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 soul, 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, some of the most famous films in history are based on 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…
10 Video Games based on books
American McGee’s Alice & Alice: Madness Returns
|Release year:||2000 (Alice), 2011 (Madness Returns)|
|Developer||Rogue Entertainment (Alice), Spicy Horse (Madness Returns)|
|Source material:||Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass|
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.
The dark, brutal nature of Wonderland is a reflection of Alice’s trauma cause 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 brighter, either.
The Sinking City
|Source material:||H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos|
The Sinking City takes place in Oakmont, Massachusetts during the 1920s, but you wouldn’t find it on any map, the inhabitants prefer 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 wears 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.
|Release year:||1997 (DW1) – 2018 (DW9)|
|Source material:||Lou Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms & Chen Shou’s Records of the Three Kingdoms|
Dynasty Warriors is a very specific kind of game. Each game features dozens of playable characters, and all of them can slay hundreds of enemies during any given battle. But that isn’t necessarily the main draw, 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 always hit the story bits familiar to those who know Lou Guanzhong’s novel. And 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 actor. It’s all a touch silly, but good fun.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
|Source material:||Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West|
Sun Wukong, the Monkey King is one of the most famous characters from Chinese culture. 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 fitted with a slave headband which lets Trip compel him to help her. 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 civilisation.
Lord of the Rings: War in the North
|Source material:||J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings|
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 War in the North side story. It does it in a very videogame manner, certainly, but there’s a lot to like.
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, threatening the North.
|Release year:||2010 (2033) – 2019 (Exodus)|
|Source material:||Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033|
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 games 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 rumour 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
|Source material:||Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness|
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. Heavy game based on a heavy original story.
The game follows captain Martin Walker, send with his squad on a recon mission to Dubai which was hist 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 light, but worth checking out.
|Release year:||2007 (Shadow of Chernobyl), 2008 (Clear Sky), 2010 (Call of Pripyat)|
|Developer||GSC Game World|
|Source material:||Arkady and Boris Strugatskys’ Roadside Picnic|
No matter what way one would look at it, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. owes a LOT to Strugatskys’ science fiction book. Some elements of the story are virtually the same, others slightly changed to better suit the narrative. Even the titel of the game itself is taken from a loose adaptation of Strugatskys’ work, the movie Stalker 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.
|Release year:||2007 (TW1), 2011 (TW2), 2015 (TW3)|
|Developer||CD Projekt Red|
|Source material:||Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher short stories and books|
CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher series isn’t an adaptation as much as an unofficiroal sequel, because it takes place a few years after the original books concluded. All of it begins when Geralt returns to Kaer Morhen amnesiac, thankfully finding some faces he doesn’t know are familiar. 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
|Release year:||1998 (Rainbow Six) – 2018 (Rainbow Six Siege)|
|Developer||Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Milan, Red Storm Entertainment|
|Source material:||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 many more games and licences inspired by books, of course, but further exploration of the topic is a matter for another time. The End