There are few things as compelling as a good introduction, whether in entertainment or a first date. All video games take different approaches to the crucial opening moments, and whether it’s cinematic computer-generated intro sequences, scripted set-pieces, or the blank slate of an open world, it’s extremely important that those first moments are not only memorable, but leave the player hungry for more, too.
For this list I’ve decided to focus on some of the best openings that really utilize the strengths of these games and aren’t just non-interactive scenes. Each game was selected for a different reason and they all demonstrate different elements that make games so incredible.
10. ‘GOD OF WAR 3’
Battling the God of the Sea himself, Poseidon, while ascending Mount Olympus atop the Titan Gaia—that’s the kind of stuff you’d typically be able to only dream of doing, if that’s the kind of thing you dream about.
God of War 3 however not only makes that dream a reality in the opening moments, but it punches the dream in the face, rips its head off, and uses the shining light of the dream’s hope as a flashlight in the darkness.
9. ‘BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM’
While the opening credits are still rolling, you’re fully immersed in Rocksteady’s vision for the Gotham-verse. Batman’s suspicious of the Joker’s intentions and sure enough, just as the credits finish, he orchestrates his escape from chains and turns the entire Asylum into one massive toy box rife with traps and enemies for Batman to fight his way through.
The game’s opening escort scene sets the mood and tone immediately and gets you into the action you as quickly as possible. That’s a great introduction in my book.
8. ‘MEGA MAN X’
I agree with Egoraptor when he says that the first level in Mega Man X is one of the most tightly crafted and well-made first levels of any game ever. There are no tutorial messages that pop up and tell you what to do. There is no hand-holding. And it doesn’t take it easy on you.
By the time you make it to the end you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. Then the main bad guy swoops in, beats you within an inch of your life, and is ultimately defeated by a badass in red, Zero. It’s a humbling moment in a game that quickly becomes a rollercoaster of platforming action.
7. ‘INDIGO PROPHECY’
How many games have you played that begin with the main character brutally murdering someone in cold blood? Well, that’s how Indigo Prophecy starts and saying that’s the least strange moment of the game wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration.
After the deed is done, you’ve got to clean up the scene in a seedy bathroom, all while a police officer is making his way to that very same bathroom. It immediately gives the game a sense of urgency and accountability for the main character—things that usually take most games much longer to accomplish.
6. ‘RED DEAD REDEMPTION’
Take it from a guy that doesn’t even usually like westerns: Red Dead Redemption is incredible. But Playboy has already established that, so I’ll just cover the opening.
Similar to Batman: Arkham Asylum, Redemption’s opening credits are a mostly passive viewing experience. You ride a train across Texas, listen to other passengers chatting and being racist (it’s historically accurate at least), and immediately feel like an outsider in a fast-changing world, much like the main protagonist, John Marston.
Bioshock is one of those games that had the benefit of being released within the first two years of the Xbox 360’s lifespan. That means expectations for what could be done with a first-person shooter on the technology were all but nonexistent, so Irrational Games’ ahead-of-its-time vision of immersive environments quickly became the gold standard.
Bioshock’s slow pacing and exhaustively detailed underwater realm of Rapture still holds up to this day as one of the most engaging and eerily beautiful game worlds imagined. And that first glimpse of it, as you ride a mysterious contraption down to the depths of the sea, is something many gamers will never forget.
4. ‘MASS EFFECT 2’
At the beginning of Mass Effect 2, Commander Shepard dies. Yes, that very same Commander Shepard that you just spent the last several dozen hours playing as in the first game, taking down a galactic nemesis with your squad of loyal companions, dies.
Don’t worry—they find a way to bring him back before long (well someone does). But your initial death sets the mood for what becomes an exciting and surprisingly dark game.
3. ‘UNCHARTED 2’
Nathan Drake sitting in a lonely train car in the middle of a snow storm, dripping in his own blood, is one thing. But when the camera pans and you find out that train car is actually hanging vertically off the side of a cliff, things get a whole lot more interesting.
Add to that the fact that the game is actually beginning in the middle of the story and jumps back and forth to tell the full story and piece together a complex and exciting narrative. It’s a marvel for not only the visual intensity, but also the quality storytelling as well.
2. ‘FALLOUT 3’
I’ll never forget the first time I played Fallout 3. No, not because I had to suffer through the atrocity of using Games for Windows Live on my PC, although everyone remembers that too; but because the game begins with the main character literally exiting his or her mother’s womb. That’s right: it’s one of the few games that actually start at the beginning.
And it doesn’t stop there: you walk around your room as a toddler, play with toys, learn to shoot a gun when you get a little older, get in a fight, and even take a career placement exam. The opening couple of hours of Fallout 3 put you through more life experiences than most games do in several dozen hours.
1. ‘THE LAST OF US’
Usually it takes some work to get me in a crying mood. A sad movie, a heart-wrenching ending to a long and emotional game, you know—something that actually took a lot of time to get a genuine response. In the case of The Last of Us, I felt the tears swelling in my eyes after less than an hour of playing.
I’ve seen a lot of death in games over the years, but nothing compares to the death at the beginning of The Last of Us. After seeing the outbreak happen before your eyes, fighting through hordes of infected, and finally reaching the outskirts of town and what you expect to be the welcoming safety of the military, it all falls apart before your eyes. You take cover as the soldier opens fire, but your daughter is shot and dies in your arms. I was left in shocked terror and I hadn’t even seen the title screen yet. Well done, Naughty Dog.
David Jagneaux is a freelance writer and full-time nerd. His favorite game franchise is The Legend of Zelda. He also has an unhealthy obsession with buying games during Steam sales that he never actually plays. It’s dangerous to go alone, so follow him on Twitter @David_Jagneaux.
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