First impressions are so important. Whether it’s a job interview, the first chapter of a book, the opening of a film, or a videogame, we’re likely gonna form our initial opinions based on immediate evidence.
We’re a vapid, shallow race in that respect – shame on us…
Ah well, that’s the way it is – and in today’s busy world, we just don’t have time to form proper opinions, dammit. The videogame industry knows this, and for the most part tries to pull us in by the ‘nads as soon as it can. Here are nine of the most successful examples.
Fans regarded Metroid Prime with a healthy degree of scepticism when they first approached it on Nintendo Gamecube. After all, the Metroid franchise was well known for being a 2D adventure/platformer – how on Earth would that work as first-person game?
Really fucking well, as it turns out – and the game’s introductory level does a flawless job of selling us on that.
Players are gently introduced to the wildly different mechanics as they explore a derelict space station. We learn we can scan almost any object or enemy for background information and lore, and discover how the morph ball, shooting, and platforming all work in this new dimension.
The whole thing is smartly wrapped up in a location that oozes atmosphere, recalls Super Metroid, and includes a cinematic boss fight and daring escape as the space station explodes around us. That is how you start a game.
Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Infinity Ward established in the first five minutes of their best Call of Duty game that they were not fucking around. They depicted an urgent conflict that hit very close to home with many (and still does) with such terrifying immersion that it’s almost hard to watch, let alone play.
The rest of the game has us running around, shooting people in the face and having a jolly good time, but this? We’re dragged through the streets and led to our death, completely unable to do anything about it.
It’s so massively different to the rest of the game – to anything we’d seen in a Call Of Duty before – that it’s an introduction that stayed with us for the rest of the game – until that ending knocked us all for six, anyway.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Christian Bale and Heath Ledger? Yeah, they were pretty great, but to anyone who grew up with the excellent 90’s cartoon, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are – and always will be – Batman and the Joker.
For that reason, the opening moments of Rocksteady’s superb Batman: Arkham Asylum let us all know we were in for an authentic Batman experience, and by the end of the game – giant mutant Joker aside – that’s exactly what we got.
There were things to like beyond the flawless performances of the two stars, of course. The gorgeous, Tim Burtonesque graphics, the ominous music, and palpable sense of tension as Bats escorts Joker deeper and deeper into the madhouse, knowing that the clown has something up his purple sleeves.
For many, the original Arkham remains the best – with an opening this strong, it’s hard to argue.
Any game that starts with you being delivered by Liam Neeson clearly deserves to be on this list. Strangely, only Fallout 3 meets that strict criteria.
Bethesda’s open world epic made the right call when it decided to keep us in the vault for the first 20-30 minutes of the game. Impressively, as you jump to different stages of your childhood, you actually feel like you’d lived a life down there by the time you emerge into the wasteland.
Birthdays, bullies, even poppa Neeson teaching us how to shoot a gun – we’re shown a hugely different world to what waits for us outside.
But even as you make your final, violent escape, you’re reminded just how quickly people can turn against each other – a theme that reoccurs throughout Fallout 3.
The Last of Us
I think it’s fair to say that it only took most of us the first 20 minutes of Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic classic to realise we were in for something very special.
I know this game is pretty old, but fair warning: Major spoilers lie ahead.
Right. So, what The Last Of Us does so flawlessly in its opening moments is sell us on just how fragile society is, how quickly the world would go to shit, how much protagonist Joel loves his daughter, and hint at the lengths Joel will go too to protect the ones he loves – that’s good going for 20 minutes.
We were used to Naughty Dog’s brand of cinematic storytelling from their work on Uncharted, but here it was very quickly established to be a much, much darker world.
Nathan Drake doesn’t swoop in to save the day at the last minute, and the ‘good guys’ are the ones who are responsible for the shocking death of Joel’s little girl, leading to floods of tears from gamers everywhere (mostly me).
Naughty Dog set their stall out straight away with this one, showing us early on that The Last Of Us was gonna be a dark ride.
Oh man, I’m not in the habit of putting these lists in any kind of particular order, but there’s a strong argument to be made that the opening moments of BioShock are the most iconic in videogame land.
Rather than drag us through an overlong cutscene, BioShock tells us everything we need to know about Rapture and the world we’ll be exploring entirely through gameplay.
From the moment you swim to the lighthouse (and to what we think is safety), and take the plunge to Rapture as Andrew Ryan delivers his captivating monologue on everything that’s wrong with the world, it’s impossible not to be enthralled, intrigued, and more than a little scared.
And of course, the first thing you see when you touch down in Rapture properly is some poor guy murdered before your very eyes. Peachy.
Silent Hill 2
Yes, the voice acting in Silent Hill 2 is hugely dated by today’s standards (as are the visuals), but it’s still an atmospheric as hell introduction to one of the stronger entries in the franchise.
Seriously, this game starts with you receiving a letter from your long-dead wife, only to then run into someone who looks exactly like that dead wife but claims not to be – if that’s not a hook mysterious enough to keep you playing for the next few hours, I don’t know what is.
Everything about the intro to Silent Hill 2 just works at convincing us it’s bigger and better than the first game. The oppressive fog, that constant, urgent pulsing noise, and – are these marks… blood?!
Yes. Yes they were blood. It would have been a very different game if those marks were jam, my friend.
God Of War
God of War pulls absolutely no punches in its opening moments. Before you even take control of Kratos, you discover he has a murky history, and has pledged himself to the Gods to soothe his bad dreams.
Once you’re given control, you get to take down Hydra – a massive snakey bastard – on behalf of Poseidon in a gnarly nautical throw down.
Basically, God of War lets you know what you’re in for from the start: A shit ton of violence, and some absolutely gigantic boss battles.
Oh, and then you get told you’re going on a super secret mission to kill Ares – the dude who tricked you into killing your wife and daughter – so right away you know you’ll eventually be rewarded with some sweet, sweet, revenge.
‘Wake up, Mr. Freeman.’ – A line that will be etched into the minds of gamers around the world for the rest of their lives, as the immortal words that kicked off one of the best games ever made.
The iconic intro to Valve’s hotly anticipated sequel to Half-Life was – at the time – a groundbreaking visual achievement, and an incredible example of interactive storytelling. We were allowed to engage with the world from the word go, which only served to further the immersion.
These days, ‘cutscenes’ that we’re in control of are pretty much standard fare, but none really come close to what Valve managed all those years ago.
Without a doubt, there are plenty of other games that are absolute masterclasses in kicking things off in style – Uncharted 2, Super Mario Galaxy, Resident Evil 4, and Metal Gear Solid 4 all spring to mind.
But when it comes to flawlessly introducing the core mechanics and themes of fantastic and rich experience, I reckon the above nine just can’t be beat – but what do you think?