Updated: Feb 10
This article, along with its predecessor, were originally created for Exclusively Games. Unfortunately, the site went on hiatus before it could be published. Therefore, I am publishing it here on Nomad’s Reviews.
Books Based on Games?
If you, like me, are on lockdown then you will know how boring it can get. Thankfully there are at least two pass times that remain unaffected - reading and gaming. Better yet, why not combine the two?
We have looked at Five Games Based on Books, and then Nine MORE Games Based on Books – as Chosen by the Community. But what about books based on games? We have seen the 29 (!?!) Books Based on the Halo Games. Now we will look at ‘Books Based on Video Games (that aren’t Halo.)’
The same rules apply as last time. I’m only covering novels, novellas, and short-story anthologies. I’m not covering official game guides, comics, and game manuals.
(At least not in this article. If this is something you would like to see a separate article about then let me know in the comments section and I will see what I can do 😊)
NB - for this article I am sticking to the franchises in which I have played at least one of the games and read at least one of the books. I have highlighted the books I have read and provided my thoughts on them.
Mass Effect Franchise
Mass Effect: Revelation
Drew Karpyshyn’s Mass Effect Revelation is a prequel to the Mass Effect games. In Mass Effect Revelation we witness then commander David Anderson’s first encounter with the Turian Spectre Saren Arterius. The novel provides a rare glimpse into the mind and motives of the pre-indoctrination Saren. Turns out he was just as cruel before the Reapers got their mental claws into him.
My thoughts: I read this back in 2012. A worthwhile read for fans of the franchise.
Mass Effect: Revelation
Mass Effect: Ascension and Mass Effect: Retribution
Front covers of Mass Effects: Revelation, Ascension, Retribution and Deception
Mass Effect: Ascension https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0043VDNBA/
Mass Effect: Retribution https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0041G6RQK/
Mass Effect: Deception
A fourth novel, Mass Effect Deception by William C. Dietz was released in 2012 to near-universal scorn, due to its frequent continuity errors and lore breaks. BioWare promised to release an updated edition with the flaws corrected. However, this has yet to materialize. A parody of the story can be seen here.
Mass Effect: Deception https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B006WQRVQW/
Mass Effect: Andromeda Trilogy
Mass Effect: Nexus Uprising
Mass Effect: Initiation
Mass Effect: Annihilation
The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise by Ukrainian developers GSC Game World is another multi-media franchise, with three games already released, one in development and numerous mods available, including the free and standalone Lost Alpha. It too spawned many books. The majority of these are written in Russian, Ukrainian or German, and have not been translated into English as of the time of writing.
NB - I will be unable to cover these since I do not know how to read/speak those languages - sorry. If you do speak one or more of these languages and have read any of these books, feel free to tell everyone your thoughts about them in the comments section at the end of the article.
Balazs Pataki / John Mason Novels
There are three main English language commercial books released. The first two are S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Southern Comfort and its sequel S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Northern Passage, both by Balazs Pataki - who sometimes goes by the pseudonym, John Mason. These continuations of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. story arc see the formation of a second Zone in Afghanistan and depicts the effects this new and more dangerous Zone has on the war on terror and ISAF occupation. Neither are considered 100% canon, however.
My thoughts:I have read both books. They are worth a read for fans of the franchise. Note that the violence, sex, and drug use depicted is quite graphic.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Southern Comfort Trailer HD
Video by StalkerVideoArchive
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Southern Comfort
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Northern Passage
Zone Diaries Series
The third is S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Captives of the Zone (Diary#1) which is unconnected to the Pataki works. It tells the story of a former Swedish Special Forces operative penetrating the Zone to find his lost father.
Although it is supposedly the official book of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, it too takes some liberties when it comes to lore. As an example, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Captives of the Zone (Diary#1) suggests ‘The Zone’ copied parts of the real-world Zone but jumbled up the locations. This was likely done to explain why the in-game map of The Zone places the city of Pripyat south of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (CNPP), whereas, in reality, it is to the North West of it. (Click the link below for a satellite view)
My thoughts: I have read this too. Again, worth a read but only for die-hard fans of the franchise.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Captives of the Zone
A sequel, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Deliverance (Diary #2), is in the works, but has experienced, er, ‘technical difficulties’. (Allegedly - Quality Control problems.)
Unofficial S.T.A.L.K.E.R Stories and Books
There are several free-to-read un-official S.T.A.L.K.E.R. themed books and stories available online as well. One of the best of these is Zavtrak Snorka (Snork Bait) by Karl Relf which can be read online via the following link https://karlrelf.wordpress.com/snork-bait/. Its accompanying illustrations can be viewed here.
The story centres on a down-on-his-luck ex SAS operative. He feels compelled to travel to ‘The Zone’, but cannot say why. Upon entering The Zone his luck goes from bad to worse and events beyond his control conspire to render him a pariah.
As he attempts to survive The Zone, he starts experiencing unnerving feelings of familiarity, and flashbacks to memories that are not his. Or are they? Has he been here before, and is he even who he thinks he is?
The story ends on a very 'sequel-friendly' cliff-hanger. I’m hoping it will be completed someday, as it is easily the best S.T.A.L.K.E.R. story outside of the games themselves.
My thoughts: Highly recommended to fans of the franchise, and those who enjoy Eastern European centric post-apocalyptic sci-fi such as Metro 2033.
Zavtrak Snorka (Snork Bait)
EDIT:** There is another unofficial free-to-read S.T.A.L.K.E.R. themed book which I’m quite fond of - but I would say that because I’m biased, and I’m biased because I wrote it 😉
The Chernobyl Zone Survival Guide
Crysis: Legion – the Novelisation of Crysis 2 by Peter Watts
I’m going to say something unpopular here. Most expanded universe novels are only worth reading if you are a fan of the franchise. There, I said it.
I read the books mentioned above because I was a fan of those franchises. However, I will be the first to admit that, objectively speaking, most were not on-par with the best works of Robert A. Heinlein, H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert et al’.
Expanded universe novelists rarely win Hugo or Nebula Awards, and they do not appear to be held in particularly high regard by literary critics - although this could be due to simple literary snobbery.
There are always exceptions of course, and these tend to be when already established authors are brought in to expand a franchise. Greg Bear’s work on the Halo Forerunner trilogy is one fine example. Crysis Legion is another.
I’m not a huge fan of the console era Crysis franchise - I felt that Crysis 2 was a significant retrograde step compared to its ground-breaking predecessors, so whilst I was vaguely aware of Crysis Legion, I had no interest in reading it. Until someone told me it was written by Peter Watts.
Watts has rapidly become one of my favourite authors since first discovering his works last year. I have ploughed through seven of his full-length books and at least as many of his short stories in that short time.
He has also presented lectures on topics as diverse as data privacy, human and animal consciousness, A.I., and hive minds.
His works could best be described as character-driven hard-sci-fi. ‘Challenging’ would also be apt. His novels are not for the faint of heart and rarely have a happy ending. One of his novels was initially banned for being too depressing - in Russia.
The characters in Watt’s work are often psychologically damaged, post-human misfits, or outright sociopaths. And these are the protagonists. His most famous work, Blindsight, features aliens that resemble marine invertebrates* and possess truly Alien cognition.
*Watts was formerly a Marine Biologist.
Crysis 2 then, was a perfect fit for Watts, as its themes matched that of his previous work;
Near-future dystopia with an oppressive corporate authority - check.
Technologically enabled post-human protagonist having to work against said authority - check.
Non-augmented ‘baseline’ humans being afraid or outright hostile to said post-humans - check.
Widespread death, destruction, and environmental collapse - check.
Marine-life inspired aliens - check.
A.I., hive minds, and gestalt entities - triple check.
A future for humanity that looks decidedly grim - check and mate.
Crysis Legion is told from the first-person perspective. The story takes the form of the protagonist’s - ‘Alcatraz’ - interrogation / after-action debrief sometime between the events of Crysis 2 and Crysis 3.
The novel delves deeper into the symbiotic nature of the nanosuit than the game could. Alcatraz - formally a lowly grunt with barely a high school education - is gradually becoming a gestalt entity. This entity is a fusion of his pre-nanosuit self, the residual persona of the suit’s previous occupant - the elite Special Forces operative ‘Prophet’ - and the A.I. of the suit itself.
Alcatraz describes how his IQ is increasing and his vocabulary is becoming far more expansive. For example, he talks with increasing eloquence, and scientific and mathematical concepts he had previously struggled with academically he now understands easily. The transformative character development is fascinating.
(At least to me it was, but transformational character development has always been my ‘thing’).
Crysis Legion also gives speculative explanations for why the alien Ceph in Crysis 2 were so different from those in Crysis and Crysis Warhead. Alcatraz explains his musings about why the New York outbreak Ceph have developed humanoid exosuits, why they use conventional human military tactics, and why - despite seemingly possessing vastly superior technology - they haven’t simply curb-stomped humanity in 30 seconds flat.
The book also gives an in-universe explanation for the game’s irritating habit of wresting control away from the player during cutscenes. This is described as the suit taking over control when it feels it knows what is best for them both. This begs the questions; ‘Who is in control of this symbiotic relationship?’, and “How much free will does Alcatraz have now?”
In what is perhaps a nod to how annoying this is in-game, Alcatraz describes the experience of having control wrested from him buy the Nanosuit to be extremely annoying as well.
Crysis Legion feels as much a Peter Watts novel as it does a Crysis novel and coming from me, that is high praise indeed. It is not *quite* as complicated, shocking or depressing as most of Watt’s work, and the Alcatraz-Prophet-A.I. entity is more likeable and relatable than most of Watt’s protagonists. As such Crysis Legion is an easier read/gateway novel.
My thoughts: I will happily go on record and state that Crysis Legion is easily the best video game novelization I have read to date. I highly recommend it to both fans of the franchise and fans of near-future character-driven hard-sci fi.
Random side note - Watts wrote an early draft script/story for Homeworld 2. Unfortunately, it was not used, which may explain why Homeworld 2’s story was notably less interesting compared to that of its award-winning predecessor. Let’s hope Homeworld 3’s story is an improvement.
NB - the Amazon hyperlinks are a carry over from this article's Exclusively Games origins. At the time of writing Nomad's Reviews is not an affiliate of Amazon, so I do not receive funding should you purchase anything via the links. I have left them there purely for convenience sake. If you can find them cheaper elsewhere, have at it - and perhaps share the info with the community so they can get cheap books too :-)
** I didn't include The Chernobyl Zone Survival Guide in the original Exclusively Games article as it would have been a conflict of interest to do so. But since it is now living here that conflict no longer exists.
And that wraps up this look at books based on games. Some were terrible, and even die-hard fans should steer clear. Some were great, and even readers not familiar with the franchise would probably enjoy them. The majority were ‘ok’, worth a read for fans of the franchise, less so for those who are not.
I’m sure many others could be included as well. If you have any suggestions for a future ‘Books Based on Video Games’ article, please let us know in the comments section below.
Have you read any of the books included in this article? If so, what did you think of them? How did they compare to the games that spawned them? What are your thoughts on video game novelizations and books based on games as a whole? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Iain is a 40+ author and gamer from England, who started his gaming journey on the Atari 2600 36 years ago. His specialities include obscure cult classics, retro games, mods and fan remakes. He hates all sports games and is allergic to online multiplayer. Since he is British, his body is about 60% tea. He can be reached via Twitter at https://twitter.com/IainBaker17, and contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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