Conarium – A horror game for horror season!

I like Lovecraftian horror.  Madness, meddling with things that humans should be meddling with, gradual loss of sanity, horrors hidden just out of sight, terror of the unknown.  It’s a horror that’s very difficult to convey in most visual forms of media, and video games are no exception to this, often due to player agency being so important in gaming.  Many have used Lovecraftian themes through creature design or plot, but few can convey the same sense of unknowable fear and loss of sanity.  Conarium tries!  But sadly fails to pull it off.

Conarium horror
This is where you begin your adventure. Sure does look good with all those lighting effects!

Connected to (although not a retelling of) At The Mountains Of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft, Conarium tells the story of a group of scientists searching the Antarctic for ancient devices capable of doing something.  I won’t say more for fear of spoilers.  You awake as Frank Gillman, one of the scientists, in a room with a bizarre glowing device and some sort of readout strapped to his hand.  The research station is abandoned it’s up to you to explore and find out just what the hell is going on.

Conarium talking head
I found this secret early in the game. It’s a robotic head that talks to you for some reason.

The game plays something like Soma, with you exploring areas and solving light puzzles to progress to the next area.  The problem here though is that there is little to no direction regarding where to go or what to do a lot of the time.  I often found myself scouring rooms until I found an item that seemed important, such as a key or an oddity of some sort.  I didn’t feel like I was searching for answers, more searching for the next McGuffin to push onto the next area.    More often than not I was finding text logs (which are certainly the most interesting part of the game) that developed the side characters.  Many of these address the reasoning behind the events that are taking place and the experiences that people have had.  Without these, the plot would make little to no sense and some of the puzzles would be more about guess work than anything else.

Conarium
Occasionally a figure will appear at the end of hallways. I still don’t know why.

The world itself contains a variety of gorgeous and interesting environments, both real and seemingly unreal thanks to the Unreal Engine (see what I did there?!).  Transitions between areas reminds me in part of Layers of Fear as something can seem to change when you aren’t looking, causing you to transition between an ancient cavern and a household office.  I liked this as it kept things somewhat unpredictable at times.  The majority of the game wasn’t this interesting however, as the obfuscated plot and uninteresting (not to mention rare) dialogue did little to engage me.  Plus the voice acting was mostly terrible.

Conarium
You find a radio early on that is sometimes used to provide exposition. I didn’t consider how the game might be different if I hadn’t picked it up.  Assuming that’s even that’s an option.

Of course, I could tolerate this to an extent if the horror game was scary!  And it isn’t.  There was maybe one jump scare and the rest of the game was…unsettling at the absolute most.  This does tie into Lovecraft’s style somewhat, but doesn’t necessarily translate well into this format.  The tension was all build and no payoff, and the build was barely there at all.  Apparently it is possible to die in a variety of ways, but I didn’t die a single time in my first play through.  If it weren’t for my earning an achievement for this “feat” then I would have assumed that death was not possible.  This feeling of no threat certainly didn’t help when it came to the lack of fear.

Conarium
Other exposition comes via these distorted flashback scenes. The effects look pretty good in motion.

As a positive, there are multiple endings and a number of secrets to find if those things float your boat.  You get a percentage score at the end based on the items you found and ending you saw which is nice I suppose.  It took about 3 hours to finish in spite of my faffing around looking for tiny objects I missed (spent 10 minutes stuck towards the end because I missed a tiny key on a shelf), so that makes replaying to get other endings less of a chore.  I suppose the ending I saw was fairly interesting in context.

Conarium
The Eldrich figures in the environment look rather good. A lot of care has gone into the visuals.

Conarium was developed by Zoetrope Interactive and published by Iceberg Interactive.  I played the game on PC and wouldn’t really recommend it unless it’s very cheap and you’re in the market for a quick “horror” themed walking simulator.  But if you were then I’d point you towards Soma or Layers of Fear as far better options.

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14 thoughts on “Conarium – A horror game for horror season!

    1. The puzzles were fun for the most part, but the lack of any signposting whatsoever made it hard to determine what I should be interacting with. Most developers use light to direct you subtly, but this didn’t seem to do that.

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  1. Thanks for writing this up. Looking for some new horror games and will be sure to avoid this one.

    Perhaps I’ll check out Layers of Fear. Don’t know much about that one, but I’ve heard a few people speak highly of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Layers of Fear was excellent to my mind. Very unsettling but I never felt unsure of where I was meant to go (well, once but that was the point of that section). The DLC for it wasn’t very good. If you do get it, I would warn you off the Xbox one version as the framerate gets a bit choppy on it.

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  2. Interesting! I’m not too into horror games, but I’ve always wanted to try a horror-based walking simulator after Gone Home (which scared me even though it wasn’t really horror…). At the very least, I might check out Soma. Thanks for writing this great review!

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    1. Soma is well worth a go as the story is fantastic. There is threat in the game although it isn’t too challenging. I’d argue that Layers of Fear is a better “walking simulator”, whilst Soma is a better game. Thanks for reading!

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      1. I’d say Layers of Fear is less scary, but the atmosphere can be very unsettling. Soma is more like Amnesia in the sense that I felt under significant threat during some of the sections with enemies.

        FYI, Layers of Fear had some framerate issues on XBox One.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I could see Frictional Games possibly managing it since they did a fantastic job with SOMA. I haven’t seen any of the Amnesia games, but I’ve heard they are terrifying. Even if a game is narrative based, there’s such a HUGE difference between written a visual media. Hell even going from one visual media to another (games to film) hasn’t remotely been perfected, though TV in the case of Castlevania seems to be working out well.

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