6 greatest years in gaming history

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With 2014 shaping up to be quite a time for new releases, Mark Butler found himself wondering which years have been the most significant, influential and downright entertaining in the medium’s history.

Following an enthusiastic discussion with fellow gaming enthusiasts, a number of action-packed eras stood out in particular. Prepare yourself for a serious nostalgia trip: here are the six greatest years in gaming history.

Sonic

1987

Introducing us to concepts, characters and series that have endured to this very day, this was a phenomenal year of firsts.

1987 saw gamers acquainted with Street Fighter, Final Fantasy and the original Metal Gear, while the very first Legend Of Zelda also landed in the US and Europe. If saying hello to Solid Snake and Link wasn’t already enough, we also got our hands on sublime run-and-gun classic Contra, seminal side-scrolling brawler Double Dragon, and magnificent military shooter Operation Wolf.

1991

Setting a lofty benchmark for an entire genre, and establishing gaming’s most famous rivalry in the process, ’91 gave birth to both the revolutionary, lightening-paced Sonic The Hedgehog and Nintendo’s own entertaining evolution in the shape of Super Mario World.

In addition to these iconic experiences, gamers also got to feast on groundbreaking racer F-Zero, maniacal motorbike sim Road Rash, the sublime Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past and brilliant suicide-prevention puzzler Lemmings. Oh, and strategy classic Civilization also arrived, just in case you were wondering…

1996

This year saw a defining giant leap forward for the entire medium, with the PlayStation’s array of influential masterpieces breaking through into the popular consciousness.

Shinji Mikami’s ingenious, atmospheric Resident Evil invented and kick-started the survival-horror craze; Naughty Dog’s insanely enjoyable Crash Bandicoot put all of us in a spin; and the vast scale and exploration of wall-scaling, ledge-shimmying, dinosaur-dodging adventure Tomb Raider gave gaming a brand new poster girl in the shape of Lara Croft.

Elsewhere a certain chubby plumber went 3D and mustered one of the greatest platformers of all time in Super Mario 64, while Quake, Command & Conquer Red Alert and Diablo set the PC community into raptures.

1998

Coming straight off the back of two incredibly strong gaming years (check out ‘Honourable Mentions’ below for 1997’s delights), it’s hard to believe that 1998 could top its predecessors. But it did.

Highlights included Gordan Freeman’s first crowbar-armed outing in the original Half-Life; Solid Snake’s triumphant cinematic, fourth-wall breaking comeback in Metal Gear Solid; and the arrival of seminal RTS war game StarCraft: so good it’s now a national sport in South Korea.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. How about Resident Evil 2, Parasite Eve, Banjo-Kazooie, Rainbox Six, Unreal, Fallout 2, Spyro The Dragon, Grim Fandango, Thief: The Dark Project, Baldur’s Gate and arguably Link’s greatest ever outing in Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time? Not bad, really.

2004

Is Half-Life 2 the greatest FPS ever made? Freeman’s return was certainly worth the wait – and its sheer excellence would account for the ongoing hysteria surrounding the ludicrously overdue third installment, that’s for sure.

Even for a year containing such an undisputed champion however, 2004 was rather special. It saw the launch of MMO king World Of Warcraft; celebrated sci-fi shooter sequel Halo 2; haunting and suspenseful stealther Thief: Deadly Shadows; humorous fantasy RPG Fable; and adrenaline-pumping slash ‘em up Ninja Gaiden.

Throw in very welcome returns in the shape of Doom 3 and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, not to mention Total War’s ingenious Rome instalment, and you’re talking about an unforgettable 12-month stretch.

2010

Wow. I don’t know about you, but when I think about this most recent generation, 2010 was the year that seriously burned a hole in my wallet.

So many great games. Just so many. Mass Effect 2’s epic suicide mission was as gripping and absorbing as it gets, and how about the spectacularly detailed and immersive open worlds of Fallout: New Vegas and Red Dead Redemption (whose story packed a genuine emotional punch)?

Bayonetta brought us insane action; StarCraft II enhanced and built-upon its illustrious forebear’s brilliance; and we were treated to everything from atmospheric survival thriller Metro 2033 to the haunting indie masterworks of moody 2D puzzler LIMBO and nightmarish chiller Amnesia: The Dark Descent – the latter of which sparked a whole new wave of inspired psychological horror.

Here’s hoping 2014 can rival it.

Honourable Mentions:

1994: Super Metroid, Earthworm Jim, Final Fantasy VI, System Shock, UFO: Enemy Unknown, Donkey Kong Country, Warcraft, Tekken, Sensible World Of Soccer

1997: Final Fantasy VII, Turok, Tekken 3, GoldenEye, Fallout, Grand Theft Auto, Age Of Empires, The Curse Of Monkey Island, Tomb Raider II, Gran Turismo

2000: The Sims, Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, Perfect Dark, Deus Ex, Shogun: Total War, Diablo II, Final Fantasy IX, American McGee’s Alice, Hitman, Banjo Tooie

2005: Resident Evil 4, Knights Of The Old Republic II, Gran Turismo 4, God Of War, Psychonauts, Guild Wars, F.E.A.R, Condemned, Shadow Of The Colossus, Call Of Cthulu, Guitar Hero

Mark Butler

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Mark is the content manager for WOW247 in Leeds. When he isn't waxing lyrical about Ben Wheatley and Caravan Palace, he's landing news, assembling guides and penning features.

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