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.
’97 was a classic 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.
This story has been updated since its original publication.
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.
Myth: The Fallen Lords
Remember when Bungie made strategy games? Remember when they were also really goddamn good? No? Then you seriously need to go back and play Myth: The Fallen Lords. It’s a great game for Total War fans, since there’s a lot of arranging formations, army positioning, picking your battles and fighting missions while being as efficient as possible. Great campaign, great levels, and a great battle system for the time.
Minus the part when your Dwarf doesn’t do what they’re supposed to. Really, Bungie should get a small team to remaster this game.
Zork: Grand Inquisitor
Completely different tone to Zork Nemesis, but Zork: Grand Inquisitor was still worth it for hours of Erick Avari, best known for his roles in The Mummy, Stargate and Independence Day.
Panzer General 2
A hex-based wargame is never going to be as popular as a Final Fantasy or GTA. But it’s hard to understate just how much impact Panzer General had on digital wargames in the years since. SSI’s WW2 game was the benchmark for an entire genre.
You could arguably say that Daisenryaku deserves more credit than SSI, since the Japanese wargame on the Genesis served as the basis for the whole Panzer General franchise. But PG2 was a massive hit in its day, selling 100,000 copies in its first week. Most indies would jump at those sales now. Back in ’97, it was a massive success.
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.
The story of how this got off the ground is sensational, and well worth a re-read.
Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2
Star Fox 64
Still waiting for Nintendo to do the Star Fox series justice since Star Fox 64.
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.
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).
These days Monolith are better known for their work on the Nemesis system and Shadow of Mordor. But back in the day they also produced one of the most intriguing and unusual shooters of its time - the flawed, but unabashedly fun Shogo: Mobile Armor Division.Read more
Final Fantasy VII
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
I can’t go past Theme Park, but this was Bullfrog’s best game for many.
Riven: The Sequel to Myst
Lots of memories with this. A true ordeal back in the day, and not just because of all the disc swapping.
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
The Last Express
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?
More action-oriented take on the mecha genre, for those who wanted more of a shooter-type experience coming from the Mechwarrior games.
The mobile port of this is pretty good.
I think the Mega Drive version was the best, but Christ it was funny to play when it hit the PC and PS1.
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.
Holy. Hand. Grenade. Still one of the best sound effects in a game.
Final Fantasy Tactics
My brother was obsessed with the demo for this. We never found a copy of the full game, though.
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.