First-person horror games are all the rage on Steam these days—anything to get the man-children on YouTube to scream for their impressionable audiences. The developers at Zoetrope Interactive have opted to make a game that, so far, seems to be more atmospheric horror than something with skinny tall men or mechanical bears popping into your face. That game is Conarium, a Lovecraftian game inspired by and set after the events of H.P. Lovecraft’s novella At the Mountains of Madness.
As I’ve never read any Lovecraft (shame on me I know) I can only assume this or all of his books deal with Cthulhu, as the Conarium preview build I played started in a submarine that slowly moved through murky water before a giant tentacle darts through the water and encases it. The character then wakes in a dark room with a white glowing portal into what appears to be a small hallway in a ship, where they will catch a ghostly glimpse of a doctor discovering the Necronomicon and recording the events that happened. If this scene wasn’t inspired by Evil Dead, then Evil Dead must be inspired by Lovecraft, as this scene pretty much happens in three of the four Evil Dead films.
After listening to a few sentences about out of body experiences that seem to transcend universes, I returned to the door through which I entered only to find another white portal leading to a dark wet cavern. Here I slowly walked along, finding different trinkets and the places they are supposed to go in order for me to proceed to the next area. Nothing very interesting or fun happened, other than finding a series of fully preserved lizardmen glued to open coffins.
While interesting, the thirty-minute preview I played hasn’t inspired me to want to play the full game. Not only did basically nothing happen, but for a horror game, it wasn’t all that scary. Sure, the atmosphere is there, with great sound effects and ambient music, but there just didn’t seem to be a payoff. Worse, the gameplay is basically ‘find the square peg and put it in the square hole’—rinse and repeat. The thing that irked me the most, however, was that I came across an axe early on, which was required to break a stone wall, then another, and then some ice away from a part of a puzzle. Using the axe means clicking every single time you need to swing it, which is quite a few swings per area. It just isn’t fun or interesting as far as gameplay goes.
Obviously, what I played of Conarium is an early ‘vertical slice’ of gameplay (which typically highlights the best bit of the game) so things could change and be far better. It is clear the developers want to keep a lot of the mystery, well, mysterious. I can’t blame them, but if the final product is as lacklustre as this, then this is one mystery I don’t intend to investigate further.