Games based on the stories and universes of HP Lovecraft have been around ever since there’ve been computers to design them for. Many of the games were just retold versions of his stories, set in Innsmouth or Arkham –like towns. While a lot of these were fun, it’s more interesting to see what developers and programmers came up with under Lovecraft’s influence but without trying to copy him.
So what exactly makes a game Lovecraftian? In fiction, if something captures the atmosphere of weirdness and existential horror, then most writers would call that Lovecraftian. In horror/survival games, a horrific atmosphere is kind of the point, so we can’t really say that every game involving creepy mansions, dark secrets and monsters is inspired by Lovecraft.
Video games end up being the opposite of fiction (and maybe movies too) in that using the monsters and trappings of the Cthulhu Mythos is what makes the games Lovecraftian. It’s an odd distinction and of course there’s works on both sides that break the rule, but I think it holds true for the most part. While there are tons of games based on HPL’s work, we’ll focus mostly on ones that are still available and playable.
An interactive fiction adventure written and published by Michael S. Gentry in 1998, Anchorhead is a homage to both Lovecraft and the text adventure itself, long a mostly extinct beast in this world of graphics. The nameless protagonist must stop Croesus, an ancient soul, from taking over her husband’s body and also put an end to his fanatical cult, which is attempting to summon an ancient god living on a comet that just happens to be passing by earth at the same time. To do so, she must interact with the citizens of Anchorhead, while avoiding attempts to lead her to her doom. To say anything more would be spoiling.
The game is still available to play at http://pr-if.org/play/anchorhead/
Necronomicon: The Gateway to Beyond (2001)
This mystery adventure game follows William H. Stanton as he tries to uncover the secrets of the Necronomicon and stop an invasion from another dimension. While the premise might sound familiar, Necronomicon: The Gateway to Beyond is a game with fabulous graphics for its time, and is tremendously fun but on the difficult side. One particular puzzle, involving angelic names, symbols and elements will make you wish you’d gotten that degree in Occultism after all. The game borrows liberally from HPL but presents it in a cool environment and mostly from an angle that HPL himself never quite managed to use. But if you’re new to the Cthulhu Mythos, then this game might be a fun way to learn about some of the inhabitants of it. You can find the game for sale still. It’s for Windows 95/98, though it may run in compatibility mode or through an emulator.
Call of Cthulhu: Darkest Corners of the Earth (2005)
This game was in development forever it seemed. It was worth it though, as Darkest Corners of the Earth presents an escape from Innsmouth scenario that HPL himself would have loved. Renowned for including a Sanity mechanic that made protagonist Jack Walters hear and see things that weren’t really there. Or were they? Too many hits on the old Sanity and Walters would commit suicide or go permanently insane, which meant Game Over. Darkest Corners of the Earth was billed as something of a Lovecraftian FPS, which it might have been when first developed, but the game is more Survival Horror than Shooter. Made for Xbox and PC, the game has backward compatibility with the 360, though that may vary regionally.
I won’t say too much about Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land, except that developer Red Wasp has updated the game and some of my issues in the original review (aiming/mouse issues) have been addressed and fixed. Woo hoo! You can find my original review here: http://leviathyn.com/blog/2012/05/06/review-call-of-cthulhu-the-wasted-land/