Every few years it seems as though the stars align within the gaming industry resulting in an unusually large number of great games all released within a single year. Past examples of this phenomenon include 1987, 2004, 2007, and 2017. Many have even begun to argue that 2023, is one such year, though only time will tell if that is indeed the case. However, there is one year in the annals of video game history that, in my opinion, surpasses all others. This year gave us not only a massive number of amazing games that are now considered all-time greats, but simultaneously provided a potent combination of quality, quantity, and innovation. That year was 1998, and it was a year that forever changed gaming as an art form in ways that can still be felt a quarter of a century later. So join us on a look back at this landmark year, as we recount the games that made it so significant.
In 1998 the survival horror genre was still in its relative infancy. The release of the original Resident Evil just two years prior had popularized the genre, and in the years following numerous copycats had sprung up. Some of these games were certainly better than others but for the most part, they failed to significantly build on the foundation established by the first Resident Evil. It would instead fall on the shoulders of the developers at Capcom to once again show the rest of the industry how it was done.
Resident Evil 2
At first glance, Resident Evil 2 seems just to be more of what made the original game so successful; ie fixed camera angles, limited resources, basic inventory puzzles, and zombies. A closer inspection shows that this sequel managed to improve on the original in almost every way, sanding away the rough edges of the first RE and polishing it to a mirror sheen. Pacing and level design were improved, the story, though still cheezy, saw significant improvements to writing, acting, and presentation, plus the game was much scarier than the original. It also offered a much meatier experience than the original with more content, modes, and replayability. Most notably the use of A and B stories for the two playable characters that effectively allowed for 4 different versions of the campaign was a particular stroke of brilliance. Not only has RE2 remained a fan favorite, but it also raised the bar for the survival horror genre as a whole, showing that the original game was not simply a flash in the pan and paving the way for countless horror games to come.
More Great Survival Horror Games from 1998
Deep Fear (Saturn)
1998 was an important year for the 3D platformer. While the genre had previously been popularized with games like Super Mario 64 and Crash Bandicoot, platformers had yet to adopt a set of universal standards. As an example, prior to this year, it was still fairly common to see 3D platformers which utilized tank controls. The platformers of 1998 helped to solidify what fans could expect from entries in the genre to come, with two, in particular leading the charge and helping to establish the modern collect-a-thon sub-genre.
The first of these was Banjo-Kazooie, a game that perfected the sandbox-style level design established in Super Mario 64, and in many respects surpassed its esteemed predecessor. Banjo-Kazooie can also be credited with creating the “buddy platformer” wherein two diametrically opposed protagonists who often wisecrack at one another are controlled simultaneously with notable examples being Jak and Daxter and Ratchet and Clank. The game further set itself apart with its variety of colorful worlds, playful sense of humor, and catchy soundtrack. This is a game that is absolutely bursting at the seams with charm and character in a way that few games even today manage to achieve. This game more or less became the gold standard for its genre that future entries would be compared against. There is a reason why fans are still begging for a new entry in the series even after decades of dormancy.
Spyro the Dragon
Another genre-defining 3D platformer that was released in ‘98 was Spyro the Dragon. Upon release for the original PlayStation, Spyro immediately became a gaming icon and a mascot for Sony. The game took a very different approach to 3D platformers than what gamers were used to; placing a much greater emphasis on combat and utilizing a more condensed circular level design that guided players and maintained a constant sense of flow. This was aided by fantastic controls, which made excellent use of the recently released DualShock controller as well as visual and audio design that made it a joy to explore the many colorful worlds that the game had to offer. The game was also able to render large 3D environments without the need for distance fog that was common in games of that time through the use of atmospheric perspective tricks that simplified the geometry of objects and buildings that were far away — a commonly used technique today but incredibly innovative for the time.
More Great 3D Platformers from 1998
- Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped
- Sonic Adventure
In 1998 the rhythm genre was only about 2 years old, having been introduced by Parapa the Rapper in 1996 and Beatmania in 1997. While the genre had begun to find a following, especially in Japan, nothing could prepare the world for the utter juggernaut that it would produce in 1998 with the release of Dance Dance Revolution.
Dance Dance Revolution
Dance Dance Revolution was more than just a game, it was a cultural phenomenon that captured the interests of gamers and non-gamers alike throughout the world. DDR was everywhere in the late ’90s and early 2000s. No arcade worth its salt was without at least one machine and it was a staple of bowling alleys, movie theaters, and restaurants. This success is all the more impressive when one considers that this was during a time when arcades were dying in the West. The game’s popularity can be attributed to several factors: its mesmerizing visuals, simple but addicting gameplay that was easy for anyone to learn but required true skill to master, and perhaps most importantly, the spectacle that the game produced. DDR was about more than simply stepping on buttons in time with music; it made players, for a brief moment, into dancing superstars. It wasn’t at all uncommon for skilled players to attract large crowds who would gaze in awe at the player’s prowess, admiring the sheer dexterity and physicality on display. The game should also be recognized as one of the first to popularize gaming as a form of physical exercise.
First Person Shooter
1998 was a major year for first-person shooters. While previous years had seen the genre largely iterate on the formula established by DOOM, by 1998 FPSs had begun to differentiate themselves from their forebears and branch off into several distinct sub-genres. At this time first-person shooters were primarily played on the PC which allowed the genre to remain on the cutting edge of technology. With every new improvement in graphics, online connectivity, and processing power the possibilities of what could be done with the genre were expanded exponentially.
Starsiege Tribes was a massive leap forward for online shooters, not only paving the way for arena shooters like Unreal Tournament but also for team and class-based titles like Battlefield 1942 and Team Fortress 2. Starsiege Tribes allowed for up to 32 players (a massive amount at the time) on two teams to wage war across massive maps. Players could create custom classes by mixing and matching weapons and armor, traverse the landscape with jetpacks and vehicles, and fight their way through enemy bases while sabotaging their defenses. While these are all things that we take for granted in games today, at the time it was like nothing that had ever been seen before. Indeed the influence of Starsiege Tribes can easily be seen in online shooters today, from the custom load-outs of Call of Duty to the advanced movement of Titanfall and the team-based antics of Overwatch 2.
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six
One of the first of a new sub-genre dubbed the “tactical shooter” Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six was in many ways a rejection of the DOOM style run and gun that had previously defined the first-person shooter. As opposed to the fantastical settings and gameplay of other first-person shooters, Rainbow Six grounded itself in a high degree of realism that few games even today try to emulate. Running into a mission guns blazing is an easy way for the player to get themselves killed as, much like in real life, they can be killed in only one or two hits. Instead, the game rewards caution, careful planning, and precision. This was a game where something as simple as turning a blind corner could be a heart-pounding experience and at times the game more so resembles a strategy game than a traditional shooter. Levels are designed like actual buildings and offer the player complete freedom on how to approach them. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six was a bold new take on the FPS and would have a massive impact on the genre going forward.
Half-Life was a revelation when it was released. The game did away with the abstract levels of previous first-person shooters. Instead, Half-Life set itself in believable spaces that seamlessly flowed together. All of this was achieved without ever taking away control from the player, allowing them to experience the game’s narrative through level design and environmental storytelling. The game’s design was impeccable as well, smoothly flowing between varied set pieces with expert pacing, and forcing players to take a more considered and tactical approach to combat and navigation. The game was also extremely moddable which would eventually lead to numerous excellent fan-made creations, some of which would even be turned into official games like Counter-Strike and Team Fortress Classic.
More Great First-Person Shooters From 1998
- Delta Force
- Shogo: Mobile Armor Division
- Turok 2: Seeds of Evil
These are just a few of the many games that made 1998 such an amazing year. Join us next time as we go over more of the games of 1998. Next time we will look at the emergence of 3D stealth games, the swansong of the adventure genre, the global launch of Pokemon, and much more.