Conarium, inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, is the latest game from developer Zoetrope Interactive. If you are familiar with their previous games, Darkness Within: In pursuit of Loath Nolder and Darkness Within 2: The Dark Lineage, Conarium continues their tradition of Lovecraft inspired games. Overall I enjoyed the game and thought it did a good job of creating something that felt Lovecraftian.
Conarium is an original story inspired by At the Mountains of Madness. You play as Frank Gilman who awakes to find he is the only one left in the Antarctic expedition base. The majority of the game is spent trying to find out where everyone else has gone. You end up following in the footsteps of the expeditions that have gone on ahead of you. As the game progresses you discover/recall more about the experiments you were involved in, involving the Conarium, a machine that allows your consciousness to leave its body and travel time and space. Along the way you experience a healthy dose of visions and flashbacks.
Conarium is a beautiful game. They put a lot of work into presenting a detailed aesthetic that brings Lovecraft's snowy horror to life. The lighting and shadow work also lends itself very well to the atmospheric experience. Movement in the game is pretty smooth. I never experienced any lag. The music/sound work is also pretty fantastic, especially the environmental sound work. The voice acting is also pretty good.
The game is more of a linear experience than the Darkness Within games. As you progress you have little need or are unable to return to previous areas. The first Darkness Within game was a traditional adventure game with no free movement. The second Darkness Within game provided free movement. In both games you had access to most of the areas until the end game. In Conarium you explore an area, solve any puzzles you need to, and then move on. Despite the linearity of the game, the design of the areas makes it feel like an organic progression.
The game has simple mechanics. Most of the game you are simply moving around and interacting with objects. It is somewhat of a walking simulator. Sometimes you get to smash walls with an axe. This game is about the narrative you piece together and the atmosphere above all else. There are two moments in the game that break from this flow. And both have their minor frustrations.
One is a section where you have to navigate a submarine to the next area. The controls and navigation of this section are unclear which can easily lead to your death. Once you figure it out though it is easy enough. The other section is where the player is chased by mummies. Again the frustration here is with a lack of direction. It is easy to die a couple of times before you figure what you need to do.
The puzzles are simple and make sense most of the time. Any frustrations usually come from missing something, which can be easy. There were a couple of times I got stuck simply because I overlooked an object. This is a game you really want to interact with everything you can. Most of the stuff you interact with will be just for show. This may annoy some players who don't want to interact with non-essential items. But you're kind of forced to because if you don't there is a good chance you'll miss something and get stuck.
For those that played the Darkness Within games the clue system has been removed. You don't have to combine pieces of evidence or mark-up documents. Like I said the puzzles are simple, a lot simpler than those in the Darkness Within games. So depending on how you felt about the puzzles in the previous games either rejoice or lower your expectations when it comes to the puzzles of Conarium.
The game has two endings. Which ending you get is entirely your choice upfront. Nothing about how you play affects the ending. Towards the end of the game you are presented the option to kill yourself or go a little further to access your final goal. Choosing to go on is the more satisfying option that leads to a nice alien experience. You can easily experience both endings by loading a save.
Overall I enjoyed Conarium, though a little short. I played through in about six hours but I know there are playthroughs that are about four hours. Like I said the game is a bit on the walking simulator side and the puzzles are simpler than adventure game veterans might be expecting. The game isn't hard but it doesn't hold your hand and if you overlook something you can end up stuck. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in works inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. For those with a passing interest I suggest getting it on sale. The current $19.99 price might be a little high for some. While the game might frustrate or bore some people it is still a game I would recommend.