Elder Gods. The Great Old Ones. Those things Metallica sang about a couple times. Yes, H.P. Lovecraft's (opens in new tab) unique brand of horror has delighted fans for years--oh, did I say delighted? I meant tormented beyond comprehension. See, Lovecraft created an entire mythology (known as the Cthulhu mythos (opens in new tab)), where ancient beings from outer space arrived on our planet ages ago, set up shop, and have silently been manipulating human history ever since--biding their time until they devour our world whole. He, um, wasn't exactly a beaming ray of sunshine.
Lovecraft's horror is unique because the monsters he writes about are so beyond our own ability to reason that the human mind cannot even begin to fathom what it is seeing and is driven mad in the process. If it even survives at all. His short stories and novellas have been a wealth of inspiration to developers looking to scare the living daylights out of people, and many games are filled with untold horrors inspired by his works. Here are a few of them. Oh, and don't worry about actually trying to pronounce any of these names--mumbling something under your breath will get you halfway there.
Alone in the Dark
The game: Resident Evil may have been the the game that brought survival horror to the masses, but Alone in the Dark was the first game to really scare the pants off its unsuspecting players back in 1992. An owner of a seemingly haunted mansion has committed suicide, and it's up to either private detective Edward Carnby or the owner's niece Emily Hartwood to investigate the mysterious surroundings of his demise. Needless to say, there's a sinister horror lurking in the shadows.
The untold horrors: Originally billed as a game inspired by the work of H.P. Lovecraft, there are all manner of otherworldly demons here, ready to drive you to madness or eat you alive. The game makes specific reference to the Necronomicon (opens in new tab) (a book originally devised by Lovecraft and used in pretty much every piece of horror fiction ever), and dreaded Cthonians (opens in new tab) (large worm-like squids) and winged Nightgaunts (opens in new tab) (ripped from the short story The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath) both make an appearance here.
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
The game: Dark Corners of the Earth is actually a somewhat faithful retelling of Lovecraft's novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth (opens in new tab)--right down to the creepy fishlike inhabitants of the town, the attempted assassination in your hotel room, and the crazy twist ending. You play as a private detective (sensing a trend?) named Jack Walters, whose brush with a wackadoo cult called the Fellowship of Yith has "inspired" him to stay in an insane asylum for half a decade. After being released, he takes on a missing persons case in Innsmouth--a case that will lead him into the depths of madness.
The untold horrors: The beasts of Lovecraft's darkest nightmares drive whoever witnesses them to madness--and this game is no different. If you gaze upon these freaks for too long, your vision starts to blur, and you could be driven to insanity, or even suicide. What freaks you ask? Well, you'll come across the shoggoth (opens in new tab), a writhing, quasi-formless mass of tendrils, eyes, and black slime for starters. You'll also deal with cult members of the Esoteric Order of Dagon (opens in new tab), those above-mentioned fish people, and flying polyps (opens in new tab). Yeah, Innsmouth sounds like a real wonderful place to live.
The Secret World
The game: The Secret World is an MMORPG that combines every single secret society, mythical creature, urban legend, and crazy crackpot theory into a single game. Werewolves, Illuminati, vampires, zombies, demons, templar, the hollow earth theory, and more are all here, and they're all fighting each other in a futuristic version of our own world. Of course, this means that H.P. Lovecraft's own creations exist as well. It's pretty much a conspiracy nut's greatest dream and darkest fear all at once.
The untold horrors: When you start up a new game in The Secret World, your chosen character is plopped onto Solomon Island, a fictional island off the coast of Maine filled with terrors heavily influenced by Lovecraft's works. Your residence is in the city of Kingsmouth (a combination of Kingsport (opens in new tab) and Innsmouth (opens in new tab), two towns that feature heavily in his writing), with the Miskatonic River (opens in new tab) running through the city. A heavy fog has rolled over the island, causing most of its inhabitants to walk into the ocean--those who came back were transformed into Draug, undead beasts covered in spines and seaweed.
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened
The game: Sherlock Holmes is bored. As the world's greatest detective, he needs something more his speed, something with stakes higher than merely saving 19th-century London from itself. An investigation of a string of kidnappings leads him to a cult attempting to summon the great Cthulhu (opens in new tab), and it turns out that the fate of the whole world might be at stake. I wonder if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would consider this canon.
The untold horrors: While Cthulhu's presence forms the backdrop of The Awakened's narrative, the game wisely focuses on the tension between the dapper detective and the evil cult he's trying to hunt down. It's probably for the best, as Lovecraft describes it in The Call of Cthulhu (opens in new tab) as a winged beast with massive claws and feelers on its octopus-like face. As smart as he is, I highly doubt even Sherlock could stay sane after a single glimpse of this eldritch horror.
The game: Quake may be remembered more for its buttery-smooth and absolutely bonkers multiplayer modes, but its single player campaign goes to some really dark places. The government has been working on teleportation technology and (as these sorts of things go), a force known only as "Quake" has hijacked these "slipgates" and starts using them to send its demonic horde on through. Of course, it's up to you to stop it by blowing everything up into tiny bloody pieces--complete with a soundtrack courtesy of Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor. It's like this game was specifically made to piss off your parents.
The untold horrors: In addition to containing loads of Satanic imagery (similar to id's earlier title, Doom), Quake features numerous references to Lovecraft's own unique brand of alien terror. One of the enemies you fight is referred to as the "Formless Spawn of Tsathoggua (opens in new tab)," a monster found in Lovecraft's "The Whisperer in Darkness." (opens in new tab) Some levels feature names like the Vaults of Zin (opens in new tab) and The Nameless City (opens in new tab) (in reference to several settings in Lovecraftian lore), and the final boss is actually named Shub-Niggurath (opens in new tab)--or, "The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young." It probably just wants to hug you.
The game: Also referred to as "the game that screws with you" by fans, Eternal Darkness is a classic among fans of truly twisted horror fare. Alexandra Roivas shacks up in her grandfather's Rhode Island mansion as she attempts to solve his mysterious murder. What follows is a story that spans centuries, with everything tying back to the titular Tome of Eternal Darkness and the evil galactic beasts who created it. Eternal Darkness also features Lovecraft's trademark insanity, and extends it not only to its characters, but to you: the player. The game just deleted your save files--or did it? What's even real anymore?
The untold horrors: While it's not directly about the Cthulhu mythos, it might as well be. The Tome of Eternal Darkness is a magic-granting book that ends up in the hands of several characters throughout history, and it draws several comparisons to Lovecraft's Necronomicon in both appearance and contents. Also, Eternal Darkness' Ancients have impressively Lovecraftian names like Xel'lotath and Chattur'gha--and they're equally as ghastly in appearance and massive in scope. Oh, and they'll drive you crazy, too, as they deviously turn down the volume on your television set.
Cthulhu Saves the World
The game: The squid-like Cthulhu has risen from the depths of the sunken city of R'lyeh (opens in new tab) to drive everyone insane and take over the world. When he finally hits land, his immense power is sucked away, and the only way he can get them back is by doing the exact opposite of his original plans: saving the world. So off he goes on a comedic JRPG quest, filled with goofy characters, random battles, and more Lovecraftian jokes than you can shake a fhtagn at.
The untold horrors: I wouldn't call the monsters found in Cthulhu Saves the World "horrors" exactly, as they're all way too cutesy and 8-bit to be truly terrifying. But the RPG from Zeyboyd Games reads like a love letter to all things Lovecraft. Familiar haunts like Innsmouth and Dunwich (opens in new tab) appear as towns for you to resupply and continue your quest, and evil extraterrestrial deities like Nyarlathotep (opens in new tab) (oh, only the Crawling Chaos) appear as bosses to prevent you from completing your goal: saving the world, then destroying it.
The game: Eldritch is what you get you combine Minecraft's aesthetics with the infinite dread and insanity of the Cthulhu mythos. It's a semi-turn-based roguelike that tasks you with exploring the depths of ancient tombs in search of priceless artifacts. Kind of like Indiana Jones, if Harrison Ford's dashing archaeologist had to deal with horrifying fish monsters. If you die, though, it's back to square-one with you.
The untold horrors: All of the requisite fishmen, cultists, and giant penguins (oh, yeah, those are in Lovecraft's stories too (opens in new tab)) are here, but all of them have been rendered in a very Minecraftian style. They may look adorable, but you won't be thinking that when they're raining otherworldly hellfire down on you.
Elder Sign: Omens
The game: Elder Sign: Omens is the digital adaptation of the popular Fantasy Flight board game, where the only thing that stands between your success and babbling insanity is a handful of dice rolls. Pick from a set of Lovecraftian character archetypes like the crafty gangster, the hardboiled investigator, or the wimpy academic, and work together to bring down your chosen Elder God before they awaken and devour the world. No pressure or anything.
The untold horrors: Elder Sign: Omens really gives you the pick of the litter. Before you load up a new game, you get to decide from one of several Great Old Ones (like Azathoth (opens in new tab), or the "nuclear chaos" of absolute destruction) to fight against. But don't worry, you'll probably all succumb to its unknowable horrors in the end, anyway. It's fun for the whole family!
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn
This little bit of word vomit means "In his house of R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming." R'lyehian is such a lovely language--about as lovely as those unknowable horrors I listed above, anyway. Is there a game I missed that embodies the spirit of the things that should not be? Or perhaps there's a favorite story by Lovecraft you'd like to share? Let me know in the comments below?
For more video-game related terrors, be sure to take a gander at some images of your favorite characters who have had their face swapped with Nicholas Cage (opens in new tab), or these unintentionally creepy characters in perfectly normal games. (opens in new tab)