If Conarium can claim anything, it can claim that it’s accurate to the HP Lovecraft Experience. It’s got accurate Elder Things! References to mythology and the occult! Language patterns and foibles drawn precisely from HP Lovecraft’s writing style! A protagonist who exclaims hopeless statements of despair to himself between questions in a conversation with a messed-up robot which believes it’s a human! As developer Galip Kartoğlu led me down to the scary basement in his game’s extremely genre-appropriate, occult-artifact-filled, abandoned, candle-lit Victorian mansion, he informed me: “It’s very common in Lovecraft’s stories that there’s always SOMETHING in the cellar.” I can assure you: there was definitely something “Lovecraftian” in this spooky cellar.
If you’re a huge HP Lovecraft fan– the kind of person who has looked up the names of specific “elder gods” on Wikipedia, for example– you’ve probably seen the phrase “Cthulhu Mythos” before. Even before his death, Lovecraft’s particular type of bizarre, cosmically-miserable existential tentacle-horror began to grow into something bigger than himself. The “Mythos” contains the work of other authors who, inspired by Lovecraft, started to write basically the same kind of stuff. They borrowed his monsters, added a bunch of their own, started classifying them into factions and elemental categories, dug into the lore to make lists of alternate dimensions and ancient civilizations, and helped to congeal Lovecraft’s weird, ever-changing, often-racist output into the horror aesthetic we now recognize as “Lovecraftian.”
Basically: within his lifetime, Lovecraft became the object of a pastiche subgenre, and authors have been writing stories which extend his patchwork universe for the last ninety years. Whether it’s a noble tradition is definitely up for debate, but it’s definitely a long one.
In games, however, the Cthulhu Mythos has remained mostly an aesthetic inspiration. It’s touched Dark Souls, Bloodborne, World of Warcraft, Torchlight, the Frogwares Sherlock Holmes series, and hundreds of other games throughout the years. Very few of these, however, took the same kind of lore-accurate approach that the Mythos’s original 20th-century authors did. These games usually aren’t adding onto Lovecraft’s universe; they’re just getting really excited about tentacles.
Conarium is different. Developed by Turkish developer Zoetrope Interactive, it’s totally packed with Lovecraft lore references. Specifically, it sets itself up as a sequel to Lovecraft’s 1931 novella At the Mountains of Madness. Mountains is one of HPL’s most well-known works; director Guillermo del Toro has been fruitlessly trying to make it into a movie for the last 11 years. It’s about a group of explorers who go to Antarctica and discover the remains of an alien civilization thousands of years old. The aliens, preserved in snow, thaw out and go on a rampage; the protagonists then chase them through the terrifying ruins of an ancient city. There are nine-foot-high blind underground penguins in this story. It’s pretty classic; if you’re looking for a place to start with Lovecraft, it’s a good one.
I didn’t get a hands-on with Conarium, and I did not get a look at much of its first-person adventure-game mystery-solving action, so I have no idea if it contains gigantic penguins. I did, however, get to watch Kartoğlu show me a bunch of different areas from the game.
The story begins in an Antarctic base. A team of explorers have activated a device, the titular Conarium, which causes the protagonist to hallucinate past events. Eventually, he loses track of what’s the past and what’s the present; at one point, I also saw him seemingly teleport between the base and an ancient, underground, alien-built city.
Kartoğlu told me that the game was also inspired by Lovecraft’s 1934 short story “From Beyond,” a tale about a scientist who invents a machine which allows him to see other planes of existence. In these alternate realities, however, he can see horrible creatures– which can also see him. In this vein, Conarium contains a few enemy monsters which perceive and hunt the character after he uses technology which expands his perception. Enemy encounters aren’t common, however. Kartoğlu explained that they’re used to punctuate the dread the story aims to build, not to sustain it. The game lifts other details from the story, too: pineal glands are a major plot point in both.
My experience with the game consisted of a rapid-fire tour between six or seven different major environments. I saw the antarctic base, two different underground alien cities, a mysterious house, a spooky basement, and a few secret areas lying off the game’s main path. Iceberg Interactive previously made point-and-click adventure games, and like their previous work, Conarium will drive the player to hunt secrets and chase a %-found stat. The game will also contain a collection of “trophy items” which the player can hunt down and amass across playthroughs.
If you’re into the lore of Lovecraft, or if you’re interested in Cthulhu Mythos stories but sick of tentacles, Conarium might be a game to watch. It will launch later this year on PC, and find its way to Xbox One and PS4 later.