Let’s face it, we’re now in an era where almost every game is available at our fingertips without moving a muscle. Not only that, games can launch half-finished and be fixed with updates, patches, and DLC. Back in the nineties, this wasn’t the case at all. If a game sucked, it sucked. But that’s what made the era so great for video games.
Back in 1997, we didn’t have smartphones, hell, most of us didn’t have mobile phones until the early 2000s. The internet was also being gradually adopted in homes. For the most part it was an era where you had to actually go around to a friends’ house to see if they were in, and if they weren’t you’d have to walk all the way home, or if they were already out, you’d have to search around town to see where they were.
It’s almost the same with gaming. There weren’t hundreds of other players waiting in a lobby to play games with you. You either had to play them yourself or invite friends to come around and play, usually offering them the dud third-party controller to boot.
The 90s was a golden decade for video games, but more specifically 1997 was probably the best year of them all, and here’s why.
Grand Theft Auto
1997 was the year Rockstar Games released the first Grand Theft Auto game and I remember it fondly, specifically the demo disc I received from PlayStation Magazine. I remember playing that demo disc to death until finally getting my hands on the full game a few years later.
This was a game which, at least for me, introduced a true open world where anything goes. You weren’t tied to roads, you weren’t tied to linear paths and stories if you wanted to spend four hours driving around mowing down pedestrians trying to escape the police, you could.
Would I say that this game revolutionized violence in video games? Probably not. But what it did for me was prove that video games could be free of rules and capable of delivering experiences that the player themselves could create.
Final Fantasy 7
Arguably the best game in the series Final Fantasy 7 is one that many RPG fans gush over and quite rightly so too. For many, this was the first RPG that they played which featured 3D graphics and it simply blew everyone’s minds. Granted, these visuals don’t quite stand the test of time and that’s likely why Square Enix is remaking the title for today’s audience.
The story within the game was also pretty memorable too straying away from the usual tropes you’d find in RPGs back then. Not to mention the Materia System which, at the time, was a pretty awesome mechanic to be included in the game.
While I personally never played the game, it was one I remember watching a friend play through when we’d hang out. It was like Twitch but in real life. Weird, huh?
I’m sure you can sense a particular theme here, at least for me. Carmageddon was another game which allowed the player to unleash hell on unsuspecting pedestrians, though this time it was part of the game’s overall concept.
This is likely why the game was banned originally until Stainless Games decided to change pedestrians to zombies – green blood and all.
Carmageddon was a racing game that broke the rules. It wasn’t Ridge Racer, it was a game where smashing, crashing, and causing as much chaos as possible was the sole aim of the game and pre-teen me absolutely loved the absolute living shit out of it.
For the most part, Carmageddon, along with GTA, really didn’t help the cause of video game violence, especially to a world where the Internet was yet to really exist as ubiquitously as it does today. But that, at least for me, is what gives these games its charm.
Age of Empires
Age of Empires was my first foray into the Real Time Strategy genre and I loved it. While it wasn’t really the first RTS of its kind, especially as the market was currently dominated by Warcraft and Command & Conquer, Age of Empires tried something different.
Age of Empires took the often fast-paced nature of RTS games of its time and slowed them down. Not only that, it took some ideas from another strategy game series, Civilization, which saw units and buildings evolve as time progressed.
It was this evolution that I enjoyed the most as you could begin with rudimental dwellings which, as you progressed through the ages, would incorporate the architecture of that age and become more lavish as time went on.
The game also gave you time to think, which, after my experience with Red Alert was anything to go by, was a godsend.
While I’m still not a huge fan of the Nintendo 64’s three-handled controller, GoldenEye is a game which stood out to me as one of the first multiplayer first-person shooters to hit the mainstream. Of course, it’s another game which didn’t help the whole video game violence debate, but that being said, GoldenEye was a must-have for any Nintendo 64 owner.
What GoldenEye managed to achieve, however, was proving that first-person shooters could be played and had a place on home consoles. With the genre being dominated by big PC shooters like Quake and DOOM it was refreshing for those who saw PCs as expensive workstations and not video game machines.
As someone who went on to play games like Call of Duty and Battlefield on consoles, I owe a lot to this game.
This was one of those games I couldn’t stop playing. Theme Hospital, from Bullfrog the creators of Theme Park decided to take their trademark humor to the medical industry and what they created was one of the best management games I have ever played.
What Theme Hospital managed to do was take something a genre which was dominated by god games and “serious” management sims, and turn it into something so ridiculous you just couldn’t help laughing all the way through it.
What other game could have someone come in with an ailment called Bloaty Head, and the treatment is that a doctor bursts their head with a pin, slaps on an uninflated normal-size head, pumps it up, and calls it a day?
Aside from video games, 1997 was the year of the Nintendo 64, and while I can’t personally comment on the console as I never owned it, all I remember is being handed a controller at a friend’s house wondering where my third hand was supposed to sprout from in order to hold the console effectively.
That being said, this was just one of the many innovations Nintendo would be bringing to the market with the future seeing consoles like the Wii and the Nintendo Switch.
So there you have it, there are several reasons why 1997 was a great year for video gaming. It was probably one of the years that really sold video games as a bad medium for younger generations, but also had a lot of innovation that played a part in shaping the way we experience games in today’s world.
You can find more of our “Best Year in Gaming” articles right here.