‘Alone in the Dark’: A Brief History of Lovecraft in Gaming

It’s no big surprise that Lovecraft and video games have done a dance or two over the years. Lovecraft dabbling in the fear of the unknown and unknowable, the madness resulting from being unable to comprehend what it is we see, and of course, the go-to for many in the Cthulhu mythos, aka “The Thing That Should Not Be”. The latest taste of Lovecraftian mythos arrives on March 20th with THQ Nordic and Pieces Interactive’s long-awaited Alone in the Dark remake. The series has largely stuck with cosmic horror throughout its entries, and from the sounds of things, the upcoming remake will have fans once again jumping into the thick of it. But we didn’t get here overnight, obviously. There have been numerous titles that have used Lovecraft’s writings to get us here (Steam alone lists over 950 games tagged “Lovecraftian”), so let’s pare it down to some of the more significant ones that emphasize the aspects of Lovecraftian horror.

Lovecraftian horror made the jump to video games beginning with Infocom’s 1987 interactive fiction title The Lurking Horror. Designed by Dave Lebling, the game casts you as a student at G.U.E. Tech who travels to the school’s computer lab to work on his grad paper. However, you discover that the file containing your document has been partially overwritten by the Department of Alchemy’s files. At first your goal is to retrieve your document, but you soon realize that there’s something beyond evil in the depths of the building.

Seeing as The Lurking Horror is entirely text-based (it’s from the same folks behind the classic Zork series), the reliance on the descriptions of what you see nails the atmosphere and sense of foreboding that one would feel from Lovecraft’s writings. While you don’t outright experience madness yourself, a suicide note you find at the Great Dome of the university campus gives you a glimpse into the horrors that should have remained unseen. You can, however, get yourself sacrificed to a god from another dimension. Probably of the most disturbing parts of The Lurking Horror is finding out what happened to all of the urchins that were roaming around the campus.

Obviously, we can’t forget the original Alone in the Dark from 1992. We previously covered the granddaddy of Survival Horror for its 30th anniversary. Private investigator Edward Carnby is assigned to investigate the death of painter Jeremy Hartwood in a Louisiana mansion known as Derceto. Carnby is joined by Hartwood’s niece, Emily. Upon arriving at Derceto, you quickly discover there’s more to Hartwood’s disappearance than initially appeared.

Heavily inspired by Cthulhu mythos, there are plenty of nods and references to Lovecraft’s universe. Some of the creatures you encounter in Derceto are straight out of Cthulhu, even a mention of Cthulhu himself. There’s also the aspect of madness found in Hartwood’s note, talking about the mansion being “the prey of evil” with the “hellish forces” that lurk underneath. This was also at a time where developers would include physical pieces along with the game to further the atmosphere they were trying to convey. In this case, the faux newsletter “The Mystery Examiner” included a biography of Lovecraft, as well as a drawing of a Lovecraftian being that hits home the indescribable horror of a cosmic being.

Not long after Alone in the Dark hit the shelves, Infogrames released Shadow of the Comet, an adventure game that once again relied on Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, borrowing elements from “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. Taking place in 1910, young British reporter John T. Parker has travelled to the isolated New England town of Illsmouth to witness and photograph the passage of Halley’s Comet. In addition, Parker hopes to uncover the truth about Lord Boleskine, who in 1834, travelled to Illsmouth to observe the passing of Halley’s comet. What he observed that night, however, had turned him into a raving lunatic.

Officially licensed by Call of Cthulhu trademark holders Chaosium (the company behind the tabletop RPGs inspired by Lovecraft’s writings), Shadow of the Comet oozes the atmosphere you’d expect from a Lovecraft-inspired video game, helped by Philippe Vachey unsettling score and sound work. Along with Cthulhu, Parker will also confront other “Great Old Ones” of Lovecraft in Dagon, Nyarlathotep, and Yog Sothoth. Once again, along with the atmosphere, the story sucks players in with its mix of murder, mystery, madness, and the occult.

The concept of madness could be perceived as difficult to incorporate as a gameplay mechanic, but Silicon Knights certainly didn’t have a problem with their 2002 classic Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. In fact, Nintendo obviously knew that the developer had a hit on their hands, and ended up trademarking Eternal Darkness‘ Sanity Effects. The story takes place over four fictional locations between different time periods. Alexandra Roivas gets a late night call from the police, informing her that the grandfather, Edward, has been brutally murdered. After searching his estate, she discovers a mysterious book bound in human flesh called The Tome of Eternal Darkness. The tome tells of the vast influence of sinister beings known as Ancients playing out their world-ending plans across time and space, and the people across time who seek to thwart them.

While not outright stating as much, Eternal Darkness clearly tapped into Lovecraft’s mythos with the Ancients functioning as the Elder Gods, the game’s creeping atmosphere, and of course, the Sanity Effects. Beginning with the game’s second chapter, players will need to watch their meter, which decreases every time the player is spotted by an enemy. The lower the meter, the more “surprises” happen. A lot of the effects are obviously meant to toy with the player, such as you entering the room and finding yourself on the ceiling, or heads of statues that will follow the player. Others are more intrusive, such as the game blue screening or the volume being fiddled. The thing is, these effects can happen at any time, and true to form, are designed to rattle the player.

Sadly, as many fans know, they can’t all be winners. Headfirst Productions’ Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth in 2005 is one such example. Players take on the role of Jack Walters, a private investigator aiding police in the raid of an old house that is headquarter of a bizarre cult. During the raid, Jack experiences a disturbing encounter that subsequently leaves him mentally disturbed and locked in an asylum for six years. When he finally regains his sanity, he is asked to track down a missing person in the town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts. As soon as he arrives, however, he discovers that strangers are not at all welcomed in the isolated town, but more importantly, this case is somehow linked to the strange events from the old house years earlier.

While Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth mashes together inspirations from different works by Lovecraft and effectively mixes in action, adventure, and puzzle solving with a Survival Horror experience, the final game is undone by its numerous bugs. It’s a shame, because the gameplay is fascinatingly complex. There’s no HUD to speak of, and instead, you need to check your weapon to see how much ammo you have, and listen for sounds cues to determine your health condition. Once again, sanity plays a big part in the game, where looking directly at upsetting elements found in the game results in a hit to your sanity If your sanity becomes too low, it leads to audio/visual hallucinations, and increased control sensitivity. If you go too far, your grip on reality breaks, it’s game over. It’s all topped off with a grim, atmosphere that once again compliments the Lovecraftian ambience. It’s such a shame that the game was a flop.

While not explicitly stated, one could confidently state that Frictional Games’ Amnesia: The Dark Descent makes use of Lovecraft’s work. In fact, we said just as much and then some. The Dark Descent puts you in the role of Daniel, an amnesiac trapped in the mansion of a Prussian Baron named Alexander. The only clues to Daniel’s true identity are mementos and notes left behind by Daniel himself, who reminds himself to find and kill Alexander. You’ll need to solve the mystery of the mansion while running from a Shadow that is constantly chasing you throughout the game.

Nailing the fear of the unknown and unknowable, you can’t fight the Shadow in Amnesia: The Dark Descent, or even look at it. Doing so will cause you to go insane. The darkness is also your enemy, as remaining in it for too long will affect your sanity, as well. As with previously-mentioned titles, lower sanity causes hallucinations, and an increased chance of attracting monsters. You can thankfully use light sources to restore sanity, including the use of tinderboxes and your oil lamp. Amnesia also dips its toes into Lovecraft’s “Herbert West–Reanimator” short story, with allusions to extra-dimensional beings, bizarre human experimentation, and forbidden knowledge.

Which brings us back to 2024’s Alone in the Dark. While Pieces Interactive aren’t doing a 1-to-1 remake, there appears to be plenty of Lovecraft to go around here that will no doubt satisfy. You have the madness found in the residents of Derceto, the Cthulhu cult in the form of The Dark Man following Emily’s uncle, the otherworldly monster designs by Guy Davis (who teamed with Guillermo del Toro on creature designs for Crimson Peak and The Shape of Water), and the atmosphere crafted by Mikael Hedberg, who also happens to have written Amnesia: The Dark Descent. All of this points to Alone in the Dark having the goods to satisfy Lovecraft fans, while also giving gamers a scary good time later this month.

ALONE IN THE DARK, the highly anticipated re-imagination of the iconic survival horror game, is now available on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC. https://bit.ly/3VrXSVk 

The post ‘Alone in the Dark’: A Brief History of Lovecraft in Gaming appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.