Most cultures have their own distinct mythologies, some of which date back thousands of years. These ancient myths and legends have inspired some of humanity’s finest works of art, be they paintings, statues, poems, plays, or stories.
In more recent years these myths and legends have provided the inspiration for numerous Hollywood movies, TV shows, and graphic novels, such as Clash of the Titans, Lucifer and John Constantine, Hellblazer respectively.
They have also proven to be fertile soil for video game developers. Numerous titles across multiple genres have been based on one or more culture’s mythology. Join me as we look at some of the best examples. NB - some of the embedded videos are somewhat gory and thus Not Suitable For Children. These videos have been marked as NSFC.
1. Populous 2: Trials of the Olympian Gods - (Greek Mythology)
Greek Mythology has long been an inspiration for modern storytellers, and it is easy to see why. Greek mythology is chock full of gods and goddesses, intrigues and quests, demi-gods and heroes, and some of the most iconic monsters ever imagined.
The tales of Greek mythology translate well into modern visual media and its gods and monsters are instantly recognizable to western audiences. It comes as no surprise then that three entries on this list are based on it.
The oldest game on this list is 1991’s Populous II: Trials of the Olympian Gods, the sequel to 1989’s Populous, the original ‘God Sim’. Both were created by the extremely talented and highly innovative Peter Molyneux, co-founder of Bullfrog Productions, who more or less invented the God Sim genre.
Populous II: Trials of the Olympian Gods is steeped in Greek Mythology. You control a demi-god, one of Zeus’s many illegitimate children born to mortal mothers. Your goal is to ascend to the Pantheon on Mount Olympus. To do so the player must best the Olympian gods one by one until they can face Zeus himself.
The Olympian gods will not deign to get their hands dirty by fighting you directly, of course, so you must defeat them by proxy. How? By having your followers eliminate theirs. To win you must build up your population quickly, as the more worshipers you possess the stronger your divine powers become.
These Divine powers can be used to inflict all manner of unpleasantness upon your opponent’s followers, such as; tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanos, and tornados. Heroes and monsters from Greek mythology - such as the Medusa - can also be unleashed upon them. Be wary, however, as both natural disasters and monsters are indiscriminate about who’s followers they kill, and the opposing Deity can do the same to you. Better get your retaliation in first then.
Populous II: Trials of The Olympian Gods (PC)
This video shows off most of the Divine powers. Poor little mortals…
2. Gods – (Greek Mythology)
The 2nd oldest game on the list is Gods, a 16-Bit era classic from The Bitmap Brothers. In this 2D ‘platform and puzzles’ game, the player is cast as Hercules, who is on a quest to destroy the four guardians who have overrun the citadel of the gods.
Why? Because the gods have promised to make him a god himself if he succeeds.
Gods was originally created for the Amiga and Atari ST home computers and was later ported to the PC, SNES, and the Mega Drive/Genesis consoles. The various ports were peculiar in that they all ran at different speeds. The faster the game ran the more challenging it was, but arguably the more fun it was to play. Compare the videos below of the MS-DOS - slowest - and SNES - fastest - versions.
The third video is the launch trailer for the 2018 Remaster, which is available now on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One and PC.
GODS Remastered Launch Trailer
3. God of War – (Greek and Norse Mythology)
Proving the adaptability of ancient Greek mythology, we change genre again for the next game on the list - God of War. In this 3rd person hack n’ slash you control Kratos - The Ghost of Sparta - who is on a quest for vengeance against the Olympian gods - one of whom tricked him into killing his own family.
Kratos rampages through ancient Greece killing off the many gods and monsters from Greek mythology as he goes. 2018’s God of War is set sometime after his purge of the Olympian gods and sees his rage turned on the gods and monsters of Nordic legend instead.
God of War Timeline (NSFC)
Kratos may have anger issues, but who could blame him after dealing with all that?
4. Dante's Inferno – (Christian Mythology)
Dante’s Inferno - the 3rd person hack n’ slash game - is based on the poet Dante’s epic poem of the same name. Dante Alighieri, a disgraced Knight Templar, must journey through the nine circles of Hell to rescue his beloved Beatrice before Satan claims her soul forever.
At the start of his anti-hero’s’ journey, he dispatches Death himself and steals his scythe. He then uses it to cut a bloody swathe through the many demonic foes that stand in his way.
The game concludes with an epic showdown against Lucifer himself.
Dante's Inferno Full Walkthrough (NSFC)
Good thing Dante has a tour guide - Virgil - on his trip through Hell. He will need it.
5. Clive Barker's Jericho – (Gnostic and Christian Mythologies)
It does manage to be creepy and unsettling, however, in a typically ‘Barkeresque’ fashion. If you have seen the original Hellraiser film from 1987 you will know what to expect visually.
Thematically, the game twists and mixes Gnostic and Christian mythologies, creating a truly memorable back story - again with a typically ‘Barkeresque’ spin. Before creating Man, God created The Firstborn, an entity imbued with immense power, but lacking a soul. God - unnerved and repulsed by his creation - rejected the Firstborn and imprisoned it into an alternate pocket dimension, the Pyxis (Latin for ‘box’) where it would remain trapped, alone and unloved, for time everlasting.
The Firstborn. Creepy or cute?
God then turned his attention and affections towards his newest creation - Humanity.
The Firstborn, feeling the sting of God’s absence and wounded by God’s rejection, became consumed by an intense hatred towards and jealousy of humanity. It swore to eradicate God’s favoured creation and has been attempting to do so ever since.
On six occasions it has almost succeeded, but each time it was driven back into its pocket dimension prison by the eternal sacrifice of a band of heroes. Why eternal sacrifice? Because to trap the Firstborn they had to remain within the Pyxis, thus dooming themselves to an eternity of pain and torment as they ceaselessly fight the Firstborn’s corrupted subjects.
Each time the Pyxis is closed, it takes a part of our world with it, creating layers of pocket dimensions in time and space which subsequent heroes must fight their way through. Due to this, each of the Firstborn’s incursions is more difficult to contain than the last. Prophesy states that the current seventh incursion will be the last and that the Firstborn will be freed.
Jericho Squad must fight through each ’time-slice’ in turn, starting with the present day, and then travelling back through time to WW2, The Crusades, The Roman era and ancient Sumeria - which includes the legendary Tower of Babel - before facing the Firstborn itself in Pyxis Prima.
Clive Barker’s Jericho is a game better in its concept than its execution, and you may enjoy watching a lets-play of it more than you would enjoy playing it yourself.
Clive Barker's Jericho Longplay [PC] (NSFC)
This is one example of a piece of interactive media that is best enjoyed passively
So, there we have it, my Top 5 Games Based on Ancient Mythology. Many, many more games could have been added to the list - at least one of which has ‘Mythology’ in its title 😉
I haven’t included those here since I haven’t played them (yet) and as you may know, for ‘Part One’s’ such as these, I make a point of only covering games with which I have had some first-hand experience.
Not so for a notional Part Two. What will be included in Part Two is for you, our dear readers, to decide. Please tell us your suggestions in the comments section below. We look forward to hearing them.
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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