Greatest Game of 1998: The Competition
Welcome to the competition to Chas’ pick for 1998’s Game of the Year, Half-Life. I should say right up front that I am an unapologetic Half-Life fan. It is one of my top ten games of all time and is the height of first-person shooters, as far as I am concerned. I even have a mental conception of Gordon Freeman as the baddest man in the universe, a strong silent type who will shoot your face off if you mess with him. So from where I sit, all of the games the guys considered for the title of Game of the Year 1998 are inferior to Half-Life, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about them.
Games I Played
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
As I mentioned in my semi-blasphemous “I kind of hate A Link to the Past” article, Ocarina was my last Zelda game. The fairies stopped being sexy and instead shrilly shouted at you for the whole game. You had to play the titular ocarina. Something about the graphics was just off. The story is a rehash of previous Zelda tropes. However, according to Wikipedia, this is one of the best reviewed games of all time, so maybe I’m just a hater.
Thief: Deadly Shadows
In many ways, Thief was ahead of its time. Fundamentally a stealth game, it was one of the first games to use sound and light as critical elements to game play: move too fast, you make noise, and baddies come to kill you. Unfortunately, the graphics were subpar even for 1998, the controls were twitchy, and situations could easily collapse, turning the game into the type of generic hack-and-slash that was common at that time, except of course with worse graphics and controls. My takeaway in 1998 was that Eidos made shitty shitty games, but there were good ideas here that would influence games going forward.
StarCraft is probably the only other true classic on this list. A real-time strategy game set in space, StarCraft took WarCraft and made it deeper and more challenging and gave it a better story. With three races and three campaigns, there was a great mix of strategies and map types to be played here. StarCraft also spawned a thriving online community that was still playing the game in Korea a decade after its release. This was a game so well designed and executed that when Blizzard released its sequel nearly a decade and a half later, it was essentially the same game with a graphics update and no one really complained.
I know that a lot of folks out there have a lot of love for the Gran Turismo games, but to me they were always racing games without balls. Sure, you could race real cars that looked nice, but these games always seemed too antiseptic: the crashes didn’t damage the cars, and your car never got so beat up you had to stop racing. What’s the point in that?
Resident Evil 2
I didn’t own a PlayStation, so I played Resident Evil 2 in a friend’s basement, which was the perfect setting for this spooky creepfest. This was the first game to ever really make me tense up with anticipation and jump hard with surprise. Unfortunately, Resident Evil 2 was severely hampered by its controls. Each new room or hallway you entered would shift the camera angle, which would then change how you moved through the space. There is little I find more frustrating in video games than inconsistent movement controls. RE2 also featured the annoying plant-pivot-shoot mechanic that was as unnatural as its movement controls.
Games I Never Played
I don’t have much to say about these games, but if you’re someone who loved them, let us know why in the comments.
Baldur’s Gate 2 – A top-view team dungeon crawler for the Diablo set.
Metal Gear Solid – A PlayStation title with lots of sneaking about.
Crash Bandicoot: Warped – My impression of the Crash Bandicoot games was that they were PlayStation’s attempt to compete with Mario Kart. They’re well-liked games, even if they haven’t approached Mario Kart’s level of success.
Games I Hadn’t Even Heard of
Now we enter into the “Every day’s a school day” portion of Competition 1998, where I fill you in on some of the year’s more obscure titles.
Final Fantasy Tactics- This is apparently a tactical role-playing game, a genre I didn’t even know existed. Players pick out different classes of units and engage in a turn-based battle on a 3D rotatable map. According to Wikipedia, this game is little remembered here in the States due to a terrible language port that made the plot difficult to follow and inconsistent battle mechanics.
Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri – Ooooh, a Sid Meier game! Alpha Centauri was another turn-based strategy game in the vein of the Civilization games. Indeed it acted as a sort of sequel to those games, set in the 22nd century and featuring several alien species as well as humans. Its graphics were above average for its time, and it compared favorably to Civilization and Civilization 2. Not sure how I missed this one, but I’m disappointed I did.
Panzer Dragoon Saga – A Sega Saturn game, which explains up front why I’d never heard of it. This is an odd one. At first it sounds badass–you fly around on a dragon that shoots lasers from its mouth. Cool. But then further exploration reveals that the combat is turn-based combined with real-time movement. Strange. Apparently only 30,000 copies of this game were ever released in the US, and it still commands a high price on eBay. Which begs the question: are there really people out there with working Sega Saturns?
XGames- I can’t seem to confirm that this game even exists. Assuming it does, it seems likely this is exactly what it sounds like, you play various events from the Mountain Dew Olympics. Could have been fun.
Pokemon Red and Blue – Since neither I nor our readers are 10-year-olds, we’ll just file this one under “Don’t Care” and move along.
Grim Fandango – I’ll end with one of the last point-and-click adventure games. Grim Fandango was a film noir-style trip through the underworld. Reviews note its excellent graphics and interesting story (some comment that it would have made an excellent movie) and compliment its puzzles. The tale Wikipedia tells, though, is that Grim’s underperformance resulted in Lucas Arts essentially disbanding its adventure games division, having decided the genre was no longer commercially viable.