Tuesday Top Ten: Video Games Published in 1998

Welcome back friends!  It’s time for another Tuesday Top Ten!  Every week, we go through the top ten something-or-anothers related to our hobby, and this week is no different.  This week, we’re counting down the top ten video games published in ‘Ninety-Eight.

By now, this almost doesn’t need much of a lead-in.  I’ve said, numerous times, that the ‘Nineties were the best for gamers, though, as I’ve also said numerous times, it wasn’t exactly perfect.  Things were still being figured out, leaving plenty of room for games that couldn’t have been great, but—weren’t.  Because all of that’s been said here plenty of times, that’s all that needs to be said this time around.

Now for the usual disclaimer: Where possible, I’ve included links to Let’s Plays, play-throughs, game-play videos, and so on.  Some, many, most, or all might well be utterly infused with profanity and vulgarity.  Keep that in mind as that clicking-finger readies itself.

With that out of the way, let’s go!

10. Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit
When the series debuted with the first Need for Speed, it became a hit.  Part of the reason for that were the police chases, which were noticeably missing from the sequel, making it not quite as well-received.  Well, that aspect was brought back in Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit, but more than just bringing it back they added to it.  Now you had a whole Hot Pursuit Mode in which you tried to outrun the police.

With eight cars and eight tracks, the game pales in comparison to later titles, when the list of available cars threatens to enter the triple digits, but for the time this was a really good selection.  They looked fantastic, too, as was already expected of the series, and handled incredibly well to boot.

Also unlike some later titles, the rest of the game didn’t suffer from attention being given to the cars.  The environment looked great—down to lightning strikes in the distance that lit up the sky—and a decent soundtrack, and you have a very good game, even if the obvious focus was on one aspect.  Still, that one aspect was insanely fun, and not a bad thing to focus on by any stretch.

09. Spyro the Dragon
Three-dimensional platforming had mostly been a little iffy, back in these days.  Since you were running and jumping around much more than in other genres, camera issues could be quite problematic, controls could be a bit underwhelming, both of which would overshadow whatever else good could be said about a title.  Spyro the Dragon showed that Italian plumbers and British heiresses weren’t the only ones who could make a successful and fun three-dimensional title.

From the get-go, the game was about fun.  It wasn’t going to offer some in-depth examination of the human condition, it wasn’t going to darker and edgier places—it was going to offer the kind of fun you grin at and didn’t feel guilty telling your mother you liked.  As Spyro, you had a few different abilities at your disposal—racing around with horns lowered, the better to smack enemies into oblivion with, though you could also breathe fire and glide for a respectable distance.  The control for all of that was rather nice, too—it was easy to control the character, and even better, the camera never got in the way.

That’s actually a big deal, especially this early in three-dimensional gaming.  Besides the camera itself following rather intelligently behind the character, coming with two different settings, but you also had a few ways to control the camera from the game pad, meaning it wasn’t really ever much of a fight to just see.

All of that, combined with really great level design, a nice soundtrack, and a storyline that doesn’t take itself too seriously—it was a great game, and showed just what three-dimensional platforming could be even when Mario and Lara weren’t the protagonist.

An informational Let’s Play can be found here.

08. StarCraft
A game doesn’t have to be the most innovative thing in the world to be good.  StarCraft didn’t really even crack the mold establish by WarCraft or Command & Conquer, but it didn’t really need to.  The technical aspects, such as path-finding, were refined, rough edges smoothed over, and so on.

Where the game shone was making the experience feel like little else.  The races didn’t really play the same—they required slightly different mindsets, since none of the races were much like either of the others, and on top of that, each race’s missions were a bit harder than the set before.

The few shortcomings it really had was in the interface—it was somewhat simplistic, allowing for greater accessibility, but it also meant that battles might be decided more through manual dexterity than actual skill.  Still, that doesn’t enough to really add much of a black mark against the game.  It was fast-paced, interesting, and definitely fun.

The entire story—cut scenes, briefings, and so on—is compiled here.

07. Turok 2: Seeds of Evil
GoldenEye 64 can still be considered one of, if not the, finest first-person shooter on the Nintendo 64.  Even at the time, it was clear that no one would be easily taking the top spot away from developer Rare.  If ever there was a worthy contender, though, it would have to be Turok 2: Seeds of Evil.

Each of the six levels contains its own image data, so, unlike the first Turok, no two levels really look the same, and the feeling of visual repetition is cut drastically down.  Further, everything just looked stunning, making it almost difficult to believe that this was a cartridge-based game.  Even better, the game play itself was restructured—gone were the jumping puzzles from the first title.  Developer Iguana Entertainment wisely decided to scrap that particular element, reworking it so jumping takes on a more purely practical purpose.

One other major area of interest was the artificial intelligence scripting of the enemies.  They’ll use cover, throw grenades with decent accuracy—and can even recognize when your weapon is just too powerful for them, so they’ll turn and run.  Speaking of weapons, you naturally had a large number of ways to create pain in your enemies, including what was, perhaps, the best one ever conceived—the Cerebral Bore.  Once locked on to the enemy’s brain waves, the weapon fires a small projectile with hooks and such out the wazoo.  It burrows into the enemy skull, sending brain-bits flying.

All of that is of course a small taste of what the game offered.  As successful as GoldenEye was, and for good reason, it made other developers stand up and take notice.  Games like Turok 2 showed that the lessons taught by GoldenEye would be well-learned.

An informational Let’s Play can be found here.

06. Thief: The Dark Project
As something of a departure from most first-person games, Thief: The Dark Project couldn’t really add “shooter” to the end—which meant quite a few changes.  No run-and-gun, here—while protagonist Garrett could get into a direct fight, it wouldn’t usually end too well for him.  No, as the name implied, the focus was on more of a stealthy aspect, where sneaking through shadows and quiet pilfering were the order of the day.

That meant such an interesting shift in gamer mentality; even now, we’re still somewhat used to a first-person perspective equaling a lot of heavy weaponry, mindless beasties pouring into a room to eat bullets, et cetera.  Here, though—enemies are comparably fewer, though that only means there’s slightly less chance Garrett will die from actual combat.  The sword-fighting was a bit awkward, but it actually made sense—he’s a thief, not a warrior.  This is shown by how adept he is in other matters.

Archery, for example, will be one of the game elements used most often.  Aside from the numerous different kinds of arrows—moss arrows to create soft patches on hard floor, water arrows to douse flames, and so on—simply using the bow itself was nice.  He’ll pull the string back, and a moment later when he has it pulled back enough, the view zooms in to mimic his concentration and aiming.

There are plenty of other accolades given to the game—sound becomes a much more important element as you had to listen to your footsteps to gauge how loud they are, which leads to paying much more attention to the rest of the game’s wonderful aural aspects.  Then you had the level layout; complex enough to be interesting, but rarely enough to be frustrating.  It wasn’t a “perfect” game, but it was darn good, and made the stealth genre become much more popular for a good reason.

An informational Let’s Play can be found here.

05. Tenchu: Stealth Assassins
Where Thief focused on sneaking through the shadows to pilfer people’s belongings, Tenchu: Stealth Assassins had you sneaking through the shadows so you could shish kebab people through the spleen.

As one of two ninja, Rikimaru or Ayame, you sneak through the levels to defeat the kidnappers of the daughter of the lord the ninja serve.  Interestingly, the way the game is designed, you can be as cruel or merciful as you like.  You can go through many levels only killing your target(s), sneaking past patrolling guards or the like, but you can also kill every single non-player character you come across.  There’s a ranking system at the end of each level, and killing innocent N.P.C.s merits a docking of points, but it doesn’t affect the story.

You were also given numerous, eventually dozens, of tools to help—poison rice balls that would attract an enemy and make them violently sick, ancient grenades, throwing daggers, and much more.  Ultimately, though, the only thing the player really needed was the shadows and their own wits.

Aiding the experience was a fantastic soundtrack—while good, it never got in the way of the ambient noises of the environment.  Further, the game looked great for the time.  Above both of those, though, you had the game play itself.  Each of the playable ninja handled differently, making replaying the game quite worth it, and the A.I. for the enemies was actually pretty good, if not stellar.  Like Thief, Tenchu really brought the stealth genre into its own.

A humorous Let’s Play can be found here.

04. Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus
When the first Oddworld came onto the scene, it was, well—odd.  It was strange, weird, even silly at times, but undeniably fun.  There were a few issues with it, of course—and most of those issues were addressed in Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus.

One of the more interesting points of the Oddworld games is that you go through an entire game without a weapon.  No running-and-gunning, no gunning, period—you don’t even pick up a stick to wail on the enemies.  This gives a more strategic aspect to the games, because instead of directly fighting enemies, you actually communicate with the allies you’re trying to rescue.  In the first game it was more simplistic, with basic commands such as Hello, Work, and Follow.  In Exoddus you had those, on top of things like apologizing or slapping.  There was a wide range of ways to interact, and knowing when to use what was the key.

Perhaps the main boon is the saving system.  Unlike the first game, you could save anywhere using a “quick save” function; you could use it whenever you wanted, however many times you wanted, so it made learning how to work through the complex puzzles much less frustrating.  When you were done, you could just save to the memory card, and off you went.  Add all of that to interesting and expansive levels and great sound effects, and you have a fantastic game.

An informational-ish Let’s Play can be found here.

03. Baldur’s Gate
As popular as the table-top role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons always has been, it’s almost surprising that, by ‘Ninety-Eight, there were few games really based on it, and fewer still that were any good.  What isn’t a surprise, then, is how crazily anticipated Baldur’s Gate was—it was touted as the best thing to happen to Dungeons & Dragons since Gary Gygax met Dave Arneson.

Character creation and development was quite true to the table-top version of the day, allowing players to create a character from one of six races and eight core classes, allowing for a player to really create a character they enjoy.  Much of the rest of the game—the party leader’s Charisma, spells, settings, and more—were lifted almost whole from the books, with only the smallest of tweaks here and there in the interest of balance.

The world was large and allowed—even encouraged—exploration, though that was somewhat offset by the comparatively simplistic interactions with most N.P.C.s.  The plot, interesting as it was, was delivered through text and voice narration at the beginning of each chapter, but considering how long it could be between the player seeing those, the game as a whole felt more driven by action than plot, though that really wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

Baldur’s Gate offered interesting locations with equally interesting visuals, and and stunning sound, down to the voices of characters echoing in caverns.  There were a few hitches; it wasn’t a perfect game, but for what it was, for what it offered, it was fantastic.

A blind-ish informational Let’s Play can be found here.

02. Half-Life
Though the underlying plot of Half-Life is rather simple—and similar to many first-person shooters that came before—the brilliance was in the execution and the setting.  Accidents happen, horrible abominations are loosed upon the world, an it’s up to player-controlled Gordon Freeman to save the day.  To do this, he has to rely on a series of elements that, here, were woven into the world quite naturally and believably.

Many games, including first-person shooters, had health power-ups and weapon pick-ups just laying around like crazy home decorating items.  Here, though, there’s a good “reason” for everything, and everything can be found in a logical place.  For example, Gordon wore a hazard suit, which was “refilled”—thus replenishing your health—at certain stations located usually near labs where more dangerous experiments would have taken place.  Weapons were found in storage lockers, or retrieved from fallen security guards and the like.

It didn’t end there.  Instead of a usual “level” system, instead offering more of a continuous series of locations, and with only a few exceptions you could move back and forth at will—but so could the creatures pursuing you.  The loading time between areas, though noticeable, was surprisingly brief.

The game as a whole was an attempt for a more immersing experience, and it achieved that beautifully.

A humorous and mostly blind Let’s Play can be found here.

01. Bushido Blade 2
One-on-one fighting games could be seen as rather—formulaic.  You picked a character, and spent the rest of the game smacking other characters to deplete their health bars, usually to win some tournament, retrieve a kidnapped love, or whatever else.  The first Bushido Blade stood most of that on its head, and everything that made the first one fun and interesting was cranked up in Bushido Blade 2.

Fighting, in the Bushido Blade series, was more than just ashing an attack button as a health bar ticks down.  Swordplay was the name of the game, and like such in real life, one or two good swipes could completely kill an opponent—even a boss.  Further, you had a system where if one body part suffered damage, that character couldn’t use it.  For example, land a solid hit on their arm, and it hung limply at their side, unusable.  Smack their leg, and they limped, hindering their movement.  Smack their head and, well, you win the match.

The story followed a feud between two ninja clans, and the game saw you go through quite a few interesting locations.  Generally, you’d first have to defeat a few generic ninja before you fought the boss, but it wasn’t just a matter of slashing.  Again, swords were the name of the game, and here, you could pick which swords—or other bladed weapons—to give to your character.  A character was better at some than others, and if you gave them the one they were best at, you’d gain special moves.  Nothing too outrageous—no monstrously huge fireballs, no laser light show of doom as you zipped across the screen at just under the speed of light.

The game was designed to be something different than other fighting games out there.  It was designed to be interesting, complex without being impossibly complicated—and all of that made for quite a fun experience, a title a gamer could have on their shelf right next to Street Fighter without reservation.

An informational Let’s Play can be found here.


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