead to Disaster 
 

Conarium stays true to the definition of “Lovecraftian Horror.” Thus, I was not surprised by Frank Gilman’s descent into madness and the futility of his quest. I was also not expecting a happy ending. My personal pet peeve is to spend hours surviving a hostile environment only to have the main character killed in the ending scene. For me, this feels like an exercise in futility as I could have quit after my first death with the same result.

This is NOT the case in Conarium. The environment is interesting and incredibly detailed. It is psychologically menacing and the story is complex. Even though the hero does not triumph in the traditional sense, the game draws to a logical conclusion and still gives the player the satisfaction of having completed a necessary and difficult journey. In my opinion, playing Conarium is time well-spent.

Grade: B+
 
Meets all criteria for a “Lovecraftian horror adventure”
+ Detailed graphics coupled with a haunting sound track create a very immersive game environment
All-in-all, a true adventure game with a complex story that unfolds along the way
 
- Action-averse gamers should not shy away but should be prepared for some potential frustration in the one serious evasion sequence
-  Remember that Conarium is a journey and not a destination – absorb all you can along the way to fully understand the story

 

 Logo 
 
Trailer:
 

System Requirements

MINIMUM PC:
OS: Windows 7 64-bit
Processor: Intel Core i3-4160 @ 3.60GHz
Memory: 6 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 480/570/670, ATI Radeon HD 5870/5850
DirectX: Version 11
Storage: 8 GB available space
Additional Notes: Using an AMD Crossfire setup might result in performance issues. 4:3 Resolutions are not supported
 
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