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Video Game / Conarium

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All life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those of inward dreamings.
The opening quote, by H. P. Lovecraft
Conarium is a horror-themed first-person Adventure Game, created in Unreal Engine 4 by the Turkish developer Zoetrope Interactive and published by Iceberg Interactive for PC through Steam on June 6th, 2017. It was then ported for PS4 and Xbox One on February 12th, 2019, and was also given away on the Epic Games Store later that year.

The game takes place in the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft, where it essentially acts as an unofficial sequel to At the Mountains of Madness. The protagonist, Frank Gilman, is a researcher in an Antarctic base named Upuaut, which was set up by Dr. Faust sometime in The '50s after he analyzed the records of William Dyer's expedition. There, he created the Conarium device (named after an oft-used term for a pineal gland), which is worn on all the researchers' left hands and allows them to briefly peer beyond the veil through their pineal glands when they go into an altered state of consciousness through consuming a brew of D'versahe, a psychoactive plant from the prehistoric period. Only some researchers participate in this however; the rest are there to explicitly retrace the steps of Dyer's journey, as Faust believes they can venture far beyond their predecessors and succeed where they failed.

Of course, such hubris lead to nothing good, and so, Frank awakens one day in the Upuaut Meeting Room to find that the power is gone, and so is everyone else in the station. A snowstorm prevents him from escaping the station, and so he is eventually forced to venture into the half-flooded caves deep below the base, where no-one had walked for millennia until the ruinous arrival of Faust and his inner circle...

Compare to Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth and Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game. See also Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones for another late-2010s Turkish game set in the Lovecraft mythos.

Tropes present in this work:

  • 100% Completion: At the end the game grades your completion score out of a 100%, based on how many trophy items and secrets you found, and on how many memory flashbacks you triggered.
  • Amnesiac Hero: Frank Gilman wakes up not remembering anything, and slowly rediscovers through the visions he gets through his Conarium and the notes he finds.
  • Apocalyptic Log: The notes of Doctor De Witte and Radar Supervisor Nicolai Hansen make up the bulk of the documents you discover in the early game.
  • Arc Words:I believe no more can we harbour ourselves on the safest shores, for there are things that cannot be undone! This quote by Dr. Faust is first heard in the opening vision, and is then repeated every time this vision re-occurs. The underlying sentiment - that you have all already meddled too far beyond what a man can bear, and so the only thing left is to dig deeper, is essentially what drives both Frank and Faust throughout the narrative.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The ultimate goal of Dr. Faust, and the purpose behind both the Conarium dreamings and search in the caverns. Eventually, Dr. Faust dies just before he could have gotten to his goal, his body finally giving out from the strain of Conarium expeditions beyond the veil. He instructs Frank to pick up the baton, and if you choose to do so, you do get to travel through the Ancient Conarium...but it turns out that the only thing it actually gets you is being reborn as part of the lizard race that constructed the temple of the Conarium, on what seems like their homeworld.
  • Bioluminescence Is Cool: Invoked in the opening dream/nightmare, which is illuminated entirely by the eerie blue light from the dozens of glowing mushrooms, flowers and small jellyfish floating up above.
  • Blob Monster: Late in the game, when you experience a flashback to Dr. Faust's expedition to the Arabian temple, you'll need to flee from the Shoggoth.
  • Chromosome Casting: Every character is male, which is justified since they are all researchers on an Antarctic expedition in The '50s. Though, it is strange that none of them apparently had any relatives or loved ones, female or otherwise, that they cared enough to mention in any of the numerous diaries and letters you find.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: A subdued example, but as a sort-of sequel to At the Mountains of Madness it's inevitably one.
  • Cthulhumanoid: One of the trophy items is a blue crystal carving that shows a humanoid figure sitting in a lotus pose and with traditional tentacles replacing their face, although Frank thinks it's just a mask.
  • Eerie Arctic Research Station: While Upuaut is actually located in the Antarctic, it otherwise fits the part very well, being dark, gloomy and mysteriously abandoned.
  • Familiar: Invoked, as you discover a note early on mentioning that "Familiar visits the lower chambers once more in the form of a black cat. Its spectral image echoes throughout the seven rooms. What sin called it out from his hollow looming dim and ghost like." You eventually need to trigger his arrival and step into his shadow in order to open the door containing the handle activating the elevator leading to the caves beneath the station.
  • Fauxshadowing: Invoked. You discover notes talking about the golems, and how they almost seem poised to strike at times. You also get visions where Dr. Faust mentions that some of the lizard race's mummies are glued upright by some ooze, and seem like they stand at the ready. The lizard mummy does start walking, and you even need to dodge it in one chase, but is ultimately just a product of Frank's failing mind. The one Golem you see is outright helpful, as you activate it in order to get it to step on the pressure plate that finally unlocks the gate to the Ancient Conarium.
  • First-Person Ghost: Frank Gilman's limbs are only ever shown in cutscenes and when he's holding up an item like an axe or a walkie-talkie, while they are completely invisible otherwise. However, he does show up in the couple of in-game mirrors.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: While Frank is obviously very concerned when he wakes up alone and with everyone else seemingly gone, his concern seems more grounded in his own survival, and doesn't extend to grieving for any of them in particular. When he does discover dead bodies, he has absolutely no reaction besides commenting once that the corpse is in an advanced state of decomposition.
  • Golem: Here, this is the name Dr. Faust's team gives to the large wooden constructs of the Elder Things and/or their lizard servants, which appear almost woven out of tree limbs and have large blue crystals acting as their heads. In spite of the earlier notes suggesting they might be aggressive, they never attack. Instead, the final puzzle of the Traveler Beyond ending involves charging up such a golem so that it'll step onto the pressure plate that finally opens the gate towards the Ancient Conarium.
  • Infinite Flashlight: Played absolutely straight with any of the game's flashlights.
  • Insurmountable Waist-High Fence: Frank can crouch, but cannot jump or climb over anything, and so knee-high pots can be enough to block off corners the designers did not find sufficiently interesting.
  • Last-Second Ending Choice: In the final location of the game, choosing to drink D'versahe immediately results in the corresponding ending, while refusing makes you go onwards to do the final set of puzzles and reach the other ending.
  • Lizard Folk: The temple in the sunken caves was constructed by one such race, who left a lot of their statues and mummies around the place. Frank occasionally sees them in his visions as well. In the "Traveler Beyond" ending, Frank is seemingly reborn as one.
  • Locked Door: Played straight throughout Upuaut, and the majority of them will never be opened.
  • Multiple Endings: Two of them.
    • "Conarionaut": Frank drinks the last dose of D'versahe. He flashes back to his last meeting with Dr. Faust before they set out to Antarctic and blacks out. It is implied his body did not take any more strain of such psychic travels after this moment, and he died much like Dr. Faust did just before you found him.
    • "Traveler Beyond": Frank refuses to drink D'versahe, and instead walks on towards the Ancient Conarium. After he, he advances through it, shedding his mortal form like Dr. Faust suggested would happen. However, he then finds himself in the lizard man's body somewhere far away from Earth.
  • Sanity Slippage: Since this is a Lovecraftian game, it's not a spoiler that it happens to everybody, with the majority of the cast suffering theirs well before the events of the game.
  • Schmuck Bait: You are explicitly told that cutting seemingly-sentient plants that block your way will produce poison gas. You can try to do so with your axe regardless, and there's an achievement for persisting with that.
  • Sprint Meter: There is no on-screen meter, but running for long enough will eventually result in Frank moving much slower and breathing heavily for a while.
  • Story Breadcrumbs: A lot of the narrative is contained within the various notes, letters and phonograph recordings you find along the way.
  • Suspiciously Cracked Wall: These are present at several points, and need to be broken down with an axe.
    • In a flashback, Dr. Faust destroys such a wall even though it has been covered in ancient hieroglyphs, and doesn't even bother to copy them down, apparently content to let such knowledge be lost as he had uncovered a much greater prize.
  • Teleporting Keycard Squad: The Shoggoth in the Arabian ruins in the flashback only shows up right after Dr. Faust got the item he wanted.
  • Third Eye: One is seen both on the cover, and in the various statues found later on in the temple. It is no surprise, as pineal gland (the titular Conarium) is located in the very center of the brain, right across where the third eye is supposed to show up, and is treated as the way to peer inside, and ultimately through the dimensions towards higher knowledge. Thus, the bodies of the dead researchers you find all have their foreheads bulging in the center, implying they would have developed a true third eye if they lived long enough. When Frank sees himself in the mirror near the very end of the game, his otherwise weak and malnourished body has an almost fully-formed third eye, and same goes for Dr. Faust.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The majority of the researchers have already experienced distressing psychological and physiological signs as the result of the Conarium "expeditions" long before things spiralled out of control, leading to their deaths. Yet, none of them seem to have thought of taking the titular device off their arm to see if it would help.
    • The expedition has been sufficiently well-funded to construct not one, but two elevators in the permafrost conditions and to get two minisubs as well. Yet, nobody seems to have thought that gas masks and other forms protection from biological contamination may be helpful when dealing with plants that have been extinct outside of that place for millions of years. Hence, at least one researcher dies when the Sa'heti plant suddenly bloomed, filling the air with a cloud of spores so thick he choked on it, and a frequent obstacle are vines that cannot be cut because of the poison gas they release - again, something that would have been a non-issue with gas masks.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Frank is strangely selective about the supernatural or plain creepy events he chooses to acknowledge.
    • A co-worker's locker suddenly has dozens of creepy wooden idols burst out of it when opened? No comment: he would rather ask where he might be if the coat is still in his locker.
    • A note says that Frank himself had straight-up died during an earlier session, and was barely revived? No real reflection!
    • A ghostly black cat just showed up in a lab out of nowhere? No reaction! (There is a note foreshadowing his presence, but even then, one would expect at least some response.)
    • A dead body of one of the people you have been working with for weeks, maybe months? At most, a comment on the state of the corpse's decomposition.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The number of dead bodies you find is way smaller than the number of researchers who were stationed at Upuaut. While it seems likely that all the researchers are now dead, what exactly happened to most of them is largely unclear.
  • You All Look Familiar: All of the Arctic explorers use pretty much the same model. Thus, Frank's reflections in the mirrors barely differ from any random dead researcher, and even the present-day Dr. Faust clearly has an appearance much closer to you and everyone else than to his past self from the flashbacks.
  • You Wake Up in a Room: The narrative begins with Frank Gilman waking up in the Upuaut Meeting Room after experiencing a nightmare, and finding out that everyone else is gone.