When I think back to the “greatest year in gaming” there’s only one year that comes to mind, and it isn’t 1985, ’86, or ’95, nope, it’s 1998. I’m going to walk you through everything that happened in 1998 that was special to me, or at least what I can remember at least. I’ll put everything in order of release and we’ll go from there. OK, let’s kick this off.
1998 began with one of my most hotly anticipated games, Resident Evil 2 on the original PlayStation. It shipped on January 21st, after countless delays. It would go down in history as one of the very best survival horror videogames of all time. It allowed players to follow both Leon and Claire through Raccoon City, which was something fans had dreamed of after playing the original RE. Needless to say, this was the absolute best way to kick off the year.
Two months later I would be introduced to a game I still play to this very day, StarCraft. It hit the scene on March 31st and remains one of the best real-time strategy games ever created. It would become so popular that Blizzard would hold international competitions to get players from all over the world to take part in. It took way too long for the company to release a sequel, but that’s a story for another day.
On April 30th Sega released Panzer Dragoon Saga, which remains one of the best RPGs ever created. It was extremely unique, featuring one of the most robust and creative battle systems ever. The game span four discs and was the best reason to own a Saturn. It’s also worth mentioning that by this point in time the Saturn was all but dead, so getting such a high caliber game like this was the perfect fan service.
May 22nd saw the release of Unreal, which was relatively unknown back in ‘98. If I remember anything from the original game it was the fever pitch action, and the absolutely gorgeous indoor, and especially outdoor environments.
After living it up with all these amazing games, Rare released Banjoo-Kazooie for the N64 on June 30th. At this point in time I wasn’t using my N64 all that much, so having any excuse to come back to it was worthwhile. BK proved to be another hugely successful game for Rare, which at this point in time could do no wrong.
August 21st was the day Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six was released, and it changed the way people played shooters. You actually had to think before you charged into a room. My only complaint is that I always found it really slow. Thanks to Rainbow Six people started taking Ubisoft serious in ways they never had before. It was from this moment on when everyone referred to Ubisoft as a real contender.
September 9th saw the release of one of my favorite Square games, Parasite Eve. I adored survival horror games and this one was so unique because it infused RPG elements into the mix. It featured a really crazy storyline, interesting characters and a great battle system.
September 10th was an equally important date in videogame history as it was the day when Insomniac and Sony released the very first Spyro the Dragon game. It would go on to become a huge seller for Sony and was one of the key reasons why Insomniac worked so closely with Sony for the next decade.
One of my favorite PC RPGs from back in the 90s was Fallout, so imagine how excited I was when, on September 30th Interplay released Fallout 2. While the series would gain international fame when Bethesda released Fallout 3 many years later, these early RPGs featured some of the best gameplay mechanics the series had ever seen, not to mention an outstanding storyline.
On October 20th North American RPG fans would race to retailers to get their hands on Square’s latest masterpiece, Xenogears. It remains an outstanding achievement in art design and storyline. It also launched one of the most successful RPG series.
A day after the North American release of Xenogears (Oct. 21st), Konami released what remains one of my all time favorite videogames, Metal Gear Solid. I had never experienced a game that was so cinematic, that read your memory card in funny ways, and made you do insane things like swap your controller to the second player port to confuse a boss character before. This was the reason you owned a PlayStation over a Saturn and an N64. This game defined an entire generation, and continues to be a force to be reckoned with.
October 21st was also an important date for N64 fans as that was the day when Turok 2: Seeds of Evil was released. Time for some honesty here, I was never a huge fan of this one. I included it here only because if I didn’t I know fans would say what’s up. While N64 fans were playing through Turok 2 I was perfectly fine playing MGS thank you very much.
On October 30th LucasArts would release their last great graphic adventure game, Grim Fandango. If you’ve never played this masterpiece before, you need to fix that ASAP. Tim Schafer was the lead designer and writer for the game, which proved to be one of the biggest commercial failures in PC history. Even though players loved it, the press adored it, for whatever reason the sales just weren’t there. This was the last time LucasArts would release a graphic adventure game, and it’s also when all the best talent at the studio left to form their own studios. Thanks to Kickstarter this genre has now seen an explosion of interest, and I highly recommend you all go check out GF right away.
The very last day in October, the 31st for those that don’t know, saw the release of the final game in the classic Naughty Dog Crash series, Crash Bandicoot: Warped, which introduced new playable characters, new mounts, a great new storyline, and the best gameplay of the original trilogy. ND would release a kart racing game after Warped, before they would move on to their own original IP starting with the PS2’s Jak and Daxter. These early Crash games laid the foundation for action platformers for years to come, and Warped was an excellent way to say good-bye to Crash.
November 19th, 1998 will go down in history as the defining moment for first-person shooters. It was on this day when Valve released Half-Life and changed the FPS genre forever. It will always be remembered for its incredible use of scale, story and logic. Before HL ammo and health were found anywhere/everywhere, but after developers had to be logical and place ammo in storage crates, on tables and other places that made sense. Now where is Half-Life 3?
November 21st saw the release of Tomb Raider III and by this time the series had more or less run its course with me. While I picked it up, I didn’t play it until much later in 1999, and for good reason. There were much better games released around it, but I know many people who loved TR III so it’s worth a nod.
November 23rd, 1998 was the best day of all 1998. While it’s true I wasn’t using my N64 nearly as often as my PlayStation, this was the day I dropped everything (including Half-Life) and got totally immersed in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It remains my favorite 3D Zelda, and one of my favorite videogames of all time. I had waited since April 13th, 1992 for another console Zelda, and this one didn’t disappoint whatsoever. I could go on and on about how influential it was, but you already know all that. This was a day many millions of us will never forget.
Blizzard was so quick to act on the success of StarCraft that on November 30th they released the first and only expansion, Brood War. Combined with the original game, Blizzard would go on to sell almost 12 million copies of StarCraft: Brood War worldwide. Not too shabby if you ask me.
As if 1998 wasn’t already outstanding enough, November 30th was the day I was introduced to BioWare, some small Canadian company that was going to focus on PC RPGs or something like that. That’s what I had heard at the time; in truth I never thought anything of them, until they released Baldur’s Gate. I had never played such a deep and rewarding PC RPG like this in a very long time. Fallout 2 was great, but so few people were playing it. BG was a different beast altogether as the entire world grabbed hold of it and never let go.
We’re finally winding down. December 7th was when LucasArts and Factor 5 released Star Wars: Rogue Squadron for the Nintendo 64, which was a brilliant aerial combat simulator. By using the N64 Expansion Pak Factor 5 was able to enhance the game’s resolution from 320×240 to 640×480, which made a world of difference. This was the last huge release; at least of those I can remember, from 1998.
Individual game releases make up the bulk of the reason why 1998 is my favorite year in gaming, but there are a few other things that happened this year. Nintendo released the Game Boy Color, which was incredibly powerful compared to the original Game Boy. I played on that thing like no one’s business whenever I wasn’t at home.
1998 was also the year when Sega released the Dreamcast over in Japan. While North Americans would have to wait until 9/9/99, our Japanese counterparts were living it up playing one of the most breathtaking games released during the year, Sonic Adventure.
Rockstar Games, which would go on to become one of the world’s most successful developers was actually founded in 1998. At that time they were a complete unknown, but everything would change with the launch of a little game called Grand Theft Auto III.
So there you have it folks, all the reasons why I think 1998 will always be my favorite year in gaming. Sure there were times in the mid-eighties like ’85 and ’86 that saw the launch of tons of classics, but 1998 had so many killer releases bundled together that I don’t think anything will ever surpass it. What about you guys? What year in gaming do you think was the best and why? I want to hear from you so get typing!