H.P. Lovecraft’s take on the horror genre was something unique for its time, and the only reason it isn’t anymore is because his works have inspired a genre of their own, present across all media. The mind-shattering creatures which care little for human undersnding of the universe, bizarre cults to primordial false gods, bizarre hybrids, and unknowable horrors are now common, and we have Lovecraft’s works to thank for that.
Game, of course, aren’t immune to the draw of the maddening unknowable, and as a result we’ve got plenty of games which either straight-up adapt HPL’s stories, or take clear inspiration from the ideas within. On this list we’re taking a look at ten of them, but it barely scratches the surface. The surface, beneath which the cosmic horror that cannot die weaves the song of madness in humanity’s dreams. Without delaying the horrific inevitable, let’s jump headlong into the list of…
|Darkest Dungeon||2016-01-19||Indie||Red Hook Studios||87%|
|Call Of Cthulhu Dark Corners Of The Earth||2006-04-26||Adventure||Headfirst Productions||31%|
|Call Of Cthulhu||2018-10-30||Survival horror||Cyanide||38%|
|Sherlock Holmes The Awakened Remastered||2008-09-23||Adventure||Frogwares||61%|
|Carrion||2020-07-23||Horror||Phobia Game Studio||54%|
|Sunless Sea||2015-02-06||Adventure||Failbetter Games||79%|
|Darkwood||2017-07-17||Adventure||Acid Wizard Studio||81%|
|Darkest Dungeon 2||2021-10-26||Red Hook Studios||Roguelike, RPG|
|Song of Horror Complete Edition||2019-10-31||Horror||Protocol Games||86%|
|Amnesia: Rebirth||2020-10-20||Horror||Frictional Games||94%|
|Moons of Madness||2019-10-22||Adventure||Rock Pocket, Dreamloop Games||74%|
|The Land of Pain||2017-09-13||Horror & Adventure||Alessandro Guzzo|
|QUAKE||2020-08-19||Action & Shooter||id Software||18%|
|Cthulhu Saves the World||2011-07-13||Indie||Zeboyd Games||36%|
|The Last Door - Collector's Edition||2014-05-20||Adventure||The Game Kitchen||65%|
|Lovecraft's Untold Stories||2018-06-23||Adventure||Blini Games||92%|
|Call of the Sea||2020-12-08||Puzzle & Adventure||Out of the Blue Games S.L.||95%|
|Remnant: From the Ashes||2019-08-20||Adventure||Gunfire Games||61%|
|Lobotomy Corporation||2016-12-16||Indie||Project Moon||31%|
|We Need to Go Deeper||2017-02-08||Indie||Deli Interactive LLC||44%|
|Developer:||Red Hook Studios|
You inherited a mansion from your Ancestor, a vast mansion. It should a cause for celebration, but unfortunately, your ancestor has delved to deep and unleashed great evil upon the region.
Now you have to hire a band of people brave, or mad, enough to brave the monster- and cultist-infested estate, through real-time dungeon crawling and tense, engaging turn-based battles.
Courtesy Red Hook Studios
The Lovecraftiness of the game is clear from the moment your team steps into a dungeon. Your brave champions face cursed mutations, the darkness itself has a detrimental effect on their sanity, and there are more vile cultists than you could shake a broken sword at. And that’s before you even encounter nightmares caused by a madness-inducing gift from the vast cosmos beyond.
The Sinking City
Unlike Darkest Dungeon, which took themes and ideas from Lovecraftian horror, The Sinking City is rather explicitly based on the foundations laid by Lovecraft.
So much so that it openly references Innsmouth and the story does involve The Great Old Ones. The gameplay also uses the very Lovecraftian theme of an investigator losing the sanity because of the dark secrets he uncovers.
Courtesy PlayStation Europe
The Sinking City takes place in the 1920s in Massachusetts, and follows Charles Winfield Reed, an ex-military turned private eye. You’ll visit all districts in the town of Oakmont, trying to solve the mystery of a weird Flood troubling the town. It’s more of a detective game than an action game, as you collect and interpret clues, often at the cost of main character’s sanity, which can have fatal consequences.
One of the most-beloved games by FromSoftware, Bloodborne couldn’t be more Lovecraftian is it tried.
It even has a detrimental Insight stat which makes you perceive things beyond human understanding, such as the singing of lanterns, of monsters hiding in plain (in)sight. As you try to escape the Nightmare, itself a powerful theme, you’ll also fight many literal Great (Old) Ones.
Bloodborne it’s all nightmares and horror, however. It could stand on its own through its extremely polished, demanding, and exciting combat system, promoting aggressive playstyles over being methodical and cautious. Since you can recover some of the health you lost to an unholy monstrosity, going on the offensive is encouraged. Just don’t go charging in blindly.
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
2005’s Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth was critically quite well-received at the time, and to this day remains a very competent survival horror game.
It got a lot of mileage out of its sanity system, which influenced the senses of the game’s protagonist and could, eventually, lead to death if left unchecked for too long. It’s going to be tested because there’s a Cthulhu cult occupying an old manor.
The game also featured complex health tracking, dealing more with injuries than abstract skill points. Better yet, with no HUD you had to pay attention to things like a limp indicating a leg injury, or wobbly aim caused by a broken arm. As for the story, it was inspired by The Shadow over Innsmouth, and has links to The Shadow out of Time, both being essential elements of the Cthulhu Mythos.
Call of Cthulhu
Unlike Dark Corners of the Earth which was a survival horror, Call of Cthulhu leans strongly towards the role-playing genre as it adapts not only the works of Lovecraft, but also the classic tabletop RPG system by Chaosium.
The game puts you in the shoes of a private investigator called to solve the mysterious fire which killed a family in a small town called Darkwater.
Courtesy Focus Entertainment
Of course, the sanity system comes back, it is a Call of Cthulhu game, after all. As you investigate the gloomy village you encounter cults, face your own visions, and tangle with the imminent return of one who sleeps beneath the tides. Can you solve the mystery AND stay sane? It’s doubtful, but you must try. It is a Lovecraftian game through and through.
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened (Remastered)
Sherlock Holmes rarely dabbles in supernatural investigations, but when a series of kidnapping strike London, he’s on the case.
Soon the leads take him to an asylum in Switzerland, and even New Orleans, tracking a cult trying to summon Cthulhu. It’s up to you to help Holmes prevent this apocalyptic turn of events and find justice for the kidnapped people.
Courtesy Checkpoint TV
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is an adventure game, letting you move around the semi-open world to gather clues and converse with NPCs in order to figure out the next step in the investigation. That includes not only analysing samples, but also, of course, solving puzzles suchs as combination locks. It’s an interesting take on a Sherlock Holmes story, with a definitive Lovecraftian vibe.
|Developer:||Phobia Game Studio|
Not explicitly, or even directly Lovecraftian, except for the aspect that lets you play an amorphous, ravenous beast not entirely unlike a shoggoth of Lovecraft lore.
Of course, here it isn’t an inscrutable rebellious blob from outer space, it’s a weirdly developed colony of worms, potentially from outer space, but lore differences aside, it is a game about a shoggoth.
Courtesy Gamespot Trailers
As a red blob of worms you have to escape from a research facility, with your creepy powers to help you along. You can use tendrils move around like a blended Spider-Man, divide your mass into smaller pieces to squeeze through vents etc. It’s as much a monster simulator as it is a stealth game, and if you’re into gore and gruesome imagery, you’re going to feel right at home in Carrion.
Sunless Sea is a roguelike about a world where, well, the sun is gone, and your tiny little insignificant steamboat has to navigate and explore by a small light that barely manages to pierce the overwhelming darkness.
It wouldn’t be bad if there weren’t….things in the water, watching you, waiting for a chance. How long can your crew last before they lose their minds, and your mission fails?
Courtesy Failbetter Games
As the title might suggest, the Sunless Sea is a game dominated by darkness your customisable captain has to navigate for accomplish their equally customisable motivations. Unfortunately, the creatures living in the sea take their toll on the sanity of everyone on your steamboat. Between exploration, combat, and weighty storytelling choices, Sunless Sea is well worth playing.
|Developer:||Acid Wizard Studio|
If after learning about Sunless Sea you’re still uncertain that 2D, top-down horror makes sense, Darkwood should change your mind.
Vaguely set somewhere in the Soviet bloc, Darkwood is a survival horror making you try to survive in a village plagued by deranged people, mutated monsters, and weird characters holding on to reality by a thread. You’re barely safe during the day, and nights are worse.
Acid Wizard Studio
For a 2D top-down game, Darkwood manages to create an incredibly tense, oppressive atmosphere. The lighting system and the merciless lines of sight reveal just enough to unnerve you, and when you CAN see a lot, you quickly start wishing you didn’t. Darkwood is a phenomenal horror game, and the mix of ghostly apparitions, the unknowable hiding in the dark, and the disturbing and monstrous thing in plain sight make the game memorable and scary as hell.
The Secret World
|Genre:||Survival horror, MMO RPG|
Secret World, an MMORPG with strong supernatural inclinations takes inspirations from many sources.
The story involves secret societies and their plans towards various supernatural incursions taking place all over the world. Ghosts, demons, and, indeed, Lovecraftian horrors defying understanding. Thankfully, your characters are trained to deal with these nightmares.
Secret World is a MMORPG promising and delivering many hours of story-driven experience powered by very customizable (from appearance to gear and abilities) characters.
If, for a change, you’d like to have good chance to punching Cthulhu in the face, Secret World Legends is a great place to do it. Better yet: the base game is Free to Play, but you can buy bundles giving you more oomph.
Visions of inaccessible reality
This concludes our risky investigation into the games heavily relying on Lovecraftian horror and, possibly, based on Lovecraft’s own writings. The list isn’t exhaustive, but it covers a range of genres and themes to make it easy for you to find something that suits your preferences.