Games that are based on novels are surprisingly prevalent in popular culture; it seems the more deliberate medium of prose marries well with gaming. The result of this is some of the most creative designs and worlds ever conceived in the games industry. But how well do these novels reflect the tone of their source material?
Early examples of novel adaptations such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for the NES were not exactly pinnacles of game design - the gameplay featured slow, unresponsive controls and a nebulous goal for the player being the greatest offenders here.
The experience of the Witcher really needs to be played and read.
As for tone, despite the primitive graphical fidelity of the game, in terms of colour and contrast it does surprisingly well to replicate the gothic horror of Stevenson’s classic, while mechanically supporting this with an ‘anger metre’, with the player switching between Jekyll and Hyde.
While many games lift inspiration directly from the plot of a novel, others will absorb the themes and tone of their source material while creating new stories in the same universe. Take the Metro franchise for example — the first game in the series, Metro 2033, is a fairly faithful rendition, as we enter the immersive world of the adaptation.
Metro: Last Light, however, diverges starkly from the second novel in the series by Dmitry Glukhovsky, Metro 2034, with completely different plot and character beats. While this second game is a tad weaker in terms of story, the world Metro creates is one of my personal favourites in terms of atmosphere and linear game design.
In this vein, perhaps the most impressive example of this category of games is the Witcher franchise — owing to the authorial genius of Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski, the Witcher game series takes place in a new continuity after the finale of the novel saga.
The first two games are hit and miss in terms of gameplay and tone, however, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, is perhaps one of the most impressive adaptations from page to screen. The experience of the Witcher really needs to be played and read.
The world Metro creates is one of my personal favourites in terms of atmosphere and linear game design.
Any new player should preface a playthrough of The Witcher 3 with a reading of at least The Blood of Elves. The way each teaches the player about Geralt’s character is exquisite and entirely unique in my experience. This magnum opus of fantasy storytelling has to be experienced to be believed.