80 Years after his death, H.P. Lovecraft inspired a generation of videogames
March 15th, 2017, marks the 80th anniversary of seminal horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s passing.
While the man’s work looms large over horror literature even today, it’s had an undeniable influence on some titles in the videogame medium too. Tons of games reference, borrow from and outright steal from Lovecraft’s horror polemic.
If you don’t believe us, consider the following list of titles we’ve dug up that owe a debt of inspiration – if not direct influence – to Lovecraft’s work. The late horror maestro’s oeuvre is almost a genre unto itself. Steam even has a dedicated tag for it.
While the Souls games have always drawn some inspiration from Lovecraft’s pool of mysterious worlds and cosmic horrors, none of them did so as blatantly as Bloodborne. This is best illustrated in the design of the game’s monsters, where it’s sometimes difficult to tell if you’re fighting enemies from the game’s fictional world, outer space or even other dimensions.
Those clued up on Bloodborne’s fiction or any of the famously sparse worlds of the Souls games may be putting your hand up for an answer. That’s the second side of the coin that makes Bloodborne such a good Lovecraftian game: you need to brave the dangers of the unknown to find those answers. The tiny, out-of-context snippets of lore are worth fighting this game’s immense bestiary for.
The Order 1886
One of the bigger disappointments on the PS4, The Order 1886, is deeply flawed as a videogame. What it does do right, however, is provide an extremely detailed world full of interesting alternate history that’s satisfying to learn about. Or, at the very least, watch on YouTube.
The entire plot of a secret war being waged against half-human monstrosities using both ancient forces and new technology fits so well into Lovecraft’s mythos, that fans should definitely consider picking this up at a discount.
While Eldritch may be ultimately forgotten as a stab at creating a first person rogue-like (something we hope the upcoming STRAFE will accomplish), it still manages to capture the feeling of an adventurer trying to plunder a forgotten home of elder gods.
Named after a term that has become synonymous with “Lovecraftian”, this game’s biggest strength is its sound design and the feeling of tension that settles over you as you’re sneaking your way through some godforsaken temple.
Hearing fish people and cultists breathe and skulk just out of your view makes for a very tense experience, especially when all you have to defend yourself with are your fists and a broken glass bottle.
For its 1996 FPS, id Software ditched the setting of a demon-infested Mars and instead opted to send players to a pocket dimension seemingly wholly inspired by Lovecraft’s lore. Players would prowl through levels with names like The Nameless City, The Palace Of Hate and Ziggurat Vertigo that looked like Gothic-inspired hell. And while there were tons of beef-cake demons to blast, they’d run afoul of creatures like Shub Niggurath and The Formless Spawn of Tsathoggua – who Lovecraft fans may remember from the story The Whisperer In The Darkness.
While we’ve mostly used trailers on this page, we urge you to check out the video by YouTube content creator Ahoy. It’s something of a documentary on the game and has some incredibly fine production quality and a lot of hard work put into it.
Resident Evil 4
Resident Evil 4 was a game-changer for Capcom’s premier horror series – to be honest, it wasn’t this good again until this year – and while it drew on elements from previous iterations, the game’s director Shinji Mikami gave it a distinctly Lovecraftian feel.
From the eerie town setting to the creepy cult-like villagers, this was an environment that wouldn’t be out of place in the Cthulhu lore. Need further proof? There’s even an argument that Mikami based the story for his game on Dagon, one of Lovecrafts’ better-known short stories.
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened
The world’s greatest detective vs. fiction’s eeriest cult? Yes please. This was the conceit behind Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, which sees Holmes and Watson investigating the disappearance of foreigners. Things quickly spiral from there into human sacrifice and the discovery of a cult that is trying to bring back a certain tentacle-faced old god. It’s probably best not to consider this canon, but it’s a fantastic story and dead creepy in places to boot.
This game’s tagline of “Lose your mind. Eat your crew. Die.” is a perfect little summation of being given a steamship and asked to explore the very real horrors of the open water in the established Fallen London universe.
Playing this game gave me the exact feelings I had when reading the short story The Temple – a tale of a cursed German u-boat that finds a temple at the bottom of the ocean after being crippled. Booting up Sunless Sea yields that same idea of untold treasures in the open water, tempered by the dangers therein.
Developer Failbetter Games is also working on a sequel called Sunless Skies. We hope the Lovecraft staples of gods and cities in the sky, as well as mystical ships to take you there make it into that game.
If there was such as thing as “textbook Lovecraft”, Darkest Dungeon would be the first and best example.
You are tasked with returning to your ancestral home which was built on top of a portal to another dimension. To close the portal, bring peace to the world and honour back to the family name, you will have to embark on expeditions fighting all manner of horrors tainted by the portal.
Mercenaries will go mad from their deeds, the weak-willed will die from heart attacks before they can be slain by beasts, and the game will pummel you with its immense difficulty and unyielding cruelty until you’re as damaged as your characters.
Despite its fantastic quality and memorable water cooler moments, this is a game that you’ll try and finish once and probably never return to. Unless you’re made of sterner stuff than I am, anyway.