“You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” We don’t know about you, but here at BNBGAMING, we’ve always lived by what our mamas told us. And this little adage is certainly true when it comes to video games. Increasingly, games are made or broken by flashy or otherwise impressive intros to the gameplay. Whether it’s a photo-realistic CG animated sequence or a jaw-dropping tutorial level, the first few minutes spent with a game can determine whether it will earn your 30+ hours of time invested in it, or whether it will simply be relegated back to the shelf from whence it came.
In this edition of our Top 5, we pay homage to those game which truly blew us away and rocked our worlds…all within moments of pressing the Start button for the first time. These are our top game intros.
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Declan 5. Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 2 begins dramatically, and it’s a fitting debut for a game that differs very clearly from its predecessor. It’s more than just pyrotechnics, though: it’s about brave sacrifices, the mysterious Illusive Man, the destruction of the Normandy and her crew in one fell swoop and everything that symbolises, the wistful piano music and Shepard’s final, panicked breaths as he is jettisoned into the cold vacuum of space. It’s also about new beginnings…
4. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty captures Hideo Kojima’s definite knack for flashy game cinematography, especially Snake’s “tanker” introduction on the bridge above the Hudson River. It’s a perfect setting. Rain falls in sheets, an ethereal choir echoes in the background; something odd is brewing in New York. It’s a great reintroduction to the series, too: Otacon’s reference to the first game’s “cigs”, the new first-person view, Revolver Ocelot’s shadowy appearance – simply splendid!
3. Empire Earth
Showing various generals and leaders from prehistory to the game’s fictional ‘Nano Age’ (to which the latter half of the opening is devoted), Empire Earth’s introductory cinematic sounds the drum for warfare over a truly massive timescale spanning the entirety of human history. Few premises are more epic, and even fewer intros, too.
2. Soul Blade
I’m sure most of the weight behind choosing Soul Blade as my number two (very nearly my number one) lies with that age-old narcotic “nostalgia”, but let’s face it: it’s bloody good. With its extremely catchy fiddle track, what sounds like an ’80s power metal band blasting away in the background and a delightfully cheesy montage, it’s an unrelenting, loud introduction to a new universe of characters and a refreshing fighting game franchise.
1. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
I’m new to the Deus Ex series, and I’m thankful that I was finally introduced by my Game of the Year 2011, Human Revolution. Aside from the magically palpable atmosphere, the game excelled at deeply compelling storytelling, and the introduction had me hook, line, and sinker. Hero Adam Jensen is plunged into a new world of conspiracy and intrigue in a matter of minutes as his colleagues and former lover are murdered before his eyes in a horrific terror attack; he barely escapes with his life as his firm employs controversial biotechnology to keep him alive, replacing his damaged organs and limbs with augmented, cybernetic ones. The scene depicting this transformation between man and machine is nothing short of poetic, with memories of a past life hazily giving way to images of bloody, life-altering surgery as Adam lapses between consciousness and unconsciousness. The beautiful soundtrack, too, makes it that much better.
5. DC Universe Online (Sorry for the preamble, but it’s the only 1080p copy available online.)
The entire intro is basically porn for DC fans. While it’s unfortunate that the final product wasn’t quite able to live up to the game that this intro promises, was that even ever a possibility? I suppose this is a bit of a cheat, because I don’t think any game could be made out of this intro, as it’s mostly a movie used to establish the DC universe to non-fans, but it’s still undeniably amazing.
4. World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade
I remember the first time I saw this trailer. I was already a pretty avid gamer, favouring titles like the Halo and Call of Duty franchises and, in my head, calling anything that involved elves and magic “pretty lame”. I was watching the Spike Video Game Awards for the first time (and the last time enthusiastically), and midway through the show I was a bit dismayed at the lack of any big FPS-related reveals. Then The Burning Crusade trailer dropped. I was only tangentially aware of the existence of World of Warcraft prior to seeing the trailer, so immediately my head was filled with questions. Questions that, at the following day at school, I quickly asked of the only person I knew who had “come out” as a World of Warcraft player. “Who was that awesome demon-looking guy?” “Can I use his swords?” “What’s the deal with the purple dude?” Little did I know that the game that I had so recently become fascinated with would go on to become a game that soaked up countless hours of my time, and numerous paychecks from my first jobs.
I can’t tell you why the trailer is so effective, it is after all simply a progression of action shots with very little meaningful dialogue, but something within it captured my attention to the point that elves and magic became “super duper cool” (my mind is secretly a highschooler from the ’80s).
3. Beatles Rockband
Of all of the animations, films, videos, and art made to pay tribute to the Beatles, none has ever been able to so perfectly capture their essence as this 2 minute and 30 second long intro cinematic. It charts their meteoric rise from nightclub obscurity to national fame, and then manages to somehow visually translate their unique brand of weirdness that ensured their continued success late into their careers. It doesn’t necessarily establish what one is going to be doing during the game it introduces, but nothing has ever been better suited to representing the music featured within it.
Going into this intro blind was one the most emotional experiences I’ve ever had playing a video game. From the onset, you’re thrust into a completely alien world. Forced to swim in the massive expanse of the ocean, justifiably terrified about what may be lurking underneath you, hidden in the blackness of the water (only later do we learn our fears are more than justified). You come across this weird structure jutting out of the water, and despite your confusion that there seems to be a staircase built just for you to climb, you enter. What follows is a descent into the mind of Andrew Ryan, a beautiful reveal of his vision realized, and then a glimpse into its destruction. This all happens in the span of 10 minutes. In that short period of playtime, the developers establish one of the most complex settings in video game history, one of the most interesting characters in video game history, and your place caught in the middle of all of the chaos the two have created.
Me: Wait, this is the intro? But you can move!
My PC Gamer Cousin: Yea, it’s not actually a cinematic. All of the stuff you’re seeing is just the in-game assets following a script.
Me: Wait, what’s an asset?
My PC Gamer Cousin: Don’t worry about it, just know that what you’re seeing is pretty awesome.
And awesome it is, and while the intro isn’t quite as impressive today as it was upon release, to fully appreciate its importance and influence over the games that followed it, one only has to consider this fact: no one had really seen anything like this before. The generational gap may prevent some of you from believing this, but there was a point in time when the intro to a game was pretty far down almost every developer’s list of importance. Games were a lot more “arcadey” back in the day, and if they weren’t, their themes and narrative structure were often introduced with an animated cinematic that today we see tacked on to poorly made, rushed games. So a 5 minute long playable intro filled with exposition, set-building, and narrative establishment was pretty mind-blowing for its time. Even watching this video today, I still manage to somehow discover little details that, over the course of my experience with Half-Life, I’ve managed to overlook.
Tom 5. Darksiders
While the introduction cinematic doesn’t quite represent the rest of the game, I still think that Darksiders has one of the best introductions in gaming. It’s a really good suspense-builder, and it kind of tells a story in itself. Unfortunately, neither its art style nor the events it chronicles really compliment the rest of the game… but, as a standalone cinematic, it does quite well.
4. Pokemon Diamond and Pearl
The first Pokemon game available on Nintendo DS really blew the previous editions out of the water, and it all started with the opening. The slightly more 3D world of Sinnoh (compared to previous settings) is shown off from the very beginning, and when that music pipes up, everything feels right with the world again.
3. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Unlike the more toned-down intro to the recent Skyrim, Oblivion really does its best to explain everything, from setting and time, to the threat the game chronicles and its characters. Whilst I don’t feel like I needed all these things crammed into one opening, it really felt pretty epic. Plus, as my first experience with a massive RPG like this, the cinematic really impressed me by showing off Cyrodiil.
I love a little bit of stop-motion, me. What really impressed me with Brink‘s introduction cutscene is that it didn’t try to do anything special, or extravagant, it just wanted to explain how the Ark came to be, why there is currently a civil war between the Security and the Guests, and, of course, introduce the mysterious Ishmael. But the mellow little stop-motion sequence in the background just adds to that. It’s like a blueprint, and halfway through, when it reappears all broken and dusty, I think that’s a really powerful moment, and gives players a clear idea of what’s happening.
I was excited about this game from the moment I found out about it, and it was certainly one of those moments in my life when the game came through my postbox and I tore right into it. The opening cinematic is nothing short of incredible – both because it looks spectacular, but also because it sets up the game really well. There’s an amazing feeling of realism in its explanation of the game’s setting, and this really builds the tension, and I can’t remember a time before or since that I’ve been sucked into a cinematic so damn quickly.
Pascal 5. Conker’s Bad Fur Day
In a crowd of cartoonish games made for adult sensibilities, this one takes the crown. It’s apparent from the opening sequence, where you have to guide a hung-over squirrel – complete with great big googly-eyes -, who’s in a bad way after a night of heavy boozing at the local pub, find his way back home. But first thing’s first: before you can deal with foul-mouthed and ill-tempered scarecrows, vampires, homicidal Teddyz, and busty sunflowers, you must aid Conker in kicking that nauseating headache induced by too much vomiting.
4. Fallout 3
It must be said that this game was my gateway into the Fallout universe. As I lived through the adolescent years of my heroine’s life deep in the secluded bowels of Vault 101, I had little idea of what might await me out there on the surface world. Even though I knew the moment of emergence would come sooner or later, my fellow Vault dwellers’ gossip about the certain death waiting outside the Vault doors chilled me to the bone. It’s safe to say that, by the time I made the fateful decision to activate the gate mechanism and escape to follow my father’s footsteps out of a micro-world that was going crazy into a macro-world that had been destroyed, I was well and truly scared, more so than most horror games have been able to to date.
3. God of War III
Each God of War game has had a tradition of featuring an over-the-top opening scene, introducing the core combat and gameplay elements. Whether it was fighting the Hydra in the original, or going toe to toe with the Colossus of Rhodes in the sequel, each game has raised the bar higher than the last. Enter God of War III, which takes the idea of frantic chaos to a whole new level. Mount Olympus is under attack by the Titans, led by Gaia, and the Gods themselves are forced to fight back. Not one to fear the limelight, Kratos, riding into battle upon Gaia like some giant war stallion, is quickly accosted by Poseidon’s creatures of the Deep. As the very ground shakes beneath your feet and hellish abominations from the sea cut off your escape routes, the background continues to be in constant motion as Gaia continues her ascent, her fellow Titans occasionally visible in the distance as they are obliterated by the Olympians. This opening, and its cinematic quality, redefines the meaning of “epic”.
2. Final Fantasy VI/VII
It was an easy choice to include these games’ intros in my list. Not so easy was it to decide which one I love more. Ultimately, a clear favorite couldn’t be chosen, as both are in my mind intros to two of my favorite games of all time, and as such carry a lot of momentous importance. Whether you’re running through the caves of Narshe with Wedge, Bicks, and an unknown girl wearing a slave crown, or watching a train pull into its station in Midgar, spilling forth the rebels of AVALANCHE as they assault a Mako reactor, either intro is worth replaying multiple times, just to experience that initial thrill once again.
Enslaved has got to be the only time I was completely convinced to purchase a game purely based on its cinematic intro level. It was the first (and so far last) time my jaw has literally hit the floor in awe during an initial demo, and I stand by that verdict even today. The acrobatics Monkey pulls off while trying to escape the slaver’s ship are pulse-pounding and breath-taking. The combat, too, is spectacular and intuitive. But most importantly, the sheer insanity the intro forces you through, while the ship is on its unstoppable crash course to Earth, colliding with structures that shear off section after section, and Monkey is clinging on to the hull and making his way across the wings in neck-breaking stunts – I leaped off the couch with cheers and shouts of victory after completing the intro, and knew that this was a must-have game.
Rexly 5. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
This opening scene puts us in the middle of the action. Drake wakes to see that he is bleeding and soon discovers that the train that he is on is hanging off the edge of a cliff. Having never played Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune before this game, I did not realize the amount of crap that Nathan Drake has to go through throughout the whole game. Not only does this opening cinematic immediately get your attention, but it also shows the genesis of the adventure that leads to Drake’s close call with death.
4. Fallout 3
A classic song from a damaged radio that zooms out to the D.C. Wasteland, Fallout 3‘s opening really sets the tone for the whole game. Ron Perlman’s narration of the events that transpired before the game begins is incredibly eerie, especially the part about Vault 101. To this day, every time I visit Washington D.C., I make sure that I spend some time walking around with my iPod with the Ink Spots’ “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” on repeat. It’s just one of those things that, once you see it, it sticks in your memory like a sore thumb.
3. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
On the first playthrough, this opening cinematic comes right between the Virtuous Mission and Operation Snake Eater, but it sets up the second mission so well. When I first saw it, the music and visuals reminded me of the many opening credits for the James Bond movies. Except this one has snakes instead of silhouettes of beautiful women. The newspaper clips in the beginning show the rising tension between the powers of the East and West. It really puts into perspective the intense amount of pressure that Snake is under to accomplish his mission.There is no better introduction to the legendary soldier who will be known as Big Boss.
2. Batman: Arkham City
The bright white screen with the dark font emerging from the blackness, to the conversation between Bruce Wayne and Hugo Strange, this introduction blew my mind. We’ve all seen the trailers of Arkham City prior to the game’s release, but the way that it was revealed in the game was epic. Players didn’t start out as Batman, but as Bruce Wayne who was protesting the existence of Arkham City. At this point, little do we know that Bruce Wayne’s arrival is just a small cog in Strange’s grand scheme of Protocol Ten. There are two moments that stand out in this opening: the steel door in front of Wayne and Jack Ryder that opens to reveal the chaos of Arkham City, and when Wayne reaches the top of the Ace Chemicals building to suit up as Batman. This entire experience leads the player to one amazing thought: “This is going to be epic.”
A plane crash in the middle of the ocean that just so happens to contain a towering structure that goes underwater. No one knows what’s going to happen next because nothing like this has ever been done. The vintage feel of the environment and the impressive leap in technology somehow manage to work together. I remember playing this and expecting an abandoned crumbling structure. That would not be the case because Andrew Ryan dreamed of something bigger and better. He chose something different, something impossible. He chose Rapture. It’s at this point that my jaw drops and the controller hits the floor. This one scene sets up the setting in amazing fashion, but it also shows us the horror that waits. The bathysphere can only protect you for so long, and once the Splicers come, it’s time to go to work. If there is one thing that this cinematic showed, it’s that first impressions are deceiving. It may look like a utopia, but something is terribly wrong within. No opening scene has blown my mind as much as this one has, and it is only fair to give it the top spot.
Share Your Thoughts: What about you? Which games do you feel have the absolute best intros gaming has to offer?