While the works of influential horror writer HP Lovecraft haven’t gotten as much cinematic love as we’d like, the world of video games can’t seem to get enough of the guy. It shouldn’t be too surprising, given the fact there are more nerds in game development than there are in Hollywood.
While Guillermo del Toro might struggle to get his adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness starring Tom Cruise off the ground, the world of games is absolutely stuffed to the the gills with shoggoths, Cthulhu, and several different flavors of elder gods all inspired by the #Lovecraft mythos. So we took some time to pick out our favorite Lovecraft-inspired video games to demonstrate just how pervasive the guy’s influence in the world of gaming really is.
1. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Back in the early 2000s, this is the game that pulled me back into gaming. After an ugly breakup, my best friend )and co-writer of this article) sat me down and had me play this game to keep me distracted. And holy hell, Eternal Darkness blew past every expectation I had.
This action-adventure game takes place over centuries, with each chapter containing a unique and richly complex story, each bleeding into the narrative whole, making for an amazing exercise in storytelling. But what makes this game truly #Lovecraftian are the monstrously alien entities competing for control of the universe in an era-spanning game of rock, paper, scissors. Oh, and the fact that everything you encounter slowly drains your sanity away, leading to in-game effects designed to mess with not just the character you play but with you the player. Eternal Darkness is the closest I’ve ever come to a truly Lovecraftian experience.
2. Alone In The Dark
If you loved the old Resident Evil games on the original #PlayStation, then you should give praise for Alone in the Dark, seeing as how it was the inspiration for just about everything that came after it. The first game in the series holds the distinction of being one of the first PC games ever to feature polygonal characters in a pre-rendered background. In fact, it even listed in the Guinness World Records as the first ever 3D survival-horror game.
Alone in the Dark sees you inspecting a suspicious mansion after the suicide of its owner, only to find a slew of supernatural creatures infesting it. A great deal of the gameplay is inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe, specifically his short story The Fall of the House of Usher. There are tributes to Lovecraft scattered throughout, with many of the monsters inspired by the writer's own creature creations and even the #Necronomicon makes a cameo, along with some rumblings of a greater cosmic evil behind the house’s haunting.
3. Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs
OK, this feels like one of Lovecraft’s more standalone works. It might not be filled with cosmic horror, but it has a lot in common with, say, the short story Pickman’s Model, where there is a dark, horrifying world of disturbing, unnatural beings. In the case of this horror-survival game, it’s Manpigs working in service to a vast and endlessly intricate machine designed to run on human sacrifice. And if none of that was enough to convince you, then look at this sketch by none other than Lovecraft himself. It’s supposed to be one of the ghouls from Pickman’s Model, but it looks a little porcine, don't you think? Kinda like a man pig.
The idea that there is something very wrong with the world just beneath the perfectly normal facade is a quintessentially Lovecraftian idea, as is the sense of pervasive, inescapable madness that is an integral part of the Amnesia franchise.
For this one, you might be wondering how any of this could be inspired by Lovecraft. Isn’t Bloodborne a badass action RPG in which you play as a guy or gal who hacks and slashes their way through various monstrosities? Well, that might seem to be the case upon first inspection, but the further you progress in the game, the more inspired by Lovecraft it becomes.
In the world of #Bloodborne, the dominant religion worships the Great Ones — giant tentacled beasts straight out of Call of Cthulhu. The player comes across numerous skeletons of practitioners of the religion, who’ve left behind “madman’s knowledge” which the player can collect. The Lovecraft references become even more direct when the game's version of a Shaggoth pops up, one of the most iconic creature’s of Lovecraft lore that literally drains a sanity meter if you even dare to gaze upon it. This is easily one of the most satisfying and esoteric games ever to be inspired by Lovecraft.
5. Call Of Cthulhu: Dark Corners Of The Earth
Dark Corners of the Earth is based on Lovecraft’s work, but not the story you’d think, with #Cthulhu being one of the more well-known of Lovecraft’s creations, although the giant winged squid-faced monster doesn’t really show up to play in this game. Headfirst Productions, the studio behind this game, had previously licensed the #RPG Call of Cthulhu, hence the tenuous Lovecraft connection. I’m not really sure why though because this is a shooter with absolutely no RPG-style elements in it.
All that aside, the game is actually pretty awesome. There is no radar, no heads-up display, no ammo counter. Ammunition is limited, and oh yes, because the game is based on Lovecraft’s work, you can go insane from exposure to cosmic horror and fishmen. The game is based on the novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth, with a lot of your in-game problems based around a race of hideous fish people and Dagon the fish god. The Shadow Over Innsmouth is perhaps the most suitable story for adapting to a first-person shooter. The fish men may be terrifying, but they're no match for bullets.
6. Clive Barker’s Undying
For as long as there have been #FPS, game developers have been taking terrible things and blowing them up. Doom had us facing off against the forces of hell on Mars. Why? Shut up. It was inevitable that we eventually end up fighting Lovecraftian horrors, and as the original Half-Life showed, doing it can feel pretty damn awesome. But Half-Life was never much into the occult. Sure, there was "the One Free Man" thing, but I always got the sense it was some sort of weird science so advanced that it’s basically magic rather than actual mysticism.
Oh man, did Undying ever fill that void. Look at the character designs. Those are good, old-fashion Lovecraftian unspeakable monstrosities. The plot feels similarly, as you work to stop a cursed family from releasing the Undying King, a powerful demonic presence with a name Lovecraft himself could have come up with. The only real difference is that it’s difficult to feel any of the cosmic horror that Lovecraft’s writing depends on, because you keep shooting everything or throwing spells at monsters and killing them before you really get a chance to contemplate how minuscule and helpless you are in the universe.
7. World Of Warcraft
You might be thinking, what the heck does Warcraft anything have to do with Lovecraft? Sure, they both have the craft suffix, but isn’t Warcraft that thing with the giant orcs smashing humans with big hammers? Well you're not wrong, but the key thing to remember is that between the #RTS games, comics, novels, and the seemingly never-ending massively multiplayer online game, Warcraft has been going on so long that it’s managed to absorb a huge number of influences.
We’ve seen sci-fi alien spaceships, flaming demons, kung-fu pandas, and steampunk goblins. The literal world of Warcraft is designed to encompass just about any geeky thing that strikes #Blizzard's fancy. So it should come as no surprise, being the uber nerds they are over at Blizzard, that #WoW has its own Elder Gods who are inspired by Lovecraftian deities.
The Elder Gods have served as major antagonists in World of Warcraft raids, with the two biggest ones seen so far being Cthun and Yogg-Saron. These Elder Gods are critical to the survival of #Azeroth and when the original titans created the world in Warcraft’s prehistory, they found that they could not purge them without destroying the world itself. So they remain sleeping in the deepest depths waiting to awaken as raid bosses to be beaten by players seeking epic purple loot.
8. Cthulhu Saves The World
This games takes the typical Lovecraft mythos and reverses it. The player controls Cthulhu, although instead of spreading insanity and horror upon the world, Cthulhu is the savior of mankind. After waking up folling centuries of slumber under the sea, Cthulhu is zapped by a wizard who takes away all his powers. In order to retrieve them and spread insanity to mankind, Cthulhu needs to prove himself to be a true hero. He embarks on quest right out of #JRPG as he’s forced to become as virtuous as possible so that he may go back to serving up cosmic horror to humanity. The entire thing is a delightfully tongue-in-cheek take on the world of Lovecraft and, given the bargain basement price, a great pick-up for Lovecraft fans and JRPG enthusiasts alike.
9. Dead Space
I know, I know. Dead Space is like a mashup of Event Horizon and #Alien. It’s zombies in space, so why are we crediting Lovecraft for this? Because of the marker and the Unitology cult. Yes, we understand that Unitology is just an unsubtle jab at Scientology, but hear us out.
Dead Space is premised on an artifact of alien origins that warps the human mind and body, creating a horrifying other that slowly, irresistibly scours away humanity amid the backdrop of endless, uncaring space. Yeah, that’s bad enough, but there is a deluded cult trying to speed the end of the human race by feeding themselves and everyone else to the ever-growing mass of sanity, rending monsters called Necromorphs.
If Lovecraft had lived to see the launch of the space program, I’d say there are good odds he’d have ended up churning out some stories pretty damn similar to the first #DeadSpace movie and the subsequent video games. By the time the trilogy ended, the series went full Lovecraft when the source of the Necromorphs were revealed to be ancient planet-sized beings known as the Brethren Moons who used the markers as a way to reproduce by robbing planets of all organic life. It’s the ultimate form of cosmic horror that Lovecraft would probably have appreciated.
Euclidean comes from the indie world of horror games, focusing less on the combat and ammo conservation of something like #ResidentEvil and more on the experimental realm of survival horror like Slender or Outlast. Essentially you’re forced to navigate and try to survive with your sanity intact in an extra-special realm infested with bizarre otherworldly #Euclidean geometric shapes. As you go further into the hostile environment of the game, the presence of otherworldly gods becomes more apparent. The game even takes things a step further, offering full #VR support for gamers truly looking to step directly into the mouth of madness.
11. Fallout 4
While the #Fallout series doesn’t seem to take much influence from Lovecraft and mostly takes its flavor from pulp '50s sci-fi, there was one amazing quest in Fallout 4 that changed everything. The game is set in Boston, so given Lovecraft’s love of the state of Massachusetts, the developers couldn’t let that slide.
The game has numerous references to Lovecraft lore, like the Pickman Gallery, a direct reference to the author's short story. But perhaps the best is the long quest centered around the Cabot House. What makes the Cabot House especially interesting is that of all the houses in Fallout 4, it's practically pristine. Things get stranger still as you meet the Cabot family and you learn that they’re more than 400 years old. Then you learn about their elder father, who went searching for an alien artifact in Arabia in the late 1800s. He found the alien device from an elder god that gave him supernatural powers while driving him insane.
Chief among his powers was that of his blood, which allowed the Cabot family to become practically immortal. However, to harvest it they had to keep their father locked away, unless the player chooses to free him. This was easily one of the best, most fleshed-out quests in Fallout 4, and it’s a shame the game didn’t feature more content of this quality. We could have done with a few more Lovecraft quests instead of building another settlement.
13. Mass Effect
While on its surface Mass Effect might seem more like a pulpy space opera in the vein of Star Trek or #StarWars, at its beating heart is a Lovecraftian story mashed together with tales of artificial intelligence gone awry, as in #Terminator or The Matrix.
The central antagonist behind the entire Mass Effect trilogy are the Reapers, a race of a sentient machines that are similar to Elder Gods. It’s no coincidence that their design is similar to a squid. Essentially, the Reapers harvest the galaxy of all organic life to create more of themselves as they fuse millions of lives into singular beings of biotechnological horror. They also have a method of slowly corrupting and controlling the minds of lesser creatures, known as indoctrination. They’re basically Lovecraftian Elder Gods put through James Cameron’s Skynet filter to create the ultimate sci-fi nemesis of cosmic terror.
While the #MassEffect games aren’t necessarily horror, they have one of the most horrific enemies ever seen in any video game.
14. The Secret World
Love #MMOs but sick of the generic fantasy setting we see in the likes of Final Fantasy XIV, World of Warcraft and Guild Wars? Secret World was designed to dish out all the fun of MMO action, but with a supernatural Lovecraftian twist. The game’s world is a lovingly cobbled together amalgamation of Stephen King, Lovecraft and Indian Jones.
Essentially, the player character awakens after a supernatural event strikes the Tokyo subway, only to discover they now have supernatural powers. After mastering their powers in a tutorial environment, they are approached by three separate groups in the hopes of recruiting you. They are the Templars, Illuminati and the Dragon syndicate. From there, you go about battling supernatural foes, including vampires, werewolves and zombies, while learning the truth of the civilization-ending Lovecraftian Elder God that’s behind everything and becoming enveloped even more by the conspiracy.
Like many MMOs, The Secret World is barely hanging on, but it does have a strong community support behind it while offering a Lovecraftian respite for those sick of slinging spells and wielding swords.
On the surface, Dishonored might not appear to have a great deal of Lovecraftian influences. It’s a stealth action-adventure game where you assassinate people in a fictional world with a futuristic steam punk aesthetic. But the real key is Corvo’s supernatural powers. Powers that were gifted to him by a mischievous entity known only as the Outsider. He’s a transdimensional being that offers powers to those he finds amusing. If that wasn’t good enough, there are also cults of worship located throughout the city with shrines devoted to the Outsider who are suppressed by the government. Lovecraft might be a background element, but it’s still something that gives #Dishonored it’s unique flavor.
16. Alan Wake
Alan Wake was an often delayed title featured on on the Xbox 360. Essentially it was made by Max Payne developer Remedy and took forever to be finished. If you ever wanted to play Stephen King: The Video Game, this is probably the closest you’ll ever come. The game revolves around a fictional bestselling horror writer, the titular #AlanWake.
Suffering from writer’s block, Wake goes to a secluded town that totally isn’t #SilentHill, although it might as well be, given all the supernatural stuff he runs into. There is an Elder God-like being known as the Dark Presence that is seeking to escape by using writers to shape the world around them. It treads a lot of the same ground as John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness and takes heavy inspiration from the work of #StephenKing. Although, you could say that seeing as King takes so much of his inspiration from Lovecraft, through a sort of cultural osmosis the tendrils of Lovecraft’s presence seep into Alan Wake, much like the corrosive influence of an Elder God.
17. Sunless Sea
This game is pretty much everything you’d want out of a creepy exploration game in a Lovecraftian universe. I mean, look at this stuff! There are submerged statues, monstrous things lurking in the water, and you can ship human souls. Oh, and there’s the giant clockwork device called the dawn machine that can literally drive you insane if you get too close to it. Because that’s not Lovecraftian at all. As if that wasn’t enough, the entire setting takes place in an alternate version of London dragged down into the Earth after Queen Victoria made a deal with some sort of entity to spare her husband’s life.
So if you’ve managed to make it to the end of this list with your sanity meter full, let us know what your favorite Lovecraft-inspired game is in the comments below.