Books are the third oldest carrier of stories, after cave paintings and oral tradition. There are thousands, probably millions of them, all carrying a sliver of the authors’ souls, possibly a serving of tropes known to be working, and a potential to be adapted to a different medium. There’s no shortage of films based on books. In fact, some of the most famous films in history are based on a literary source material.
But games aren’t far behind, either, and there’re more book-inspired video games than you might think. Some games are straightforward adaptations, others are sequels, or reimaginings, but the inspirations always remain quite clear. Let’s take a look at a sample of…
|Metro 2033 Redux||2014-08-27||Horror||4A GAMES||85%|
|Call of Cthulhu||2018-10-30||Adventure||Focus Entertainment||34%|
|Dune: Spice Wars||2022-04-26||Strategy||Shiro Games||29%|
|The Witcher||2008-09-16||RPG||CD PROJEKT RED||57%|
|Cyberpunk 2077||2020-12-10||Action RPG||CD PROJEKT RED||57%|
|Alice Madness Returns||2011-06-14||Adventure||Spicy Horse Games||9%|
|The Sinking City||2019-06-27||Adventure||Frogwares||62%|
|Enslaved Odyssey To The West||2013-10-24||Adventure||Ninja Theory||83%|
|Tom Clancys Rainbow Six Siege||2015-12-01||Action||Ubisoft Montreal|
|Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends||2014-05-13||Fighting||KOEI TECMO GAMES CO., LTD.||59%|
|S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2||2023-12||Survival Horror||GSC Game World|
|S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat||2007-03-20||RPG||GSC Game World||76%|
|Metro Exodus||2020-02-14||Adventure||4A GAMES||89%|
|Lord Of The Rings War In The North||2011-11-08||Adventure||Snowblind Studios|
|The Witcher 2 Assassins Of Kings||2011-05-17||Adventure||CD PROJEKT RED||86%|
|The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt||2015-05-18||RPG||CD PROJEKT RED||63%|
|Tom Clancys Ghost Recon Wildlands||2017-03-06||Adventure||Ubisoft Annecy||83%|
Why don’t we begin with a reference to the classics? Dante Alighieri wrote his Divine Comedy in the early 1300s, and it’s been a text of culture which influenced a lot about the popular perception of afterlife. It also spawned some game. An obvious one is Devil May Cry series, but on a less famous front, there’s also Visceral Games’ Dante’s Inferno, a fiery hack’n’slah set in Hell itself.
The game plays with the source material quite a lot. To begin with, Dante is a disgraced crusader, who’s not only literally too angry to die, but also just angry enough to kill Death and steal its scythe. And that’s just the start of a violent, hack’n’slashing trip through the afterlife. It’s not all for glory, however, it’s for love: your beloved Beatrice was kidnapped by Lucifer, and you must rescue her.
Conan the Cimmerian is one of the genre legends, dating back to pulp magazines of the 1930s. Over the years the grim-faced outlander has seen anumber of adaptations across multiple media, including several movies, many comics, and, indeed, quite a few games. The biggest and the most elaborate of those is Conan Exiles, a survival game from Funcom.
The game starts out strong: you’re a convict set free by Conan, who gives you a second chance at life, assuming you are good enough to claim it. You start the lowest of the low, but with enough crafting, wit, and determination you might build your own fortress, populate it with serf NPCs, and even summon an avatar of your god to crush your enemies and see them driven before you.
|Developer:||CD PROJEKT RED|
Unlike other games on the list, Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t based on a novel or a poem. Instead, it’s based on a tabletop role-playing game Cyberpunk, which dates bas to the late 80s, but went through several editions. CD Projekt Red, best known for The Witcher games, have takes to setting further into the future that even the source material does, and told a fascinating story with it.
It’s the first look at the famous Night City from this perspective, and CDPR’s urban open-world RPG does a fantastic job adapting the place to a video game format. As V, a newcomer mercenary with a troublesome chip in their head, you’ll tangle with corpos, deal with gangs, and become a fulcrum around a decades-old vendetta of a rebellious cyber-ghost.
Dune: Spice Wars
Frank Herbert’s Dune is something of a foundational science fiction writing, and its legacy cannot be overstated. Thanks to a new cinematic adaptation, the interest in the franchise is rising, which also gave rise to new video games. One of them is already here, Dune: Spice Wars, still in Early Access at the time of writing, but already gathering very positive reviews.
Spide Wars is a 4X strategy game from the creators of Northgard. It strays from the letter of the books to allow a large scale conflict between several factions including, of course, House Harkonnen, House Atreides, and the Fremen. If you’d like to prove that you’d do a better job than Atreides in the canon, this is your chance to do so. It’s a worthy successor to the legendary Dune 2.
You might have heard of Parasite Eve, a classic RPG from Square, released back in the 90s, with two sequels for good measure. But did you know it is itself a prequel to a science fiction horror novel by Hideaki Sena? The original novel explores the idea that mitochondria (the powerhouses of the cells) are actually pieces of an intelligent life-form with its own agenda for humanity.
The game’s plot kicks off during an opera performance, during which everybody except three people spontaneously combusts. This is just a beginning of a game about weird science, body horror, and dynamic using Square’s Active Time Bar system. This changed completely in the 3rd Birthday, which has a tenuous connection to the prior stories, and uses a third-person shooter gameplay.
Alice: Madness Returns
|Developer:||Spicy Horse Games|
The adventures of a girl called Alice in a fantastical, topsy-turvy Wonderland are a part of a shared culture by now, in big part thanks to Disney’s adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s works. But there is another, darker adaptation, and it came from the mind of American McGee. Over the course of the game you’ll meet many characters you’re familiar with, as they oppose the Queen of Hearts’ ambitions.
The dark, brutal nature of Wonderland is a reflection of Alice’s trauma caused by a house fire which killed her parents, and traditional “health” is instead replaced with “sanity” to hammer home that theme. Although it’s clearly inspired by Carroll’s legendary work, it’s by no means a game for kids, puzzles and platforming notwithstanding. The sequel isn’t any more upbeat, either.
The Sinking City
The Sinking City takes place in Oakmont, Massachusetts during the 1920s, but you wouldn’t find it on any map, the inhabitants prefer it being hard to find. There used to be a small, unremarkable town of Innsmouth nearby, but recently it was mysteriously destroyed and survivors, a gloomy sort, came to live in Oakmont.
The Sinking City really does wear its inspirations on its sleeve.
Since the story is very much a mystery investigation it would be unseemly to describe its secrets, but the Cthulhu mythos is a defining part of the story, and goes well beyond the big squidface himself, and into areas less memetic. The writing is quite good, and the game certainly has the proper “cosmic horror” atmosphere when it gets down to it.
DYNASTY WARRIORS 9 Empires
|Developer:||KOEI TECMO GAMES CO., LTD|
Dynasty Warriors is a very specific kind of game. Each entry features dozens of playable characters, any of which can slay hundreds of enemies during any given battle. But that isn’t necessarily the main draw here — the inspirations for the series’ stories are. It’s all taking place during Tree Kingdoms period of Chinese history, and you get to play as famous generals and officers.
While the games can be quite over-the-top with each officer’s kill count, or the magic they employ, they usually hit the story bits familiar to those who know Lou Guanzhong’s novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms.The collection of characters is massive, ranging from major figures like Cao Cao or Guan Yu, to minor character like concubines and offspring of major actors.
It’s all a touch silly, but always good fun.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
Sun Wukong, the Monkey King is one of the most famous characters from Chinese culture, drawn from the all-time classic epic called Journey to the West. If you’ve seen Dragon Ball, you know him as Son Goku, but the character has appeared in many media over the years. One of the adaptations is Ninja Theory’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, which checks quite a few plot points along the way, in a cool, transformative way.
The game follows a man called Monkey, who’s forced to escort a woman called Trip (Tripitaka) home. He’s, appropriately to the source material, fitted with a cybernetic headband which allows Trip to compel him.
The gameplay mixes environmental puzzles with fast-paced combat, and the post-apocalyptic world is beautiful, full of life and overgrown ruins of and old civilization.
Lord of the Rings: War in the North
Most Lord of the Rings games released take a lot of inspiration from Peter jackson’s cinematic adaptation. Shadow of Mordor certainly does. However, Lord of the Rings: War in the North feels closer to J. R. R. Tolkien’s books, going as far as to style itself around the often forgotten-about War in the North side story.
It does it in a very videogame manner, certainly, but there’s a lot to bite into.
LotR:WitN is at its best when it’s played with two friends, because there are three characters to pick: human Ranger Eradan, dwarf warrior Farin, and elf mage Andriel, and you’ll get the most out of every mission when you have a full squad, especially since every character only detects a certain type of secret. Together they must stop the schemes of Agandaur, Sauron’s faithful servant.
Dmitry Glukhovsky’s vision on nuclear post-apocalypse as depicted in his Metro 2033 turned out vivid and interesting enough to warrant getting a video game under the same title. And it turned out that the game was a big enough hit to get two sequels and a remake.
The stories, true to source, mostly take place in the fortified tunnels of Russian underground, a place safe from the post-apocalyptic surface.
All the games are first-person shooters, but the scenery changed substantially in the most recent entry, Metro Exodus. In this game, the main character Artyom and his family leave the tunnels and go on a journey across Russia to a rumoured safe haven.
The Metro games are great companion pieces to Glukhovsky’s book and great spiritual successors to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
Spec Ops: The Line
|Genre:||Action & Shooter|
An officer is lost in a dangerous territory, and you need to find him and take him back to the higher-ups. The basic premise of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is quite simple, but the story is anything but. You may know it from the book, you may know it from Apocalypse Now, or you may face it in an interactive form thanks to Spec Ops: The Line, an appropriately heavy game based on a heavy original story.
The game follows captain Martin Walker, sent with his squad on a recon mission to Dubai which was hit by a catastrophe. As their progress, they are forced to make some hard decisions and they make their way to a US officer John Konrad who was stranded in the city after the catastrophe. Much like the source material, the game isn’t pleasant nor lighthearted, but quite worth checking out.
|Developer:||GSC Game World|
No matter how one would look at it, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. owes a LOT to Strugatskys’ science fiction book Roadside Picnic. Some elements of the story are virtually the same, others slightly changed to better suit the narrative. Even the title of the game itself is taken from a loose adaptation of Strugatskys’ work — Stalker, a movie by Andrei Tarkovsky. That’s not to say S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is fully derivative, of course.
Especially the first S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was a really fresh, really interesting game, which an engaging story and a world which only fans of Russian science fiction have seen before. With multiple factions to deal with, and several distinct endings to work towards, Shadow of Chernobyl was an obvious hit, and its success is, eventually what allowed the Metro 2033 games to flourish a short time later.
|Developer:||CD PROJEKT RED|
CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher series isn’t an adaptation as much as an half-official sequel, because it takes place a few years after the original books concluded. All of it begins when Geralt returns to Kaer Morhen as an amnesiac, thankfully finding some friendly faces he doesn’t recognise right away. Better yet, certain storylines in the games seems lifted straight from the books for extra nostalgia.
Over three games you’re also going to meet many characters you know from the books. A good rule of thumb is that if a character played a major part in a story and aren’t confirmed dead they are likely to appear in some capacity, in one of the games’ many quests and story arcs. CDPR’s games are a great chance to defy the ending written in the books if you’re not ready to let go.
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six
This one is pretty straightforward. Tom Clancy, an author of many espionage- and military-themed novels, created a series called Rainbow Six, focused on the eponymous fictional counter-terrorist team. The first game was developed by Red Storm Entertainment, and subsequent ones were all made by Ubisoft studios, and there’s been quite a few of them since 1998.
Most of R6 games were singleplayer affairs, letting you control a team of highly trained operatives on specific scenarios. The 2018 entry in the series, Rainbow Six Siege bucked that trend in a big way – it is an asymmetrical multiplayer game featuring a large roster of specialised operatives split into broad categories of Attackers and Defenders, training together as counter-terrorists.
That concludes the list, showing that video games and literature have more in common than it’s immediately obvious.
There are, of course, many more games and licences inspired by books, but this list should tide you over until we refresh it in the future.