1997 Was Probably The Best Year For Video Games

1997 Was Probably The Best Year For Video Games
Image: Nuclear Strike / Wing Commander Prophecy / Dark Reign

Whenever people look back at the games of old, the “golden age” often gets mentioned. But you can arguably distill 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, with even more games added. Seriously, 1997 was loaded.

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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:

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.

X-Wing vs TIE Fighter

I don’t care if Luke hated X-WING vs TIE Fighter. My brother and I loved the hell out of this. Just having multiplayer action in enormous battles, even though it was basically Quake 3 in space, was fun as hell. There was also a really neat mix of craft and customisable outfits, which was rad.

Ace Combat 2

It was wild going from the old MicroProse flight sims to something as slick and fluid as Ace Combat. And can we just say: For a PS1 game, Ace Combat was one hell of a good looking game.

Shane Warne Cricket

This wasn’t the good Shane Warne Cricket from 1999, which I still can’t find a copy of that will run on Windows 10. (Please email me if you can help out.) And it wasn’t the best cricket game that year, with EA having released the 3D Cricket 97 and subsequent Ashes Tour Edition a year later.

But, goddamnit, it was Shane Warne Cricket. That alone was worth the price of entry, especially if you were playing on the Mega Drive (which didn’t have Cricket 97 anyway.)

Nuclear Strike

Remember when EA used to release a ton of great action games where you just repeatedly blew shit up? That was Nuclear Strike, an isometric game that gave you a chopper and the ammunition capacity of Western Europe.

There’s more to the pitch than that, but honestly, do you really need it?


Do you remember that time LucasArts made a first-person shooter? No? Well, that’s understandable — it was far from the best FPS going around at that time. It was super stylised, and a bit behind the times given where games like Quake 2 were going. But if you enjoyed that Western theme, and didn’t mind playing a game with slightly dodgy AI and design that was a few years out of date, Outlaws was fun.


Remember the days when you’d have New Year’s, and then games like Diablo would launch? I wonder what the thinking was behind the timing those days. Either way, Diablo launched in most global territories on January 3. A few countries got it on December 31, but for obvious reasons, most people wouldn’t have grabbed Diablo off the store shelf until January 1997.

Winning Spike

It’s so weird today watching back the almost unnatural smoothness of the animations and the volleyball itself. It’s like some of those weird fighters you’d see on the PC in the early to mid ’90s, where it felt like the game was running at two different frame rates.

Super EF2000

If you were one of those nerds who really loved Falcon 3.0, F-117A Stealth Fighter, Apache Longbow and more, then you were all over EF2000 back in the day. Super EF2000 was a version that shipped a couple of years later, which came with the Windows version of the game, the latest updates and 3D accelerator support. (That’s the one I remember my brother buying, anyway.)

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.

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

Star Fox 64

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

Dungeon Keeper

dungeon keeper
Image: GOG

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).

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Final Fantasy VII




Goldeneye 007

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.


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


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

The intros for this are still so good.

Final Fantasy Tactics


Armored Core


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

Bushido Blade

Dark Reign

People are still keeping Dark Reign alive today, funnily enough.


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 number 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.


  • 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.

    • 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 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

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

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

    • 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’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
    Ninja Gaiden
    Far Cry
    Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War
    Sims 2
    Doom 3
    Star Wars Battlefront
    Tony Hawks Underground 2
    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)

  • 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.

      • Sometimes I feel a pain in my thumb joint and I think “ok, this is it, it’s finally happening, you knew this was coming”

        Paradoxically, becoming mainly console gaming has been good for me. FPS and mouse on PC really hurts my shoulder!

  • Let’s see.
    All those games came out.
    My first year of Uni.

    Probably no surprise I failed quite a few subjects that year.

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