Admit it, when the word ‘adaption’ is mentioned, it makes you cringe. That’s because most of them suck, plain and simple. Let’s be honest, many struggle to successfully port an existing game from one platform to another, not to speak of translating a story or world from one medium to another. The reverse is true too of course. If there is a game you love and it has a movie based on the game, you probably hate it. Need for Speed, Resident Evil, Dead or Alive… the list is nearly endless.
Why is that? Well, when we play a game, we tend to play it a certain way. We imagine and see characters in a certain way, even if that ignores canon a little. After all, playing a game with all its characters is generally a unique experience – nobody else will feel or do things the exact same way.
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That means that there’s every chance that a movie won’t match up to what you imagined. Wrong actor choices, terrible writing or directing will only make it worse. Thankfully, there are some redeeming examples too: the Lara Croft movies weren’t perfect but they were watchable, Silent Hill was fun and we liked Max Payne too. But what about books?
Let’s have a look at games based on books now: We found a few that don’t suck as badly as you’d expect them to. Odds are, you love some of these games but didn’t know they were based on books at all.
The Witcher Series
You probably loved at least Witcher 3 if not the rest of the series too. Surprised to see the are based on books? If you’re Polish, probably not. The first book by polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski was published in 1993 – the first game in 2008. The series has certainly come a long way since then, but both the books and the games are great fun. If you aren’t familiar with them, you should pick one up and read it – focussed on Geralt von Rivia, they are actually very good. Fun fact: The Polish prime minister gave a copy to president Obama as an official gift once!
On our list, the Witcher series is the one tied most closely to the book it’s based on – it’s also one of our favourites! The adventures in the books play out a little differently from the games (which are open world, what did you expect?) but you’ll be able to recognise lots of the storyline if you’ve played the games. The character of Geralt is very similar in both book and game, so you’ll have an easy time reading it.
Spec Ops: The Line
This game was available for the PS3 and Xbox 360. If you haven’t played it, it puts a different spin on the whole gory war violence thing. Instead of giving you bigger, better and more outrageous ways to kill your enemies (looking at you Just Cause, CoD, et al.) we watch our protagonist slowly descend into mental illness and the horrible effects the war has on his mind.
This isn’t unique and we see it in other games too, but what does make this game stand out is it’s relation to the 1899 book written by Joseph Conrad about the war in Congo at the time. The game’s story line isn’t the same, but it leans on it very heavily – even the name is borrowed. Our villain is named John Konrad, a direct homage to the author and the antagonist of his book.
The game takes place during the war in the Middle East of course, and in a more modern setting, but it’s message is a similar one. This isn’t the only game based on the book either: Far Cry 2 is a similarly loose adaption of it in a modern setting. If you’ve enjoyed either of the games, you may want to pick up a copy of the book – it isn’t light reading though.
There’s been a book based on the game too: Killing is Harmless by Brendan Keogh. It’s not fiction (although based on the game) and instead examines the genre using this game as an example.
Bioshock isn’t exactly based on books so much as it (and its sequels) are a critique and deconstruction of the complete work of one writer: Ayn Rand. If it’s been a while since school – she wrote the book Atlas shrugged an published both fiction and non-fiction, ending her life’s work firmly in the field of philosophy. A bane to high schoolers taking literature class everywhere, you’ve probably heard of her and her somewhat radical ideas on society before.
Despite the close ties between the books and philosophy of Rand, the games in no way approve of it – in fact they are a very sharp critique of them. We won’t bore you with the details, but the society she envisions is the one we see in Rapture…and we know just how well that worked out! (Spoiler: It doesn’t.) If you’re a fan of philosophy, you’re probably aware of the game’s message and if you’re not…well they are still great games, philosophy or not.
If you’re thinking of picking up the book Atlas Shrugged, don’t expect to find any Little Sisters though – the story of the book has nothing but a few elements in common with the games, it isn’t the cool ones.
Honourable Mention: Assassin’s Creed
The Assassin’s Creed story isn’t based on a book per se, but it was inspired by one – the 1938 novel Alamut. The game borrows it’s famous line ‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted’ from the book, and the very first game’s storyline of Altair follows the tales of the novel very closely. Obviously not the sci-fi elements, but the story of the disgraced Assassin returning to redeem himself while discovering that he has been used to further the goals of an association as corrupt as his enemies.
Further games have stepped away from this with other protagonists like Ezio, Edward and Connor being wholly unrelated to this story-line (well, other than being supposedly semi-related to Altair), but the very first game offered a refreshing take on the regions in the middle-east that, at the time of its release were ripe with conflict and war. Give the novel a try if you enjoyed the story of Altair. It’s been translated to English recently (unless you are fluent in Slovenia) so you can compare just how much of the story is borrowed from the book.