Alone. Abandoned. Your crewmates, vanished. The icy tundra of the Antarctic confines you to the strange and unsettling research facility you have awoken in. A myriad of strange pulsating lights and experiments, mysteries to uncover and your memories to restore combined with the chilling and unsettling realisation that you are definitely not alone drag you down into the depths of ‘Conarium’ by Zeotrope Interactive. A title whose story is based on HP Lovecraft’s classic ‘Mountains of Madness’
Awakening as Frank Gilman, a scientist in the ‘Upuaut’ research facility in Antarctica, you must explore the facility to discover the whereabouts of your crewmates and uncover the secrets of the Conarium. You very quickly learn that you and your team, particularly Dr. Faust, have been exploring the forbidden and unknown boundaries of nature and science, taking increasingly high doses of a drug to explore the realms beyond human knowledge. However, a sinister entity has seemingly followed you home. You, as Frank, must explore the base, face nightmarish visions and try to uncover the truth of what happened in this point-and-click adventure. If you love Lovecraft you will enjoy all the subtle nods and collectibles relating to his many works; with heavy nods to both The Necrinomicon and Cthulu.
The story of this game very closely mimics the events of Mountains of Madness, some details and names have changed but the basics ( an antarctic research base, an ancient race of creatures and the general macabre feel) are all still there. The game also offers multiple endings, leaving you free to play your own unique story. This game is full of classic first-person horror game tropes: dark figures at the end of hallways, flickering lights, unfamiliar environments and terrifying creatures to escape from – all whilst having a strong story that despite its bizarre concept was easy to follow and made complete sense. The story itself is largely told through environmental aspects; notes, collectibles and drawings all add vital pieces to the ever growing puzzle of just what happened to the research team of the Upuaut?
Simply put, the gameplay is incredibly enjoyable. There is so much to discover and explore and even with a short game length of around four hours, no aspect of the game feels rushed or lacking in substance.
The gameplay mechanics are simple but, for the most part, effective. The point and click aspect of the game gives you plenty to explore and examine and lets you find all sorts of hidden treasures. The movement overall is simple yet a little sluggish, but perhaps intentionally so. Unfortunately, there is the odd technical difficulty like where actions like opening doors will sometimes clip through the player model. I often found myself stuck behind objects and unable to escape, I feel this game would benefit from a simple jump action to offset this.
The controls are extremely simple but mini-games and puzzles can be awkward, often unintentionally changing between items and sections of the puzzle when using the control sticks. The mini-games are challenging, however, many rely on your knowledge of the game’s many drawings, something that you can’t access during the puzzles themselves with many of the puzzles frustratingly resetting when I left them to check the notes.
There is an option in the settings to take advantage of the Switch’s ‘HD Rumble’, this works to vibrate the controllers along with the gameplay and when using a large screen works very well, when using the screen on the Switch, however, it felt like the console was trying to take flight with the intensity of these vibrations.
I used the Nintendo switch plugged into my television and as a portable console to truly experience the graphics of this game. The game was beautiful in both formats, with apparent cel shading providing excellent graphic clarity and adding to the ominous quality of the game.
Graphically the human player models lack detail compared with environmental aspects and non-human player models. The game environments are visually stunning. The developers showing off their skills from your first second in-game, showing – what I can only describe as- a neon-glowing underwater forest as your starting point. Abandoned houses, dark and dingy research centres, blistering snowstorms and crumbling ruins act as some of the many visually amazing and detailed worlds that this game throws you into. And kudos to the developers, each of these is visually dynamic, unique and sculpted beautifully.
One of the main story features is the many headaches and ‘visions’ that Frank has – indicated by growing static, blurred edges and deliberate ‘glitches’ on the screen. I had a slight issue with these when trying to read the notes in my journal, with the edges of the screen being especially blurred, leaving me unable to read the notes. Overall though, these graphics (created with the Unreal 4 engine) created the game world perfectly – leaving me completely immersed no matter how abstract and Lovecraftian the setting.
Sound design in the horror genre makes or breaks a game for me. Despite having a music volume slider there was very little music at all in Conarium. This, combined with the atmospheric wind noises, creaking of metal floors, frosted breath noises and many other environmental sounds absolutely terrified me. The lack of music make the horrors in this game all the more real; finding myself jumping when doors closed behind me or when I knocked rocks at my feet.
The voice acting iss great, with only 2 voice actors (Jonathan Michael Cooke and Matthew Hallstean) playing multiple parts convincingly, with their non-native accents being believably British ( and that’s a big compliment from a Brit!)
My one and only issue with the otherwise excellent sound design is the lack of depth of sound. When in large caverns and rooms, the sound is no different to the cabins and confined hallways in other parts of this game, there are no echos from footsteps or environmental noises, taking away from these otherwise excellent environments by failing to define the audible space.
Overall, I utterly ‘love’… craft this game! 😉 The story is unique, interesting and easy to follow. Both visual and sound design are utterly superb. I thoroughly recommend this to any fans of story-driven horror or Lovecraft inspired games and congratulate the 3 person development team at Zeotrope Interactive for an excellent all round game.
Available on the Nintendo Store
Conarium. Conarium. Conarium. Conarium.
Pros and Cons
- Beautiful Graphics
- Terrifying, Atmospheric Sound Design
- Interesting Story
- Clunky Controls
- Lack of Depth of Sound
- Visuals Sometimes Interrupt Environmental Storytelling
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Visually and Audibly Stunning Game With a Great Story - Just Has a Few Little Hiccups