Remembering 1998: Biggest Games Turning 20 This Year
By Alessandro Fillari | @afillari on
The Year Was 1998
While the 90s was a decade of immense growth for the gaming industry, 1998 was the year that pushed the medium further than it had gone before. From the rich competitive experiences of StarCraft to the revolutionary storytelling of Metal Gear Solid, several games--some of which became watershed moments for the industry--would go on to set the standard for what games are capable of, and what they continue to strive for.
In this gallery, the GameSpot staff will be taking a look back at the biggest games of 1998 that made their way to the Western market, and the impact they left on us in the 20 years since their respective releases. This includes the likes of Xenogears, Resident Evil 2, and the original Half-Life, and our Game of the Year of 1998, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Here's a selection of games--in order of their respective releases--that made 1998 an amazing year. And if you want to see the biggest games that turned 10 this year--and for last year as well--be sure to check out our respective features for both.
Resident Evil 2 (January 21, 1998)
For me, Resident Evil 2 is one of the strongest survival horror games of all time and, even today, the way it ebbs and flows between building tension and delivering overwhelming jolts of action is incredibly effective.
As a teenager, I was excited at the prospect of seeing the horrors I experienced in Resident Evil's Spencer Mansion spill out into a metropolitan city and, in that respect, the game delivers from the very outset. As rookie cop Leon Kennedy, I was forced to battle through Raccoon City's streets, where a catastrophe had struck and now groaning undead stumbled around looking for flesh to sink their teeth into.
Amidst getting to grips with the awkward controls I watched someone get devoured by a zombie and found myself having to battle a group of them in a very small gun store that was, unhelpfully, mostly empty. Though it was only five minutes from the moment you take control of Leon to when you arrive at Raccoon City Police Department, I still remember how nerve-wracking it was, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I had to take a breather once I reached safer grounds. Unlike the first Resident Evil's subdued start, the sequel opted for a high-octane opening, and that sense that had no qualms with pushing me into the deep end without any notice is something that gnawed at me throughout.
Once I reached RCPD, things got much worse. What I really loved about Resident Evil 2 was that it took something that I associated with safety and security--a police station--and filled it with horrifying dangers that were lurking around every corner. There was something incredibly unsettling about that, much like the idea of a monster in a closet or under a bed is to a child. The violation of a safe space is a very potent tool for horror fiction, and Resident Evil 2 used it well.
Resident Evil 2 is a game that I keep coming back to. Sometimes to relive moments like meeting the Licker for the first time, other times to simply wander its echoey halls and soak in the tense atmosphere. It's a game that really stuck with me in 1998, and continues to occupy my thoughts all these years later. | Tamoor Hussain
Final Fantasy Tactics (January 28, 1998)
Final Fantasy Tactics originally caught my eye in an issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly. Fresh off of Final Fantasy VII, I was hungry for another PlayStation RPG, and was instantly taken in by Tactics' colorful presentation. Steeped in an era when publishers focused so heavily on 3D games, those screenshots made me nostalgic for the days of 16-bit sprites, and for Final Fantasy games with a touch of medieval flair.
Up until the game's release, I had never really experienced a turn-based tactical game. I had, however, played and enjoyed Ogre Battle on Super Nintendo. When I realized the dream team behind that game--Akihiko Yoshida, Yasumi Matsuno, and Hitoshi Sakamoto--were the creators behind Final Fantasy Tactics, my hype levels were off the charts. Awash in more advanced-looking games, my friends thought I was nuts.
Sure enough, my anticipation was justified. Final Fantasy Tactics delivered one of the most complex and dramatic stories I'd ever encountered in a game, with the power balance of a kingdom threatened by subterfuge, powerful religious artifacts, and leaders driven to madness. To add to the intrigue, the story was presented as a series of events that had been wiped from the history books by the ultimate victor in an effort to hide the truth from future generations. Who, or what, were they afraid of? Final Fantasy Tactics expertly unravels the answers.
As it was in 1998, Final Fantasy Tactics remains excellent today. The story hasn't lost any of its appeal, but it's the complex job class system and deep tactical considerations that draw me back in time and time again. I've put hundreds of hours into multiple playthroughs, and all it takes is a new set of soldiers and a different mindset to make everything feel fresh. Final Fantasy Tactics is my favorite game of all time, and one of the few games I plan to continue playing for the rest of my life. | Peter Brown
Xenogears (February 11, 1998)
While it doesn’t have the widespread recognition of some of its JRPG contemporaries, Xenogears is a cult classic whose legacy and influence continues to this day. Its narrative, couched in what a first appears to be a stanard anime mech setup, brings weighty themes of philosophy, psychology, and religion that many games even today can’t match.
These were risky themes to explore in a video game back in 1998, but it's these choices that ultimately made the game stick with so many people. It's also an excellent JRPG in its own right, using the Active Time Battle system seen in games like Chrono Trigger as a basis, but stands out with its Deathblow mechanic. Learning button combos, not unlike the way fighting game combos work, activates special flashy moves that are satisfying to pull off. Infamously, Xenogears' second disc is unfinished, the story told through cutscenes and narration with little gameplay. That might have ruined the experience of most games, but Xenogears still stands strong due to how compelling and memorable its first disc is.
We never got an official sequel to Xenogears, but its legacy lives on in both the Xenosaga and Xenoblade Chronicles series, which continue its narrative ideas and themes. For longtime JRPG fans, Xenogears is a legendary game, one with a weird history worth remembering. | Jean-Luc Seipke
For more info about Xenogears, be sure to check out our video where we dive a bit deeper into this remarkable JRPG.
Tenchu: Stealth Assassins (February 26, 1998)
We always knew ninjas were cool. They flip out, they kill people, and they fight all the time. That's what they were spending most of their time doing in video games, and depictions of ninjas in games like Strider and Ninja Gaiden basically had them doing that. But that ain't historically accurate! Enter: Tenchu Stealth Assassins, a game set in feudal Japan that made you embody the true role of a ninja as a covert agent and focussed on espionage, infiltration, guerilla tactics, and killin' folk without being seen.
With Thief and Metal Gear Solid to follow later that year, 1998 turned out to be a defining time for the stealth genre.
I have distinct memories of playing Tenchu with my buddy, as we each took turns trying get through levels, running across rooftops, executing cool stealth kills like amputating someone's arm or slitting their throat, and getting into sloppy sword fights when we were caught. And we got caught a lot. This was the first ever 3D stealth game, so there was a lot of rewiring that needed to be done in our brains. Combat was possible but clunky, so there was a big motivation to learn how to be real ninjas.
And who could forget the cool items? Tenchu was the game where I first learned to love grappling hooks, a vital tool for infiltration and getting the drop on enemies. There were shuriken, of course, but I mostly remember having a ball the first few times we managed to trick a guard into walking on top of caltrops or eat a poisoned rice ball we left on the ground.
Tenchu's immediate sequel was pretty good, but the series slowly declined in quality after that, with 2009's Tenchu: Fatal Shadows being the last we saw of the series. There are a few rumors floating around that the upcoming From Software game is a Tenchu reboot, and personally, I'm dying for that to be true. With Metal Gear Solid basically out of the picture, we need another Japanese studio to give us their take on stealth systems, and what better vehicle to do it with than one of the other stealth masterpieces from 1998? Just do a better job than Thief did. | Edmond Tran
StarCraft (March 31, 1998)
Blizzard was onto something in the real-time strategy genre with Warcraft and Warcraft 2, but at that point, none of the developer’s previous games reached the heights of Starcraft. This science-fiction twist to the RTS foundation introduced more than just a new aesthetic. The nature of balancing imaginative units from the three main factions (Zerg, Protoss, and Terran) led to a wildly popular competitive scene. Strategies ran deep and high-level matches almost played like a game of Chess.
I used to rush home from school to play custom games with friends and burn hours tinkering with the endless match customization and user mods. This kept Starcraft constantly fresh and the never-ending one-upping of each other made everyone a better player. We couldn't just master one strategy and hope that'd get us to victory; what would be your follow-up strat if that lightning fast Zerg rush didn't work? My friends and I learned to adapt to new situations in every match.
It wasn’t just a revolutionary competitive aspect that made Starcraft an iconic game; the surprisingly deep lore in single-player fed into the fanfare and attachment to the three factions. A little backstory went a long way for characterizing the relationships between the Zerg, Protoss, and Terran. Even to this day, StarCraft remains one of the most played games overseas. The recent Remastered version also keeps the spirit alive with gameplay untouched, which is a testament to the greatness of the original StarCraft. | Michael Higham
1080 Snowboarding (March 31, 1998)
Growing up in the midwest, winter sports were huge for me and none of them had more appeal than snowboarding. I wasn’t great at it, admittedly, but I had fun while I was doing it. But what does one do when all of the snow is a distant memory melted away by the sweltering heat of the summer season? You stay inside and play video games in the air conditioning of course!
I was spending a few weeks during the summer at my grandmother's house along with a few of my cousins as we did for the past couple of years, so this was nothing new to us. We had all brought games with us that we were looking to share with each other and one of my cousins brought along a quirky snowboarding game with a catchy soundtrack, and I was instantly hooked. We all stayed up late into the night playing multiplayer in match races and trick attack events, and it was some of the most fun I can remember having playing a local multiplayer game.
Fortunately, for nostalgia’s sake, 1080 has been re-released on Nintendo’s virtual consoles a few times and I have been able to play it pretty easily recently. While I still have a good time playing now and I still “work my body” to many of the certified bangers on it’s soundtrack, I can admit that there have been many better snowboarding games since 1080. It did a great job of paving the way for games like SSX and many others that I also still play even today. | Ben Janca
Panzer Dragoon Saga (April 30, 1998)
When Sega launched the Sega Saturn in North America, it simultaneously released Panzer Dragoon. It was a fairly standard on-rails shooter where you rode on the back of dragons, but the world it was set in made the action feel special, like there was a meaningful purpose behind your actions. Not one to leave a good game without a sequel, Sega would refine this formula for Panzer Dragoon Zwei shortly after.
But when it came time to say goodbye to the Saturn, Sega decided to go all in: Panzer Dragoon Saga would be one of the last games released for the system outside of Japan, and would be a full-blown RPG spanning four CDs. It was unfortunately also produced in notoriously low numbers--the current estimate is mere thousands of copies, rather than tens or hundreds of thousands. I watched from the sidelines, intrigued but without a Saturn at the time of release.
Fast forward to today, and Panzer Dragoon Saga is one of the most expensive games for the system, costing hundreds of dollars even for loose discs without the case. Though Sega would go on to develop another on-rails shooter in the series for Xbox (Panzer Dragoon Orta), people still clamor for a taste of Saga. The sad truth is that the game may never be resurrected. The original source code is confirmed lost, and the series lives on only in the hearts of nostalgic fans and curious onlookers. There was an attempt to create a spiritual successor to the on-rails games for Xbox One in Crimson Dragon, but due to an unfortunate reliance on Kinect, the revival didn't satiate the desires of the target audience. | Peter Brown
Gran Turismo (May 12, 1998)
Racing games hadn't really captured a realistic approach to driving before Gran Turismo. In 1998, the progenitor to Polyphony Digital's iconic franchise pitched itself as "the real driving simulator" and it played like nothing else before it. Over one hundred licensed cars filled the roster and each one handled differently. For the first time in video game driving, we had to think about a car's drivetrain to get a grip of its handling, which also changed how you approached the twists and turns of each track. The type of tires, suspension, or gearbox your car used were all factors in how it performed. The rear-wheel Dodge Viper I worked so hard to buy later in the single-player campaign is nothing like the front-wheel Honda Prelude at the start. And I can't forget about that turbocharged 941 horsepower Nissan Skyline GT-R with a red/green bodykit I used for endurance races.
So many small touches added up to a bigger experience. As a young kid, my mind was opened to car customization and car tuner culture. I quickly learned about how a cold-air intake and cat-back exhaust system were the initial steps to boosting your car's horsepower. I even looked into what port polishing meant and tinkered with gear ratios for different types of race tracks. My love for Gran Turismo caught the attention of my 3rd grade teacher who thought I'd be a car mechanic or professional race car driver when I got older. She was somewhat right.
Gran Turismo set the stage for the simulation racing genre that we now see with games like Project Cars and Forza Motorsport. However, the magic of perfectly executing hairpin turns with a car you put so many credits into with the original Gran Turismo still hasn't been matched. | Michael Higham
Banjo-Kazooie (June 29, 1998)
Two years after Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie arrived. As another 3D platformer, it was in danger of being thought of as a Super Mario 64 clone. But its graphics--which utilized more detailed textures than Mario 64--and distinctly more cheeky attitude helped it stand out at the time. While its graphics aren't impressive anymore, its large, detailed worlds filled with secrets and collectibles still stand out.
I was five years old in 1998, so I ended up playing Banjo-Kazooie with my mom. She'd tackle the harder sections--Rusty Bucket Bay's underwater Jiggies in particular, which I still don't like doing without her--and I'd take notes in crayon. We had a notebook for Brentilda's facts about Gruntilda so we'd be ready for the quiz at the end, and for the Tiptup Choir memory game in Bubblegloop Swamp (which was hard for me to follow). We played and replayed it, finding new things each time until we'd collected every Note, Jinjo, Jiggy, Honeycomb Piece, and even Mumbo Token.
I still replay Banjo-Kazooie at least once a year. The XBLA version saves the Notes you collected each time you leave a world, but I still remember having to start from zero after every death or having left to do something else. I'm still challenging myself to be faster and more efficient each 100% run I do. 20 years later, even though I know where every collectible is, I still feel like I'm finding something new each time. | Kallie Plagge
Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six (August 21, 1998)
Tactical military shooters on PC weren’t all too surprising by the mid 2000s, but in 1998, the original Rainbow Six laid the groundwork. Author Tom Clancy painted a fairly plain and bleak picture of international relations and counter-terrorism with his book titled Rainbow Six, for which the game was based on. However, it was the ideal premise for an FPS where danger and death waited around every corner. Each move you made had to be carefully telegraphed and planned even before starting a mission, which was both intimidating and invigorating. Setting waypoints on a blueprint map determined the pace of a mission, but was ultimately vital for whether or not you'd accomplish your objectives.
With a roster of operatives that made up Team Rainbow, different capabilities had to be taken into account. For one, you couldn’t go into any room guns blazing, let alone without anticipating enemies given that one or two bullets could mean the death of a squadmate. Before opening a door, you had to consider breaching or commanding a squadmate to toss a flashbang before moving in and lighting up the room. Throw in the factor of hostages, and I felt even more tension than simply taking down terrorists.
I hadn’t had that sense of fragility in a modern shooter before Rainbow Six, a breath of fresh air after countless others that served as power fantasies. Many would shy away from its time-consuming, unforgiving nature, but it’s how the game carved its niche and influenced the likes of Ghost Recon, Operation Flashpoint, and SWAT 3. | Michael Higham
Mega Man Legends (August 31, 1998)
When you compare Mega Man Legends to the other entries in Capcom's action-platformer series, it kind of comes across as one of those weird experiments that a franchise undergoes in order to stay relevant. But in truth, Mega Man Legends offered one of the series' most heartfelt and charming stories, while also letting players explore the world as Mega Man at their leisure.
I played this game often back in middle school, and I found myself sort of entranced by how optimistic and cheerful the game was. Despite it taking place in a ruined earth post-flooding, Legends' tone is remarkably upbeat, with a similar vibe to a Saturday morning cartoon--making for a largely welcoming atmosphere throughout the many towns. Playing as Mega Man Volnutt, likely the most chipper and endearing incarnation of the blue bomber, you'll explore the ancient ruins of the old world to unearth their lost secrets. As an adventure game first and foremost, the game tasks you with exploring your surrounding, interacting with several townsfolk, while also fighting off rogue-robots and Tron Bonne's army of comical and somewhat incompetent Servbots (think proto-Minions).
Truth be told, I have fonder memories exploring old ruins and interacting with characters in this game compared to Ocarina of Time--which Legends predated by several months. It saddens me that we'll likely never get another Legends game--even more so that the second game ended on a cliffhanger, but I'm glad that the series tried something a bit different. Who knew you could have so much fun kicking a can down a street playing as Mega Man? | Alessandro Fillari
Parasite Eve (September 9, 1998)
Parasite Eve acts as a sequel to the novel of the same name by author Hideaki Sena, but this first entry for the game series felt truly unique in its time. Squaresoft (now Square Enix) hadn't gone down the M-rated route before, but didn't waste time showing you what this game was about; the opening scene depicts an opera crowd bursting into flames, which was absolutely horrifying considering I was a kid at the time. Everyone burns to death, except Aya Brea (you, a green NYPD cop) and the performer who transforms into a supernatural monster,, kicking off this paranormal thriller. This is also where you jump into the unique blend of action and turn-based RPG.
Aya resorts to traditional firearms to take down terrifying creatures, and you control her from an isometric angle and inspect environments. However, combat works in a turn-based manner with magical "Parasite Energy" capabilities thrown into the mix, and world exploration taps into a traditional RPG structure. Think of it as Resident Evil meets Final Fantasy. As an early fan of both franchises, it was an incredible feeling to see those two worlds collide.
The dark, dingy rendition of New York City always gave me chills, but the phenomenal presentation and hybrid RPG gameplay pushed me to overcome the intimidation. Needless to say I loved Parasite Eve, so much that I actually battled through the 77 floors of the Chrysler Building in the new game plus mode and fought the secret boss. | Michael Higham
Spyro The Dragon (September 9, 1998)
I'll always remember the first time I played Spyro The Dragon. It was on a PlayStation Underground Jampack demo disc I bought for my oldest brother as a Christmas gift. The moment I booted it up, I was quickly enamored by its fantastical world populated by dragons, gnorcs, and all sorts of mischievous creatures. Spyro was an appealing protagonist, who was unlike any I had encountered in any 3D platformer up to that point; after all, who didn't love dragons as a kid? Furthermore, Spyro was a joy to play as: I loved ramming into unsuspecting enemies, roasting sheep with his fire breath, and gliding across large chasms. Unfortunately, I was only playing a demo of the game, and after a half year of replaying the same levels over and over, I could only bare so much not experiencing the full game.
Luckily, I had a friend in school who happened to own a copy of Spyro the Dragon. In exchange for my copy of Crash Bandicoot 1, he allowed me to borrow it for a couple weeks. I played the game to death within that brief span of time, trying to awaken as many dragon statues as I possibly could. Given the constraint of my situation, I eventually had to resort to the game's level select code to experience all that it had to offer. When my time with Spyro the Dragon finally ran out, I was gutted. As a seven-year old with very little money, I couldn't afford my own copy, and any ambitions to purchase it were eventually squashed when games--like Metal Gear Solid, Ape Escape, and Spyro's eventual sequel, Ripto's Rage--were starting to draw my attention. It wasn't until recently that I actually purchased the first Spyro the Dragon for my own collection.
To this day, the game still manages to hold up thanks to its quirky visuals and diverse level design. While future entries in the series would iterate upon its best qualities in more meaningful ways, the first still holds a special place in my heart. I'm crossing my fingers that all these rumors about a Spyro the Dragon HD collection are real. Speaking from the Spyro-loving seven-year old still within me, it would be a dream come true. | Matt Espineli
Pokemon Red and Blue (September 28, 1998)
Yes, Pokemon's 20th anniversary was technically in 2016. But 1998 was the year Pokemon came to North America and Australia, setting off a global phenomenon that is still going strong.
Kanto is a tricky region, filled with annoying Zubat and unforgiving stretches with no Pokemon Centers in sight. The games have since gotten easier, but looking back, we all figured out how to become Champions in Red and Blue somehow. There's just something about that first journey that's never quite left our consciousness, whether it was the fervor over finding the first-generation in Pokemon Go or the excitement about Alola variants of those Pokemon in Sun and Moon. These were the games that got us talking, got us trading, and created lifelong fans, and it's worth celebrating their 20th a second time just for that.
I admittedly played Red and Blue late. The anime and card game arrived in the US in '98, and my neighbor got me hooked on the cards almost immediately. But as a five-year-old girl, I straight-up did not realize that it was acceptable play games on a Game Boy. I watched the anime religiously until Crystal, the first Pokemon game where you could play as a girl, came out, and then I fell in love with the games and went back to the first generation only to find that those games were for me, too.
Though it didn't seem that way to me at first, Pokemon is special because it really is for everyone. A young kid can jump in and figure the game out and catch all the Pokemon they possibly can, and a more experienced RPG player can find a surprising amount of depth to its systems. You can collect all the Pokemon and only use the strongest in battle, or you can train your favorites just because they're cool or cute. It's cliche, of course, but Pokemon is a world where you can do anything as long as your have your friends with you--and it's been that way since the very beginning. | Kallie Plagge
Fallout 2 (September 30, 1998)
Ok, really talk: I’m 25 years old so Fallout 2 came out when I was 5. It was only when Fallout 3 had been announced that I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and played though the original games.
While computer RPGs of old feel slower, demand more from the player, or have some archaic systems, the best still hold up in their writing, world building, and role playing. In this regards Fallout 2 held up incredibly well for me.
It’s with Fallout 2 that the series' post-apocalyptic world really hit its stride. The residents of the wasteland formed full on organizations like the New California Republic or the Enclave, which is made-up of the remnants of the old United States Government. Talking with this faction, learning their ideals and goals, is a major part of the game and plays into the reputation system. It's here in Fallout 2 that the familiar Fallout iconography in Fallout 3 and 4 are defined. Affecting the outcome of the wasteland in both small and large ways feels significant thanks to the game's massive variety of endings. For my money Fallout 2 still stands as the best-written game in the whole series.
The disbandment of the original studio, Black Isle, along with Bethesda taking the reins of the franchise left people worried there would never be a true successor to Fallout 2. However its legacy lives on in Fallout: New Vegas, which is in many ways a direct sequel to Fallout 2, and in games like Wasteland 2 that to deliver hardcore gameplay and dense RPG mechanics. | Jean-Luc Seipke
Metal Gear Solid (October 21, 1998)
1998's Metal Gear Solid wasn't Hideo Kojima's first game (Metal Gear or otherwise) but it was the game that made him a household name. Though meager, the 3D capabilities of PlayStation allowed him to inject a new grade of storytelling into his team's work, and with great attention paid to frame composition and character dialogue, Metal Gear Solid paved the way for a new grade of cinematic storytelling in video games.
Despite owning and enjoying the original Metal Gear on NES, I somehow didn't realize that Metal Gear Solid was shaping up to be the milestone game we know it as today. But, all it took was one lazy afternoon at a friend's house for me to realize what a fool I'd missed: Metal Gear Solid was something new; something that I wouldn't soon forget. It struck a tone that was both serious and absurd, and offered the most refined stealth gameplay on consoles to date. I was immediately drawn to the wide array of tools available to Solid Snake, and of course, the over-the-top cutscenes and codec calls.
While impressive, Metal Gear Solid's filmic qualities were but one piece of the overall puzzle. The stealth-focused action game also delivered numerous memorable boss encounters, beit the fight against the memory card-reading Psycho Mantis, or the calculated and exacting Sniper Wolf face off. These larger-than-life antagonists propped up our equally over-the-top hero, not unlike the villains in classic Bond films.
Metal Gear Solid was also the debut of Liquid Snake, Solid's clone-brother. This revelation laid the foundation for a tastefully convoluted storyline that would become the basis for future Metal Gear Solid games, and the fact that Liquid masqueraded as a previously known character for most of the game--presenting himself as Master Miller--was an excellent twist in its own right.
Metal Gear Solid remains enjoyable today, twenty years after its debut. It's no doubt rough around the edges in some respects, and future Metal Gear Solid games have added layers of new mechanics that make the original look primitive in hindsight, but there's no denying that Kojima and his team were on to something special way back when. | Peter Brown
Grim Fandango (October 30, 1998)
It all started with a demo disc my dad received with one of the '90s PC gaming magazines. On that disc was a demo for a 3D adventure game called Grim Fandango. It let you play a small section from the first year of the game. After my first playthrough I was hooked! I had lost count of how many times I beat it and my father had definitely noticed.
I came home from school one day to find the full game on our family computer desk and I installed it without hesitation. I played until I woke my parents up at four in the morning and they sent me to bed because I had school in 3 hours. This continued until I had gotten to the end of the game, and a moment I'll never forget. I had gotten up early, knowing I was close to the end of the game. I was not prepared for what I was about to experience. For the first time in my life a video game had made me cry.
I had just finished watching the last cutscene and the credits were rolling as my dad came out of his room and he saw me sitting in front of the computer with tears on my face. He asked me what had happened and if I was alright but all I could do was sit silently as the names scrolled by. Eventually I looked at him and said “I am glad they have a happy ending, but I feel sad because I feel like they are gone.” That was when it hit me, the time I had spent with the 55 characters on my 4 year journey made me look at all of them as weird, virtual friends that I cared deeply about.
I love that I can visit all of my old friends in Grim Fandango Remastered and everything is as wonderful as I remember it. I will never forget the impact Grim Fandango had on me. It is still one of my favorite games of all time. | Ben Janca
Crash Bandicoot Warped (November 4, 1998)
Warped is Crash's third adventure, but it was the first one I played. I've never forgotten the first time I grabbed Aku Aku and heard that signature "oogah boogah!" stinger...or when I almost immediately lost that mask and got cartoonishly chopped in half by a dorky-looking knight.
It's humor like this that makes Crash Bandicoot's platforming stand out from the crowd. Challenging jumps can only take a platformer so far: it's the personality I remember, not the layouts of every level. That personality extends to the game's bosses too. Warped is the first time we encounter the flamethrowing Aussie Dingodile, and he's impossible to forget.
Warped marries this goofy tone with genuinely great level design. The six worlds are full of courses inspired by the Great Wall of China, Ancient Egypt, and even a crazy techno future. Developer Naughty Dog also managed to nail the actual gameplay in these levels too, more so than it did with the first two Crash games. Mechanically, things just feel right, whether you're leaping over gaps, racing on motorbikes, or steering a submarine. If you were to revisit the trilogy now (the N. Sane collection will do nicely), Warped would stand tall as the Crash that looks, and more importantly, plays best. | Tony Wilson
Half-Life (November 19, 1998)
The original Half-Life is a game that was known for its innovative and exciting storytelling. Without ever breaking from its first-person perspective, it gave what would be an otherwise by the numbers FPS alien-invasion story a surreal and weirdly personal experience. It's the one game I wish I could have experienced in 1998.
The first time I saw Half-Life was in an issue of Next Generation magazine. Those pictures were taken from an early version of the game which ultimately wouldn't see the light of day. Back then, Gordon Freeman looked more like a bulky lumberjack--complete with a full beard--stuffed into an even bulkier yellow diving suit. It looked dorky, it looked cheesy, but I loved it. During the late 90s, my parents owned a rather basic PC that could go online, read email, and play the occasional videogame--but Half-Life wasn't one of them. Plus, I was only 11 years old and had no business playing a gory video game.
Years later, I was able to get my own PC and play the game in all its glory, just in time for Half-Life 2 to release. While it took me awhile to play it--and it really didn't age all that well at the time--I was still engaged and blown away by how well put together the experience was. Even with a rather abrupt ending, playing Half-Life was a great time. One that felt even more satisfying because of how long I had to wait for it. | Alessandro Fillari
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (November 23, 1998)
The first thing I remember thinking after playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the first time was, "What the heck...why can't I jump!?"
I didn't quite trust Nintendo to actually know when I'd want to jump. I imagined inadvertently running off cliffs or falling into water, but the context-sensitive leaping in Ocarina just worked. When I ran for a ledge, I had to momentarily turn off that internal 2D gaming instinct that wanted to push a button, any button. But once I got the hang of it, not being able to jump felt incredibly natural. It has since become so ingrained that being able to jump at will in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild caught me off guard.
That's a weird thing to call out for a game that had an immense impact on the action-adventure genre. Ocarina was the next chapter in what has always been my favorite franchise, and I still remember the rousing musical score, the screen-filling bosses. And the water temple...I'll never lose those mental scars from the water temple.
But I'll also never forget how Ocarina of Time changed up the narrative for the entire world of Hyrule, introducing a larger backstory for Ganon and a more powerful, self-reliant version of Zelda. Ocarina of Time elevated The Legend of Zelda from what was a solid, interesting part of Nintendo's pantheon into the gaming essential today that everyone should experience at least once. And most importantly, it taught me that, even if it seems counter-intuitive and uncomfortable, you can trust Nintendo to turn seemingly quirky design ideas into something extraordinary. | Justin Haywald
Thief: The Dark Project (November 30, 1998)
Thief: The Dark Project completely opened my eyes to what a video game could be. It showed me how avoiding conflict could be as heart-pounding as engaging in it. It was the first game that made light and sound important--stay hidden in the shadows, be careful what surfaces you walk on. Watch guard patrol patterns closely, and move only when necessary. It was a game that rewarded you for going out of your way to leave your enemies be, or at worst, use non-lethal techniques and hide the body--a habit that I’ve carried with me till this day.
Its optional tools and multiple solutions taught me to think about things in different ways. If I forgot to bring lockpick with me, I could track down the guard with the key, or maybe I could use a rope and find an entirely different solution to the problem. I could use elements like water to douse torches and create a more advantageous situation for myself, or even use it to clean up the blood of an unfortunate mistake.
Playing Thief and seeing these kind of possibilities was a real mind-expanding moment, and it’s surprising to think that was twenty years ago. It’s hard for me to think of many examples that have had the same level impact on me outside of the Dishonored series (though Deus Ex, Hitman, and Prey scratched some of those itches). It was way ahead of its time, defined what a good stealth game should be, and birthed some genuinely forward-thinking, innovative ideas. Thief and its immediate sequel, Thief II: The Metal Age, are seminal games that should never be forgotten, deserve far more acclaim, and should absolutely be replayed if you have the chance. | Edmond Tran
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (December 3, 1998)
Growing up as a fan of Star Wars, I was always drawn to the various ships and warcraft on both sides of the Empire/Rebel conflict. While there was a time when I could enjoy games like X-Wing vs Tie Fighter on PC, the limited first-person cockpit views made me feel oddly detached from the sci-fi contraptions I'd long admired.
But when Factor 5's Rogue Squadron appeared on Nintendo 64, I was all in. The fast-paced flight sim let me marvel at the vehicles I loved while piloting them, too. I got to drive a snowspeeder and take down AT ATs on Hoth, and fly an X-Wing on during the Jade Moon mission, blowing up enemy bases under a blanket of stars. Rogue Squadron made me feel like an active participant in the Star Wars Saga--something no game until that point had actually managed.
Though the action is somewhat tame by modern standards, revisiting Roque Squadron today is a reminder of how much the best Star Wars games owe to developer Factor 5's first attempt. It also highlights how much better the team got at their craft. They would go on to develop Rogue Squadron II and III for Gamecube, which, if we're honest, are far and away more impressive, and definitely worth your time if you've got the equipment to boot them up. | Peter Brown
Baldur's Gate (December 21, 1998)
When it comes to classic Western role-playing games rooted in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Baldur’s Gate is the first thing that comes to mind. We’ve had Dragon Age: Origins, Divinity: Original Sin II, and Neverwinter Nights since then, but the influence of Baldur’s Gate is abundantly clear. BioWare was still in its early days, but the developer laid the foundation for computer RPGs with deep character creation and hefty player agency through dialogue options to keep you engaged.
Baldur’s Gate represents one of the biggest challenges with my time playing cRPGs; wrapping my head around its complex systems and overcoming the worry of min-maxing. And when I was able to overcome that, I found myself hacking and slashing through its sprawling maps and numerous locations. It’s a party-based RPG, but its story revolves around you and is heavily conveyed via text. Baldur’s Gate is sometimes intimidating for those who are turned off by having to read, but controlling your fate and cleverly commanding your companions throughout Sword Coast made even the less exciting parts worth working through.
A re-release called Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition came to PC in 2012, and although it has its fair share of shortcomings, it’s still the most accessible way to revisit one of the most important RPGs ever made. | Michael Higham