Considering the enormous influence the works of H.P. Lovecraft have on the meta-genre of speculative fiction, one can only wonder why the number of adaptions, that are not completely awful, is so low. Oddly enough, the movie that capture the spirit of Lovecraft best is John Carpenter's Apocalypse Trilogy (The Thing, Prince Of Darkness, In The Mouth Of Madness) - which can only be described as indirect adaptions. There is some hope, though. Guillermo del Toro is currently working on a At The Mountains Of Madness adaption, planned for 2012.
The main reason for this is that it is really hard to actually show something that drives people insane. Lovecraftian horror is cerebral, existential horror that works more on anticipation and not on gore and violence, which is what most people think of when they hear horror. Lovecraft's main characters are all cursed with aching curiosity and even though in most stories they could just turn away and never come back, they have to investigate further and find out things-man-was-not-meant-to-know and the results ain't pretty.
When it comes to games, this curiosity element can be simulated a lot better as you decide what the main character does and there is absolutely nothing that could stop you from turning off the game and stare at cute kittens for the rest of your life. Again, the number of actual video game adaptions is surprisingly low but there are quite a few indirect adaptions like the Alone In The Dark series or Eternal Darkness for the Gamecube. There we have the unrightfully forgotten point-and-click adventures Call of Cthulhu: Shadow Of The Comet and its sequel Call Of Cthulhu: Prisoner Of Ice, developed by Infogrames in the mid-90s. Both are excellent games that capture the atmosphere of Lovecraft's work perfectly and if you can get over the old graphics, they're still worth playing. They're abandonware by now so you can get them for free on abandonia.com
. You'll need the dosbox
The graphics were actually very good for its time.
Probably the best adaption yet would be Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners Of The Earth. I'd call it the most terrifying game ever made and I know people who couldn't even make it past the tutorial level because they were just too scared. Basically it's a survival-horror game mixed with adventure elements. For a good chunk of the playtime you don't even do anything but investigating - all that while never leaving the first-person perspective. It's extremely immersive experience, hailing from the the Looking Glass (Ultima Underworld, Thief, System Shock) school of game design. However, there are quite a few jarring design flaws like the annoying stealth segments or trial-and-error passages. Not to mention that the game is quite bugridden and even when it came out (2005) it didn't look very good. If you want to play it, you can get it off steam for just ten bucks and there's also a Xbox version. Oh, there is also a sanity meter and when it drops to zero, it's one of the most disturbing things you will ever see in a video game...
The main character.
When we look at Japan, a country full of things-man-was-not-meant-to-know, we can see that they also like their Lovecraft. I know what you're thinking: naughty tentacles. But it's not always that way. Shirow Masamune, creator of works such as Ghost In The Shell or Appleseed, did Orion back in '91. A manga in which he combines elements from the Cthulhu mythos with Indian and Buddhist mythology to a delicious package of mindscrew. Remember Digimon? More Lovecraftian than you think
Making sense is optional.
Nitroplus, one of Japan's leading visual novel developers, has created Demonbane, an eroge which is a complete trainwreck that completely butchers the mythos and people joke its mere existence drives Lovecraft fans insane. It's a complete mindscrew. All the mythical tomes become lolis. Who can summon mechas. It just goes downhill from there. There is also lots of icky sex. There is also a 12-episode anime which I actually watched. It was not beneficial for my mental health, to say the least. Their next release was Saya No Uta
, which goes more in the direction of an indirect adaption and is much, much better - if not outright genius.
That's the Necronomicon. I kid you not.
You can't really write about Japan and Lovecraft without mentioning the works of Junji Ito but especially his short story The Enigma Of Amigara Fault and Uzumaki. Uzumaki is basically the story of a small village that is "cursed by the spiral". We never really find out what this is all about or who or what is behind all that but strange and bizarre things suddenly begin to happen. This is the most terrifying manga you will ever read, no doubt about it.
You don't want to know what's in there.
A honorable mention goes to one of my favorite anime movies, Armitage III, while having story-wise nothing to do with Lovecraft whatsoever, being cyberpunk and all, it might be the record holder for mythos namedropping.
Ah, but I went on a tangent here! Where was I? Right, free Lovecraft games. This was the main reason for this thread.
Our first game is Eversion
. In the last few years there was a wave of retro platformers with gimmick, produced by indie developers. Braid, Limbo, VVVVVV, Trine or The Company Of Myself. Eversion fits this mould as well. It looks like an 8-bit game and if I remember correctly, it actually is a romhack of some obscure Japanese NES game. It's gimmick is right in the name; at specific points in the level you can hit the space key to 'evert' the level, the graphics change and new paths become available. Your objective is to make it through all the levels and collect all the gems in your way. You can end the game without the gems but you will only get a bad ending and the final level only opens if you have collected all of them. The game starts deceptively easy but the last two levels will take more time than the other levels combined and are quite tough. Don't be fooled by its cute and fluffy appearance, you will miss those soon enough...
Naturally, you should play this game (as well as the others) in the dark and alone to unleash their full atmosphere. There is also a HD version with improved graphics and achievements, if you really need that or want to support the developer.
"NOT INDICATED FOR CHILDREN OR THOSE OF A NERVOUS DISPOSITION." -the developer
The White Chamber
is a free, 2D point-and-click adventure with a surprisingly high production value and an anime-esque character design. You wake up in a coffin-like thingy on a space station and you seem to be the only living person there. You can't remember anything and try to remember what happened to you and the crew. The atmosphere is remarkable, comparable to the likes of System Shock or Silent Hill and the developers really know how to build up tension. It's not a very long game and the puzzles are all quite sane.
ARE YOU READY?
If you have been on the internet in the early 00s, it's very likely that you have at least heard about the RPG Maker. It's an easy tool to create SNES-style RPGs and everyone tried to make their own RPG. Naturally, creating a Dragon Quest clone is easy while anything beyond that takes real effort and programming knowledge and so virtually 99% of all projects vanished and of that remaining 1%, 90% suck.
(meaning dream diary)
is the exception, probably because it's of Japanese origin. The plot is simple: as Madotsuki, a Hikikomori that seems to have an obsession with a single, incredibly depressing video game, all you can do each day is sleep - during which you must travel throughout her dreamscape to collect "effects" and reach new areas in the world. It's extremely open-ended, with little hints as to how to actually progress; really, it's more about exploring the strange and disturbing things that go on in her mind than anything else.
Not what it appears to be...