1997 Was Probably The Best Year For Video Games

There's been a lot of anniversaries lately. And whenever people look back at the games of old, the "golden age" often gets mentioned. But if we're being honest, you can arguably distil the golden age down to a single year: 1997.

I spoke recently about some of the classics that were released in 1998. It was a classic year for plenty of reasons: Rockstar Games came into fruition, franchises like Pokemon came to the West for the first time, and gaming classics like Metal Gear Solid and Spyro the Dragon made their way into the gaming consciousness.

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But if we had to pick a single year, a year that stood head and shoulders above the rest, it would be 1997.

1997 is the year that Australians were graced with the Nintendo 64. It's the year that some legendary studios came into being, like Irrational Games (who would go on to release System Shock 2 shortly thereafter). It's also the year with some true classics.

For example:

Grand Theft Auto

No disrespect to the achievements later in the franchise, but GTA 1 is still far and away my favourite. There's just something about how you were always on edge trying to dodge vehicles in front, with the constant zooming in and out of the camera.

Star Fox 64

Still waiting for Nintendo to do the Star Fox series justice since Star Fox 64.

Dungeon Keeper

Image: EA

Ahh, the old days of Bullfrog.

The Curse of Monkey Island

Still the best Monkey Island game.

Wing Commander: Prophecy

The star cast in the FMV alone makes Prophecy worth a playthrough. A disappointment compared to the classic Wing Commander games, although it looked spectacular in the day if you had a 3Dfx card.

Blood

Everyone else can have Duke Nukem 3D. For me, Blood was the best use of the Build engine. It was also a fine early effort from Monolith, which has gone on to ship a ton of cracking games since (including the vastly underrated Shogo).

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Final Fantasy VII

Fallout

Goldeneye 007

Blade Runner

The story of how this got off the ground is sensational, and well worth a re-read.

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Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2

Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back

Star Trek: Generations

This was such a surprising production. Generations was largely a point-and-click adventure, although there were some RTS segments scattered throughout. Probably the most interesting video game spin-off from the Star Trek franchise in the '90s.

Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee

Theme Hospital

Image: GOG

I can't go past Theme Park, but this was Bullfrog's best game for many.

Riven: The Sequel to Myst

Image: Cyan Worlds

Lots of memories with this. A true ordeal back in the day, and not just because of all the disc swapping.

Quake 2

I do miss doing live Let's Plays.

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter

People can enjoy a very faithful remaster of Turok today thanks to Night Dive's work, but there was nothing quite like this on the 64 or with a 3D accelerator back in the day.

Age of Empires

AOE did so many amazing things for its time. (Yes, I know the above GIF is from the recent remaster, but it does have an option to display the game with the original 1997 graphics.)

Diddy Kong Racing

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Mario Kart 64

Image: Mario Kart 64

Ultima Online

The Last Express

Total Annihilation

Still the seminal "how many explosions can my PC take" RTS.

Krush, Kill n Destroy (KKnD)

I never got to play KKnD back in the day, and I've always regretted it. Thing is: was Dark Reign or KKnD the better Aussie RTS?

Heavy Gear

More action-oriented take on the mecha genre, for those who wanted more of a shooter-type experience coming from the Mechwarrior games.

Carmageddon

Image: GOG

The mobile port of this is pretty good.

Road Rash

I think the Mega Drive version was the best, but Christ it was funny to play when it hit the PC and PS1.

Gran Turismo

MDK

Did MDK stand for Murder, Death, Kill? I still don't really know. Or care, to be honest. MDK was hailed as a technical masterpiece when it launched on PC back in the day, and I remember David Perry's studio getting plaudits for developing the game in a year.

It was such a weird game.

Worms 2

Holy. Hand. Grenade. Still one of the best sound effects in a game.

Final Fantasy Tactics

Armored Core

G-Police

My brother was obsessed with the demo for this. We never found a copy of the full game, though.

Bushido Blade

Dark Reign

I-War

Moto Racer

I played the demo for this so much.


So I put it to you: 1997 was filled with bangers. Hell, the last five years of the '90s will probably go unchallenged for the amount of hits that came out. Nostalgia plays a large part in that, of course, and game development is a very different beast.

But there were so many memories from 1997. And so many games I really should go back and replay. Like KKnD.


Comments

    Well, I'm convinced!

    If I can't PLAY these classics for the nostalgia, I'm at least going to fire up their soundtrack/OST videos on YouTube and listen to them while working.

    This was solid.

    UO is dearly missed. Still the best of the MMORPGs.

      Loved the open development of your character, hated the isometric look and the PK griefing. The solution to that came too late for me, I'd found Everquest by then.

      But yeah, it's still one of the best MMO's. The variety of options for the character is something I only ever saw in vanilla SWG, but even there UO was that much more open with its approach.

    Well I am impressed Alex. Normally these lists are five to ten point "favourites", but your list is actually super solid with a lot more titles than neccessary to prove your point.

    In all honesty, it's almost impossible to choose between 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

    Just google "1998 PC Games" etc and check out the classics.

      That period from roughly '96-'03 (ish) was a golden era of gaming. But the years you mentioned, alone, saw some pure, uncut, rolled-gold quality!

    Some of these games didn't come out in 1997. Road Rash and Mario Kart 64 are obvious examples.

    Great year though. I was in year 7 and approaching my gaming prime!

      Different release dates for different territories! Mario Kart 64 released in Japan first, of course, but didn't hit Europe and Australia until 97.

        Fair enough.

        I can't beleive Mario Kart and Diddy Kong came out the same year. That's so strange I would've sworn DKR was a late-gen N64 game! Oh well, I'm crazy.

        Also back in the day Dark Reign>TA>KKND.... although I'll now conceed that TA is the best of the three.

          Yeah I thought dkr was more inspired by mario kart later in the n64 life cycle.

      Yeah, I'm positive I played that Road Rash on 3DO in '96. Fucking killer game!!

    Yeah I fall into the loves Theme Hospital more than Theme Park group. Fantastic game that I never really got too deep into but loved the opening few levels as I replayed them a ton.

    Really looking forward to Two Point Hospital at the end of August assuming it doesn't get delayed. Gameplay looks like exactly what I loved about TH on a modern engine

      Lot of people are super keen for that. That's one I'm going to spend some time on, I think.

    Hmm. I’d want to see the years prior since that seems a year of weak sequels to better games.

    Dungeon Keeper and GTA were solid tho.

      Wut? Only a third of this list are sequels.

    Yeah this is a quality article :)

    I think 1996 is better in my opinion:
    • Duke Nukem 3D
    • Megaman X3
    • Pokemon Red
    • Civ 2
    • Super Mario RPG
    • QUAKE
    • Super Mario 64
    • Crash Bandicoot
    • Command and Conquer: Red Alert
    • Bubsy 3D
    • Twisted Metal 2
    • Dead or Alive
    • Tomb Raider
    • Mario Kart 64 (in Japan)
    • Terranigma
    • Diablo

    Last edited 26/07/18 12:29 pm

      Bubsy 3D

      With the rest of your list, I can't tell if you're serious or not.

      Last edited 26/07/18 7:11 pm

    I believe I was in grade 11 at the time, and didn't really have a decent computer, but I have played several of these games over the last 20 years.

    Dark Reign is so underrated in my opinion! Very fond memories of playing that.

    Of course I spend way more time playing Age of Empires, but really there are a whole bunch of games on here that instantly remind me of time well spent. Hard to believe they are all from a single year.

    Some great memories in this lot, I still play Castlevania to this day.

      Me too! It’s one of my ‘play once every year’ games

    @alexwalker whats wrong with you guys, can nobody remember freaking 1996???

    oh and technically, the below list should technically include Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64, and Goldeney 007...

    my highlights (perfect as i had just bought a Pentium 1, 133mhz with 16mb RAM and 2mb Cirus Logic PCI GPU!) ...

    Descent II
    Diablo
    Resident Evil
    Duke Nukem 3D
    Pokemon Red & Blue
    Tomb Raider
    Command & Conquer: Red Alert
    Time Commando
    Crash Bandicoot
    Death Rally
    Neverhood
    Dead or Alive
    Zork Nemesis
    Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain
    Phantasmagoria
    Super Mario RPG
    Wing Commander IV
    Mega Man 8
    Street Fighter Alpha 2
    Fable
    King of Fighters '96
    Metal Slug
    The Pandora Directive
    Wipeout 2097
    Indiana Jones & his Desktop Adventures (Dont Judge Me!)
    Donkey Kong Country 3
    Quake

      I personally can't narrow down a year, I just say 95 - 2000 were the golden years for me.

      oh and technically, the below list should technically include Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64, and Goldeney 007...

      They weren't released in Australia until 1997.

      I think we're saving that for another day. Good list, though!

        I'd probably go 99 over 96? I mean, Civ 2 and Quake were huge standouts, but there's a very, very special place in my heart for: Alpha Centauri, Mario Party, Super Smash Bros, EverQuest, Rollercoaster Tycoon, System Shock 2, Mario Golf and Unreal Tournament.

        Actually, fuck ...

    I clicked in here thinking I was going to argue with this post.... but I think you're spot on. GTA, Abe, Mario Kart 64, Goldeneye and Gran Turismo alone probably win, even without the rest.

    Yeah, I'm pretty certain MDK stood for Murder Death Kill. It's a reference (probably) to Demolition Man (See also: code 187).

      Man, G-Police. I remember really enjoying the demo disc too. A lot of fun.

      I still think GTA1 is easily the best GTA, with Chinatown Wars coming second.

    tis a fine year but tis no 2004 English:

    GTA San Andreas
    Fable
    WOW
    Ninja Gaiden
    Far Cry
    Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War
    Painkiller
    Sims 2
    Doom 3
    Star Wars Battlefront
    Tony Hawks Underground 2
    Killzone
    Halo 2
    Half Life 2
    Star Wars KOTOR 2
    Gran Turismo 4

    Also in 1997:
    - Grandia
    - Myth: The Fallen Lords
    - Tomb Raider II
    - Shadow Warrior
    - Tekken 3

    It was also the year that Toy Headquarters rebranded to THQ (rip), that EA acquired Maxis (rip), Activision acquired Raven Software (rip), Bungie West was formed to make Oni (rip), Irrational was founded (rip) and that Sega killed the Mega Drive (rip)

    My 11 year old self was incredibly engrossed in all of this at the time. Great memories!

    Interesting. In my head I associate MK64 as being a couple of years before FFVII.
    Clearly I have it wrong!

      Yeah, I know what you mean. N64 didn't hit Australia until March 1, 1997; FFVII hit November 17 that year. But I swear I heard so much more about FF7 well before then. Probably a byproduct of the US getting it first and that disseminating through mags etc. locally?

    Alex Walker out of all the games that were released 20 years ago I have to say my most favourite game from 1997 would have to be Fox Interactive and Argonaut Software's Croc Legend of the Gobbos on Windows 95 and that is not only saving the Gobbos and collecting jigsaw puzzle pieces but defeating the evil Baron Dante. Through 45 death defying levels in an all new free roaming 3D adventure because Croc's got the moves meaning he will run, jump, swim, hang, climb, stomp, push, and jelly jump to rescue his friends the Gobbos and stop the evil Baron Dante from kidnapping more Gobbos before it's too late. You should also know Alex that Croc celebrated his 20th anniversary late last year and why I think 20th Century Fox's Croc Legend of the Gobbos should make a comeback to not only PS4 but other platforms like PC and the Nintendo Switch. As for you Alex Walker sorry you weren't invited to Croc's 20th anniversary last year.

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