It’s World Book Day today, and what better way to celebrate than by looking at video games based on books?
You’d be forgiven for thinking that not many games based on books exist. Games based on TV series or movies, maybe. But books? Surely not! You’d be wrong: many of the most popular games out there have been based on books. Some games have entirely taken a book’s name and plot and turned it into an interactive adventure. Others have loosely taken themes and adapted it into something new.
We’ll be looking at both types of adaptation on this list as we visit some of the best games based on books. Have a read, and while you’re at it, maybe check out the games? Or better yet, give the books they’re based on a try!
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The Witcher 3
The Witcher series is perhaps the most famous (and most obvious) entry on our list of games based on books. These games started out life as a series of books written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. Quite a large series of books, in fact: with the first being published back in 1990, Sapkowski has gone on to write six novels and 15 short stories in the series. The last was published in 2013, with the English version being made available in 2018.
The Witcher books, just like the games, revolve around Geralt of Rivia, the titular ‘Witcher’, and cover his trials and tribulations through a dangerous world. It’s also gone on to spawn a popular Netflix series too.
The Sinking City
The Sinking City isn’t a direct adaptation of a book, but it draws heavily on the mythos of Cthulhu, created by H. P. Lovecraft. The Call of Cthulhu, first published in 1928 in American magazine Weird Tales, was Lovecraft’s introduction to the creature. But the idea of this deadly tentacled creature – and everything it stood for – is something that popped up in more of Lovecraft’s work throughout his career.
It’s a game very much worth picking up too; in our The Sinking City review, we called it an “intriguing and worthwhile detective-thriller”. Its use of Lovecraftian lore is handled very well, and injected with enough originality to make this a dark adventure that stands on its own two feet.
Lovecraftian lore is no stranger to video games, and plenty more have been inspired by his works: Call of Cthulhu, The Shore and Bloodborne just to name a few recent examples.
We can’t talk about the best games based on books without mentioning Dante’s Inferno. This 2010 title from Visceral Games may be a little long in the tooth now, but in our minds, it’s one of the best action games from the era. It sees the titular Dante battling his way through the nine circles of hell, each one more dark and deadly than the last.
And, of course, it’s based loosely on Dante Alighieri’s narrative poem, Divine Comedy. Or at least the first canticle of it; that was entitled ‘Inferno’, hence Dante’s Inferno. Inferno talks about Christian sin and outlines the nine circles of hell as imagined by Alighieri. Visceral Games took the idea of those circles and made us quite literally battle our way through them in the game. And we loved every minute of it.
Released on PlayStation One way back in 1998, Parasite Eve is considered something of a classic. Rather than being based on a book, the game actually acts as a sequel to Hideaki Sena’s book Parasite Eve. Sena’s tale focuses on an intelligent life-form known as Eve that can control people’s minds by entering the mitochondria in their DNA. The game introduces a new protagonist not featured in the books – Aya Brea, a New York City police officer – but explores similar themes.
First published in Japan in 1995, Sena’s Parasite Eve didn’t get translated for the western marked until 2005, when it was picked up by North American publisher Vertical Inc. It’s also been adapted into a film and a manga series.
American McGee’s Alice
Lewis Carroll’s psychedelic children’s novel has been the setting and inspiration for numerous games based on books. Not to mention endless movies and cartoons. One notable game based on Carroll’s tale is American McGee’s Alice, a videogame from 2000 developed by Rogue Entertainment.
American McGee’s Alice based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass, but focuses on an older – and much darker – version of Alice. Rather than the colourful, whimsical world presented in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, the Alice presented here is recovering from a psychotic breakdown after her family was killed in a fire. Very dark stuff indeed.
Discworld might be one of our all-time favourite games based on books, and if you’ve ever played it, it’s not hard to see why. This point and click adventure from 1995 puts players in the shoes of the somewhat-useless wizard Rincewind as he tries to help stop a dragon terrorising the city.
Discworld isn’t just based on one book, however. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series spans 41 titles, published between 1983 and 2015. Rincewind was the first protagonist to be the focus of the series, with the cowardly and unskilled wizard being the focal point of eight Discworld novels.
Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One
One of the newest titles on our list of best games based on books is Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One. This is the latest in several games from developer Frogwares focusing on Sherlock Holmes, the famous detective penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
But rather than recreate any of the adventures from Watson and Holmes directly taken from Conan Doyle’s novels, Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One invites us to imagine a young Sherlock. It uses the source material loosely to create a new character; a young and untrained detective just beginning to get a grip of his skills. The result is something wonderful that any fan of the fictional detective will surely get a kick out of.
First released in 2010, Metro 2033 tells the story of survivors of a nuclear war who are fighting for their lives in the Metro tunnel system underneath Moscow. It’s no easy task, as you can imagine – not least because the world is now overrun by deadly mutants and human foes out to kill you.
It isn’t an original story, however. Metro 2033 is based on a book of the same name by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. Interestingly, it was first published on his own website in 2002, before being taken to print form in 2005. Glukhovsky followed it up with Metro 2034 and Metro 2035. The video game got its own sequels too: Metro: Last Light and Metro Exodus. They tell different stories, although Glukhovsky did help pen the story and dialogue for Last Light. That story expanded, and became the basis of his third novel, Metro 2035. And in turn, Metro 2035 inspired the story for Metro Exodus. Confusing much?