The year 1998 was a truly landmark year in video game history. This was the year Legend of Zelda finally went 3D. The first FPS with a stellar, story-driven campaign was released. The age of the modern stealth game began.
A series of Pokemon games launched a worldwide phenomenon.
With so many good games to choose from, we were hard pressed to pick the best video games in 1998. But pick them we did, after weeks of debates over coffee, meals and emails. Without further ado, here are our picks for the best games of 1998, in no particular order.
Arguably the best shooter of all time, Valve’s Half-Life was like an atomic bomb exploding in the collective consciousness of gamers worldwide. FPS games would never be the same again. Half-Life showed that shooters can convey story without interrupting the action with endless cutscenes and exposition. By placing players square in the middle of an alien invasion in an underground lab, Half-Life allowed the environment to tell you what happened. The way the story unfolds naturally as you progress through the game, seamlessly blending exploration and combat is a masterclass in game design.
Yet another hallowed developer came out with a genre-defining release in 1998 – StarCraft. Developers Blizzard created a deep, almost endlessly complex RTS that pit three alien races against each other for the fate of the world. StarCraft, and its expansion Brood War revitalized the competitive gaming scene. Players worldwide were hooked because the game allowed so many different tactics and play styles, essentially allowing them to play 3D chess. A lot of people still play StarCraft and Brood War – a testament to how amazing these games are. We might have StarCraft to thank for the expansion of the competitive gaming scene.
Metal Gear Solid
Metal Gear Solid was a stealth game, but the stealth aspect isn’t a big part of its enduring legacy. MGS was unique because it was one of the first videogames that embraced cinematic design for its cutscenes. The game featured several gorgeously animated cutscenes that employed state of the art cinema techniques and great voice acting. It even made some meta references to itself as a video game. The power of the PlayStation console was on full display, and the cinematic style that the original Metal Gear Solid used stuck, which has led to the unfolding of one of gaming’s greatest stories over the years.
Pokemon Blue/Pokemon Red
There was a time when people weren’t trying to “catch them all”. But then a series of Pokemon RPGs for the Game Boy changed things forever. Pokemon Blue and Pokemon Red took the classic Japanese role-playing mechanics and added a “catching” twist to the party system. You had to go out into the world and catch different Pokemon, magical creatures that you could then pit in battle against other Pokemon. The battle system is appropriately deep and rises to the challenge of conveying the distinct nature and powers of the different magical beasts you capture. There are people who still put up videos of them finding a rare Pokemon on their Game Boy.
The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time
Sony won the race for pushing a 3D capable of console to the market first, partly because they weren’t burdened by having to convert an existing franchise to the 3D realm. Nintendo wasn’t far behind though, rising to the challenge of a new frontier in gaming by first releasing Super Mario 64 – a game that changed platformers forever. In 1998, they went back to another one of their beloved franchises, The Legend of Zelda, and created an iconic 3D adventure with The Ocarina of Time. Hyrule never looked this amazing, with the 3D graphics now fully capable of conveying the scale and depth of the world that only existed in our imaginations beforehand. The Ocarina of Time takes players through a complex journey full of wonder and philosophical insights. It was also one of the earliest games to use context sensitive actions that could be mapped out to a single button.
In the next part of this series, we will look back at some more of the best video games from 1998. Until then, let us know which games you thought.