Conarium offers players the chance to climb the mountains of madness.
“I could not help feeling that they were evil things — mountains of madness whose farther slopes looked out over some accursed ultimate abyss,” wrote H. P. Lovecraft in his seminal novella At the Mountains of Madness. It comes as a surprise to me that there is so little of his influence in modern horror. Wretched creatures populate Lovecraft’s work, the perfect subjects to evoke raw terror. This is the atmosphere that Conarium attempts to mimic.
Conarium is a horror adventure game inspired directly by At the Mountains of Madness. The story takes place after the events of the original novella, placing amnesiac Frank Gilman in the player’s hands. His only memory is that he stands in Upuaut, an Antarctic base not far from the south pole.
Frank experiences frequent visions of the past. The line between dream and reality is unreasonably thin. It can be especially difficult to figure out what to run away from and what to run towards. Frank (and by extension, the player) is not motivated by survival or the drive to protect another. Conarium offers little but the pursuit of an elusive truth. This is the femme fatale of Lovecraft’s greatest works, and it plays well to Conarium’s strengths.
If you gaze too long into the abyss…
Conarium’s nooks and crannies ooze (both figuratively and literally) with an alien grotesqueness. It is the odd mixture of modern and ancient, human and alien, familiar and unfamiliar that makes its atmosphere so deeply unsettling. Unlike games such as Outlast 2 or Little Nightmares, there’s nothing particularly frightening about Conarium… at least, not at face value.
The thick fog that envelopes nearly all of Conarium serves as an excellent metaphor for its dark nature. Mystery shrouds every step forward, forcing the player to go face to face with the unknown. Vivid purples and garish greens illuminate the foreign nature of Frank’s surroundings. It is a stark reminder that colors other than black, red, and fifty shades of brown can exist in modern horror games.
About as difficult as a 50-piece jigsaw puzzle.
Those looking for complex puzzles like those found within games like The Talos Principle will be sorely disappointed. From the preview alone, there was a collection of three basic puzzles. Most of the time I simply looked for rubble-covered holes in the wall and struck them with my axe. After a dozen or so smacks they finally became passable. At other times I used a glowing hand lantern to pass through barriers of creeping vines. If I used up too much of the lantern’s alien energy, I was forced to look for nearby lamps to recharge.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the final puzzle was a game of connect-the-dots. Only I didn’t have the numbers. A hint flashed across the screen suggesting I search for a symbol to match. So, I trekked all the way back to find something I must have missed along the way. Before I found this mysterious clue I was done in by a reanimated reptile’s corpse who presumably turned Frank into lizard food.
A new coat of Lovecraftian paint.
Great wealth of source material lies at Conarium’s very core. H. P. Lovecraft’s works have gone largely unexplored in the horror genre, with the notable exception of FromSoftware’s action role-playing game Bloodborne. Designs like Ebrietas and the Orphan of Kos tap into a fear of otherworldly beings with unknown intent. Their intrusion into Bloodborne’s Gothic setting is as unsettling as it is mysterious. If Conarium is to set itself apart from every other run-of-the-mill survival horror game, there’s a lot it should learn from Bloodborne.
Conarium will release on Steam in Q2 2017. Their official website states that it will be released for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One later this year.