There’s an abundance of video games inspired by or based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Conarium, originally released on PC back in 2017, is just one of them.
Playing as Frank Gilman, your Conarium adventure starts when you wake up in a room to the sound of a pulsating device. Wondering how you ended up in your predicament, you begin to explore the Antarctic base you’ve found yourself in, and quickly begin to experience strange visions. Clearly something isn’t quite right with Frank, and eventually, working out what’s just a figment of his imagination and what’s reality becomes a tricky but also entertaining task.
From screenshots, you might think that Conarium is a horror game, but you’d be wrong. Initially there is a sense of foreboding as you explore your strange surroundings, though you soon realise that there’s very little danger. Conarium is more about taking in the ambience than fighting off strange creatures with anything you can get your hands on. It’s happy to simply let you explore, and gates off your progress with a number of puzzles that are likely to make you scratch your head until everything just falls into place.
Conarium doesn’t throw you in at the deep end, though – you’re very much eased in gently when you begin to play. Early puzzles are a breeze, and it’s hard to take a wrong turn when so many doors around you are locked. It’s only upon leaving the antarctic base for the first time that things seemingly kick up a notch, with the puzzles becoming more fiendish from thereon. The further you get into Conarium, the stranger and more frequent Frank’s visions get, too. Some present dangers into the world that you’ll need to run away from to survive, but most are simply passive scenes. Nonetheless, both are likely to unsettle you, even if just a little.
Thanks to solid pacing, making progress in Conarium always feels rewarding. Solving a puzzle always results in a feeling of achievement, especially when it has flummoxed you for a short while, and each environment you visit is more visually interesting than the last. From underground caverns to strange otherworldly ruins, Conarium pulls out all the stops to get you to take your time and simply enjoy the scenery, and it’s something that I recommend you do if you do pick it up.
On Xbox One X, Conarium looks great whether you play it in favour resolution or favour framerate mode. Generally, the framerate isn’t too bad in favour resolution mode, either; there was only one area in the game where I noticed performance was severely impacted. Conarium‘s audio is well crafted, too. There’s a great mix of environmental effects and a subtle, tension building soundtrack, keeping you on the edge of your seat as you seek out the items or clues required to progress, but it’s somewhat ruined by awful voice acting. Frank is really hard to empathise with when he sounds like a total buffoon.
A single playthrough of Conarium will take just under five hours unless you find yourself well and truly stuck on one of the game’s many puzzles. After that, there’s not much reason to go back unless you want to find all the collectables the game offers. There are multiple endings, too, but the game’s chapter system makes it very easy to get both without any hassle. So, is it good value for the asking price of £24.99/$29.99? I’ll leave that for you to decide. It’s certainly not the ideal game for those expecting sweat-inducing horror or adrenaline-pumping action, but for those who like to explore eerie environments and unravel a good story, there’s a good evening’s worth of entertainment.