As you may have guessed from previous articles, I'm a big fan of horror games. With this article, we're going to look at 10 horror-themed games that I would consider to be underrated. Of course, whether a game is "underrated" or not is very subjective, so you may not agree with all of my choices...but that's okay! You'll notice I've titled this article "horror-themed" games, which means I'm not just looking at games that are trying to scare you, but also games that have horror elements, even if they're purely cosmetic. Also, rather than ranking them, I've opted to just go through them alphabetically. With all of that out of the way, let's get started!
Akuji the Heartless
First up we have the action-adventure game Akuji the Heartless. This game was developed by Crystal Dynamics and was released in between a pair of Gex games in 1998. It was also released a year before the much more well-known Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, which features similar thematic elements and gameplay.
Akuji the Heartless isn't a horror game in the sense that it's trying to scare you, but it has a number of horror elements to its story and art direction. Akuji is the main character in the game and during the opening cinematic, he has his heart ripped out and you're plunged into the Underworld. You'll soon learn of a way to escape and return to the mortal realm, but along the way you'll have to traverse some nightmarish locations filled with things like blood splatters, meat hooks and crawling torsos.
In terms of gameplay, Akuji the Heartless is often considered to be an action-adventure game, but it it has a lot of jumping sections and reminds me at times of a 3D platformer. The game features a lot of combat and offers both melee and ranged attacks. The combat can feel a little clunky at times, but I thought this was a really fun game all the way through.
Back in the late '90s, if I saw CarnEvil in an arcade, I had to play it. This game is a rail shooter that has some similarities to The House of the Dead, but unfortunately it never received a home port. One thing that always caught my attention with CarnEvil is that the graphics seemed to really pop and everything moved so fast. The game features a mixture of FMV running with polygons rendered on top and there's very little downtime while blasting away a seemingly endless supply of enemies.
Each of the four levels are peppered with horror tropes such as zombies, skeletons, and chainsaw wielding maniacs. CarnEvil doesn't really take itself seriously though and everything has a campy feel to it. For example, one of the levels has a Christmas theme and a Krampus boss.
Like many rail shooters, CarnEvil has limited replay value, but it's a fun ride while it lasts. As I mentioned before, it wasn't ported to home consoles, so the only official way to play it would be to track down an arcade cabinet somewhere. Nowadays, the game is playable in MAME, which offers up an alternative solution. It's definitely worth a look if want a fast and furious, over-the-top horror game.
If you've played the original D, then you know it's an interactive movie / puzzle adventure kinda game. Well, in addition to having a completely unrelated story, D2 also deviates heavily in terms of gameplay by incorporating action RPG and survival horror elements. This is the third and final game featuring Warp's digital actress, Laura, and it's a wild ride filled with all sorts of interesting storytelling and gameplay.
D2 does retain some of the adventure gameplay from its predecessor and you'll need to solve a few puzzles along the way, but the game opens up a lot more than the first one. As you're exploring the game world, you'll have to fend off enemies in semi-random encounters. When this happens, the game shifts to first person perspective and you're able to freely aim at your targets. It doesn't turn into an actual FPS or anything and feels more like a rail shooter, but you're able to rotate 360 degrees. It's a little odd at first, but actually works pretty well in streamlining the battles. You'll gain some experience points by defeating enemies and gain levels like in an RPG. Unlike a lot of RPGs though where random encounters can start to get old, I found these fairly enjoyable the entire game. Of course, D2 is quite a bit shorter than a typical RPG and should only take you about 10 hours or so to complete.
But wow, what a ride it is for those 10 hours! D2 is a game that just sort of does its own thing. In addition to the light RPG mechanics, there's a hefty dose of survival horror where you'll need to scavenge for ammunition and hunt wild animals for food. With a bizarre story, unique gameplay, and lots of horror throughout, D2 is a great Dreamcast exclusive that's definitely still worth playing.
Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999
Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999 is a spinoff from the main Beast Busters series by SNK. Whereas the first two Beast Busters games were arcade rail shooters, this one is an action RPG that was originally released for the Neo Geo Pocket Color in 1999. In this game, your character is known as a "beast buster" and you'll be exploring a variety of areas filled with horror-themed enemies and props such as zombies, skeletons, vampires, werewolves, graveyards, and so on.
Unlike most RPGs, you won't actually be leveling up your character in Dark Arms. Instead, you have to grow and evolve your weapons. When you first start the game, you'll be tasked with finding a seed and something called "oum" in order to craft your first weapon. Well, it's actually your second weapon since you start with something known as a "catcher", which is used to catch the souls of defeated enemies that you'll eventually use to feed your other weapons. The catcher is fairly weak and while it'll be upgraded during your journey, you'll need to primarily rely on your crafted weapons in order to deal out some serious damage.
So anyways, once you've crafted a weapon, you can equip it and as you defeat enemies, it will gain experience points and it'll grow in power as it levels up. Additionally, you can feed it some of the souls you've collected and after a while, you can evolve it into a new weapon altogether. This allows for a surprisingly large amount of customization to your play style since the weapons are actually quite varied and can be modified further by applying different elemental attributes on them. It's an odd mechanic for sure and almost has a Pokémon feel to it in terms of collecting all of the different souls and growing the different weapons. Combat in the game is fairly basic, but with such a wide array of weapons, I never got bored with it.
Dark Arms is relatively short and can be completed in less than 5 hours, but it's an addictive little game with a decent amount of replay value. As a side-note, the game was included in the Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1 for the Nintendo Switch and PC, so it's much easier to obtain than it used to be.
I know we just talked about D2, but let's talk about one more game developed by Warp in the '90s called Enemy Zero. This one was developed in between the D games and also features the digital actress Laura. Aside from being a horror game though, it once again has drastically different gameplay compared to the D games.
Enemy Zero has the same type of adventure style foundation where you walk around collecting items and solving a puzzle here and there. But the game also allows you to freely roam the space station you're on and in doing so, you enter into some real-time first-person action sequences. This game definitely isn't an FPS though and one really unique element is that your enemies are completely invisible. The game uses sound to help position your enemies so you're not completely left in the dark, but this mechanic really ratchets up the intensity as you try and move from room to room.
The story borrows heavily from the Alien movie franchise, but does enough to stand on its own. Enemy Zero was a Saturn console exclusive, but it also received a PC port in 1998. I thought this game provided a bit more of a challenge than the two D games, but I really enjoy all three titles. They each provide a unique, standalone experience and definitely deliver lots of good horror.
Gorky 17 (aka Odium)
Next we have a tactical RPG called Gorky 17, which was also released in North America as Odium back in 1999. Gorky 17 was released exclusively for PC and it differs greatly from many console-based tactical RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem.
Gorky 17 is more than just a tactical RPG though and it pulls in some adventure and survival horror elements. You have a squad of soldiers that you can move around various maps while solving puzzles, finding items, and fighting a whole bunch of enemies.
While I found the story in this game to be a little bland, the combat is a lot of fun. The combat is all turn-based and fairly similar to other tactical RPGs, but the survival horror elements come into play here since ammo can be quite scarce in this game. Battles become a balance between conserving ammo, but also preventing as much damage as possible. Each of the characters will gain experience and can specialize in the different weapons you find, so you have some flexibility in setting up your strategy throughout the game.
Gorky 17 has a bit of a learning curve and certainly has some rough edges, so it may not be for everyone. But hey, if you like the idea of a tactical RPG with some horror elements thrown on top, you should check the game out on Steam or GOG.
Next up we have a Sega Saturn exclusive in Mr. Bones. This is another game that's not really trying to scare you with its horror, but it has a lot of thematic elements that qualify it for this list. You control Mr. Bones himself and must survive against an army of evil skeletons, pesky bats, various other creatures, and lots of environmental challenges.
What sets Mr. Bones apart is the amount of variety it has. The game comprises over twenty levels and most of them feature gameplay unlike any other level. Throughout the game you'll play through levels that feature gameplay from genres such as 2D platformers, interactive movies, rhythm games, tower defense, and even a level where you have to tell jokes to other skeletons.
Mr. Bones is a challenging game, but the reward for experiencing the different levels, not to mention the great soundtrack, makes it well worth the effort.
Muppet Monster Adventure
The next game we're going to look at is Muppet Monster Adventure for the original PlayStation. I know what you're thinking, how could a game based on The Muppets possibly be on this list? Well, even though this game definitely isn't trying to scare you, it still draws on some pretty strong horror themes, namely a variety of classic monster types such as vampires, werewolves, and Frankenstein's monster. You'll also be visiting horror-themed locales such as graveyards and other elements like skulls, coffins, and pumpkins are sprinkled throughout and overall, this game just feels like it was made for playing around Halloween.
In terms of gameplay, Muppet Monster Adventure is a 3D platformer and it follows the Banjo-Kazooie formula for the most part. There are tons of collectibles in the game and your progress is impeded until you find certain ones, much like music notes and jigsaw pieces in the Banjo games. As you might expect, the game does skew on the easier side of the difficulty scale, but it's not a complete pushover. This isn't a perfect game by any means and has the feel of a low budget game at times, but I really enjoyed my 10 hours or so playing through the game.
For a late-era licensed game on the original PlayStation, this game is surprisingly really good. I wouldn't place it on the top tier with the likes of Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, and Spyro the Dragon, but it's a solid 3D platformer. If you're looking for something a little more light-hearted with a spooky aesthetic, this is a great option to check out.
Released all the way back in 1996, Tecmo's Deception is the first game in a long-running and criminally underrated series. Although it's the first Deception game, this entry is actually quite different from all of the ones that would follow. In Tecmo's Deception, you play as a prince who has been framed by his own brother for the murder of the king. This awards you a visit to the gallows where you vow revenge and are magically transported to the Castle of the Damned. From here, you're given the opportunity to get your revenge, but there's a catch: You'll have to help resurrect the Devil. Oh and before you can do that, you'll need to go kill the current master of the castle.
All of this happens in the first 15 minutes or so of the game and from there, you have to defend your castle from various invaders. Tecmo's Deception is an action RPG of sorts, but it's very different from other games in the genre. Rather than allowing you to attack enemies directly, you have to lay traps throughout the castle and lure your foes into them. There are all sorts of traps, such as spikes and pits, but also some that will capture your enemies. Once captured, you have the option of enslaving them or just killing them outright. Later in the game, you can use enemies you captured to turn them into monsters that can be used to help deal with the castle invaders.
Like all of the Deception games, I find the core gameplay here to be very addictive. The chapters are fairly quick and the game is constantly throwing new enemies at you that will require you to change up your tactics. There are also branching story paths and six different endings to unlock. This first entry is a little raw compared to its sequels and things would be streamlined starting with the second entry, but this is a really fun game with a brooding atmosphere. It's also the only game I've ever seen that has a warning about "Satanic references" on it. Another fun fact is that Deception is one of the only franchises that has appeared on every PlayStation console up to the PlayStation 4. Only time will tell if the series will continue onto the PlayStation 5.
The last game we're going to look at is another one that's not really trying to scare you, but it has a healthy dose of horror imagery and atmosphere. Vomitoreum is an FPS that runs on GZDoom and was released in 2021. For me, this game stands out amongst the many Doom engine games and mods because it deviates from the standard FPS gameplay and opts for a semi-open world and Metroidvania approach to progression.
The game offers plenty of action, but I also really enjoyed exploring the world and backtracking when I gained new abilities. There aren't very many weapons in the game, but the different abilities are fun to use and help add some variety when overcoming the various challenges thrown at you. Additionally, as you explore the world, you'll be treated with a great soundtrack that complements the gameplay quite well and adds to the unsettling atmosphere.
The game is fairly short and only took me about 2.5 hours to complete, but it's fun while lasts. It's definitely worth a look if you enjoy '90s style FPS games.
Alright, well, that about wraps it up for this article. I hope you enjoyed reading through the list and maybe found something that caught your eye. If you know of any other underrated horror-themed games, feel free to leave a comment below!