IGNPC's Best of 1998 Awards
Usually this category has one entry that towers above all the others, but this year making the final call on best action game was really difficult. We all felt that Unreal's stunning visuals, Thief's incredibly innovative gameplay and Rainbow Six's multiplayer and lethality were all worthy of high praise. Tal pushed very hard for Shogo's inclusion due to its faithful reproduction of the anime feel and the game's crafty character design. In the end though, Valve's Half-Life, with its fantastic storyline, visual effects and voice acting, took the prize. Even after months of play, it's still a game that we find ourselves going back to over and over again.
Runner Up: Sanitarium
Although we weren't exactly swamped with entries that we thought were good enough to make it to the winner's circle, the ones that did make it were absolutely brilliant. Sanitarium's great story kept Jason and I on the edge of our seats 'til the end (although the control was somewhat irritating towards the end) and its solid graphics made sure that we were entertained for the entire ride. But with the release of Grim Fandango, no other adventure game stood a chance. With its compelling graphics, culturally influenced artwork and unrivaled soundtrack and speech acting, Grim Fandango towers over every other adventure game ever released.
The driving category was pretty easy this year as we found Powerslide delivered a more complete racing experience than the competition. Need for Speed III had great graphics and racing options but didn't deliver solid handling, Moto Racer 2 had track construction options and great terrain effects but forced players to stay within invisible walls, TOCA delivered great racing, but not much in the way of options, and Test Drive 5 had brilliant car selection, as well as a load of great tracks, but also suffered from handling hang-ups. In the end Powerslide mowed 'em all down with its incredible graphics and mesmerizing physics that have kept us racing for months.
The entire RPG category deserves its own 'most improved genre' award this year. 1998 boasted some of the finest role-playing games we've ever seen on the computer. Might and Magic VI started the year out strong and we had pretty much assumed that it, due to its real-time meets turn based engine and epic scope, would win the 'best of' category this year. Then came Fallout 2, which proved that Black Isle Studios was still capable of making top notch titles with a hard edged storyline, great visuals (although a bit similar to its predecessor) and improved AI. Final Fantasy, while tragically linear in play, also deserves a special mention for its impressive CG animations and memorable characters. Still, as you might imagine, when the time came to select the very best RPG of the year, there was never any doubt that the title belonged to BioWare's Baldur's Gate. This RPG is not only one of the most enjoyable games we've ever played, but its innovations will almost certainly change the face of computer role-playing for years to come.
Runners Up: Falcon 4.0, Jane's F-15, Jane's WWII Fighters
Simulations are always a hard category to judge due to the fact that everyone's taste in military equipment is different. Falcon 4.0 had it all, great graphics, incredibly deep and accurate gameplay options, and an amazing flight model, but in the end we decided on European Air War simply because we enjoyed flying the WWII era planes better. The Jane's series was also well represented with F-15 boasting breathtaking graphics and deep gameplay but falling short on the campaign system options. Another Jane's sim, WWII Fighters was the best looking of the lot and was supported by a fantastic soundtrack, but its lack of a good campaign system also kept it out of the winner's circle. European Air War combined huge dogfights, a great campaign system and realistic physics to make a game that was very had to put down.
This doesn't really seem fair, but we just couldn't help it. Electronic Arts had one of their best lineups ever with NHL 99, NBA Live 99 and FIFA 99 all of which looked great, had detailed player creation and played like a dream. Unfortunately, as much as we know that these games are deeper and more intellectually advanced, we just can't stop playing NFL Blitz. One of the best arcade to PC conversions we've ever seen, Blitz is one of those games that can stay on your hard drive permanently.
There were loads of great strategy games this year, but obviously no one even came close to beating Starcraft, a game which managed to blend great graphics, storyline and gameplay and offered up a well balanced three team battlefield. Let's face it, you're still playing this game, we're still playing this game and we'll all be playing it for some time to come. Other notables in this category were Close Combat 3, a real-time wargame with unmatched tactics and an original, un-imitated design, as well as The Operational Art of War, Volume One, an epic turn-based wargame with unparalleled flexibility, user customizability, and a dense core of rules drawn from the long tradition of computer and board wargaming. Two sequels rounded out the category, Populous: The Beginning which scores big points for its slick graphics and the fact that it's always cool to be a god and Railroad Tycoon II which had unbelievably deep gameplay options that players will be still be discovering a year from now.
Runners Up: Everquest Beta, Worms 2
This one was tricky because the online game that we actually spent the most time playing this year won't actually ship 'til March. Still, EverQuest kept us so entertained, even in its incomplete form, that we had to include it on our top picks list. Worms 2, which has been around since very early 1998, was also a big hit in the office as we can't pass up a chance to blow the hell out of each other with ridiculously overpowered weapons. In the end, we had to pick Tribes, a game that only barely managed to be included in a 98 awards list. Tribes has smooth movement, great missions and an super-simple interface all wrapped up in a futuristic world where laying a big hurt on someone else is encouraged. That's good enough for us!
Okay, we know this probably isn't going to be the most popular choice in the world, but when we sat down and really looked at which game we enjoyed the most this year, the answer was unanimous. Every one of these games could have been a winner, but for sheer enjoyment in both a single player and multiplayer modes Baldur's Gate stood out as the game we would most like to be stranded on a desert island with. Now let's take a look at some of the winners in special achievement categories.
When you have a category that's as broad as "Best Graphics," it gets kind of difficult to pick a definite winner. Artistically, the Mexican influenced visuals included with Grim Fandango were the most impressive. The best motion and high-speed backgrounds were included with Powerslide. Jane's had amazing fire, smoke and weather effects. When we were pinned down and had to make a final call though, the only real winner was Unreal. Not only is this game breathtakingly beautiful but it will also change the way a swarm of follow-up games will look in the future.
Runner Up: Oddworld Abe's Exoddus
While we all loved listening to Abe tell his compatriots to 'Follow Me' in that cute little voice, the real strength of Abe's Exoddus was its incorporation of sound into the actual game. All of the playable characters in the game can speak (in their own way) and use different tones and phrases that represent the type of character they are. Still, for sheer innovative use of sound, no game has ever been more important than Thief. Every action in the game, from your movement to the misfiring of an arrow has a sound associated with it that has a definite impact on your game world. This is the first title I've ever played that would have been impossible to finish without speakers.
Once again, this category probably just boiled down to individual taste. While we loved the amazing ethnic sounds of Grim Fandango and the era based tunes of WWII Fighters, the bluesy soundtrack of Railroad Tycoon II made it one of the few games this year that didn't drive us crazy after playing it for a couple of weeks.
Grim Fandango's combination of real world culture, music and art style with a fully interactive movement engine was revolutionary for adventure games. The end result was more compelling than any adventure game that had come before it. Rainbow Six also used a real world touch to earn itself a place on the list, teaching gung-ho action players that no one can be shot more than a couple of times and live. Still, Thief's delivery of intense suspense through the addition of intelligent foes and its anti-hero character completely blew us away.
These are the games that didn't live up to anyone's expectations and should not be considered an honor by anyone. Perhaps the most crushing of the set was Rebellion, which we thought was going to be the greatest turn-based strategy game ever made. The backpedaling done after the release of Dune 2000 led us to believe that Westwood was as irritated by their follow up to the brilliant Dune II as we were and SiN just had the disadvantage of having to compete with Half-Life and Unreal, two players who were much better. The recent peeks at Ion Storm's internal e-mails are letting us know that they never thought the game was anything but an option burner despite the huge hype that went into its release. Still, none of these games come even close to the mad frustration we all felt at the release of Trespasser. The tantalizing mix of beautiful dinosaur renders, cripplingly slow performance and a baffling interface just made us want to cry. In fact, I think Tal did...
Okay, that's it for this year, but rest assured that we're already gathering information for next year's list. Keep checking back in the coming months as we report the development of 1999 as it unfolds.
-- IGN Staff