PC horror game Conarium sees you exploring a seemingly deserted Antarctic base in the aftermath of a sinister experiment. We review this unsettling horror adventure title, which delves into Lovecraftian folklore and delivers effective chills.
Fans of H.P. Lovecraft’s works are certainly well catered for when it comes to PC horror. Every other month, another chilling adventure seems to hit Steam that pays homage to the grandmaster of psychological terror. The latest is Conarium, a chilling tale in more ways than one – after all, it’s set in an abandoned facility located somewhere in the South Pole.
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Developers Zoetrope Interactive are well-versed in this department, as they previously crafted the spooky Darkness Within games. Those titles offered intriguing and rich storylines and some moments of arse-clenching tension, although they had their fair share of flaws also. Thankfully Conarium feels much more polished, even if it isn’t especially original.
The game begins like many other horror titles, with you waking up in a strange place, oblivious to how you got there or what the heck just happened. Turns out you’re trapped in the aforementioned deserted base, in the middle of a full-on blizzard. With comms and electrics down and the storm seemingly getting worse, your situation could be accurately described as somewhere between ‘royally screwed’ and ‘sh*t sandwich’.
Your objective in Conarium is obvious: explore the Upuaut base, work out what happened to everyone, and get back to civilisation somehow. Through careful scrutinisation of your surroundings and by solving some simple, well-integrated puzzles, you slowly piece together the events leading up to your amnesia and progress through the facility. Of course, the deeper you dive, the more messed up things get – and turning back seems like an increasingly good idea.
Conarium is similar in terms of presentation to the second Darkness Within title as you’re allowed full freedom of movement throughout. You explore the base using WSAD controls and the mouse, clicking on objects within the environment to interact with them. You can pull open drawers, search cupboards and – of course – read dozens of notes and books that you come across on your travels.
It’s these documents that reveal the game’s story, so thank the gaming gods that everyone felt the need to randomly jot down their thoughts and feelings in diary form and then happily scatter the pages around the facility, presumably while downing cheap tequila and smoking something suspicious.
Okay, so the old diary plot progression trope is over-used in many adventure games. Still, at least Conarium’s docs tend to be short, so they don’t bring the gameplay to a stuttering halt for too long. The story is also rather good, if familiar in places. I was hooked throughout, always wanting to explore further to find out what on earth was going on.
The game’s horror elements are quite low-key for the most part, at least at the start. Like the best horror titles, Conarium offers more psychological chills than cheap shocks. Those diary entries occasionally send a tickle down your spine with their creepy suggestions, while distant glimpses of something unexplained adds to the mounting fear.
There’s a rather crushing sense of claustrophobia from the off, not helped by the fact that you’re trapped inside by that relentless snowstorm. We won’t spoil things but the horror elements ramp up as you progress, with some typically malefic imagery that’ll stick in your mind.
If you’re into exploratory adventure games with a gentle difficulty level and a rich storyline, Conarium certainly ticks plenty of boxes. Play it alone at night with headphones and relish the oppressive and sinister atmosphere.