Great Video Game Openings
Yesterday I had a bellyache about piss-poor endings, something of a recurring problem with video games. However, while script writers and developers struggle mightily with finishing games on a high, they seem to be pretty good at starting them. There is no shortage of impressive and iconic video game openings, while I would be hard pressed to name more than a half a dozen memorable endings.
Here is a look at some of the finest examples of video game openings, including intro movies and initial stages of gameplay that have come to define the very game and most importantly, made me want to play on.
I know this topic has been done to death and is a tired, old excuse for a blog post, but today I'm feeling tired and old, so introductions it is!
Final Fantasy VIII (1999)
Final Fantasy VIII remains one of my all-time favourite games and the opening sequence is the most memorable part of Square's teenage mercenaries-get-amnesia opus. A breath-taking visual achievement for its time, and paired with a stunning orchestral score, it still has the ability to give me goose bumps.
Opening on a tranquil beach and racing to a dark, rocky plain where our protagonist, Squall, is fighting his arch nemesis and fellow student Seifer, it dramatically sets-up the main players and establishes the tone for a remarkable game. Watching it on Youtube this morning made me want to drop everything and play it once again, for the fifth time.
NBA 2K11 (2010)
There are only so many new things you can do with a basketball simulation, so 2K should be commended for what they achieved with the opening for NBA 2K11.
Throwing convention to the wind, the first time you boot-up 2K11 you are thrust immediately into the spotlight and not the main menu as we have come to expect. Without warning or dull tutorial you are dropped into Game 1 of the '90-'91 Finals, controlling Michael Jordan in his first game on the biggest stage, battling Magic Johnson’s veteran Lakers. Featuring (largely) authentic rosters, short shorts and commentators who discuss events contemporary to the ‘90-‘91 season, it is a stunning introduction to a game that, if it weren’t so riddled with bugs and glitches, would be in the running for best sports games ever made.
Resident Evil 4 (2005)
RE 4 is a thriller from the outset, featuring one of the more memorable opening sequences in video game history. Stranded in a rural community full of bloodthirsty Los Ganados, who butchered your police escorts, you are quickly overwhelmed and forced to take refuge in an old house, to which the locals lay siege.
Relying on your limited ammo and some heavy furniture to bar the doors and windows, you feel relatively confident in your ability to stay the pitchfork and torch attacks of the rabid locals until, that is, one of them dons a sack and decides to pick-up a chainsaw. There are few sounds as unsettling as the whirring of a rusty chainsaw and the lumberjack mental soon tears through your primitive defences, forcing you into the open where you must make a final stand and slaughter the entire village. Not bad for an opening 20 minutes.
Metal Gear Solid 2 (2001)
Despite being my least favourite of the bunch, Metal Gear Solid 2 does have the best opening in a series full of memorable ones. A prelude to the main events of the game, it follows Solid Snake infiltrating a tanker and single handily taking on a group of terrorists in a sodden New York City. Most importantly, it gave fans the chance to briefly play as Snake before the game shifted focus to the oft-maligned lady-boy ninja, Raiden.
If MGS2 were released as a new game today, this extended intro would be a prime candidate for post-launch DLC, and we would have been cheated out of one of the most engaging openings of the last ten years. I hate modern gaming.
Resident Evil (1997)
“We don’t know where Barry is” - the final words of the ultimate so-bad-it’s-good video game opening. It is the second entry here for a series that, much like the B-movies from which it draws its inspiration, knows it must grab you from the outset.
Presented in true B-movie fashion, the live action intro movie is a sight to behold, in stark contrast to the more serious approach of the RE games that would follow. Out of their element and scattered in the dark, Alpha team are frantically searching for the lost members of Bravo team, and are forced to struggle through mist, gore, zombie dogs, atrocious acting and even Wesker’s hair. Resi’s incompetent villain does a commendable impression of Vanilla Ice, but even with all that bad attitude he’s still no match for the master of unlocking, Jill.
Far Cry 2 (2008)
The intro to Ubisoft’s open world FPS demonstrates everything great about Far Cry 2, whilst hiding the issues that plagued it. Arriving in the fictional African territory of Leboa-Sako, you are treated to an open-topped taxi drive through beautiful landscapes, all the while receiving a low-down on recent events from the talkative driver.
The scenery and lighting are eye catching, and you are afforded the chance to sit back and enjoy it. A stop at a military check point is suitably tense and you really get the feeling that you are entering a war zone. No sooner than you get used to your surroundings, things go tits up with a nasty bout of Malaria and the game never quite reaches the same heights again.
God of War and God of War 2 (2005 & 2007)
I couldn’t really decide which to include here, so I plumped for both God of War and God of War 2. The first game opens with our dejected Spartan taking a header off Mt. Olympus, but it’s the opening level that warrants our attention, culminating in an all-time boss fight against a massive three headed Hydra, which is as brutal as it is huge.
GoW2 succeeded in matching the three headed serpent. Detailing Kratos’ fall from grace, the first stage is capped off by a showdown with the Colossus of Rhodes; a battle that is even bigger than and just as impressive as the Hydra. But our wan Spartan takes it all in his stride and fells the statue as brutally as you could hope to slay a 200ft bronze.
Medal of Honour: Frontline (2002)
Although time has not been kind to the older Medal of Honour games, Frontline’s opening level remains as powerful as it was ten years ago. Moving and technologically impressive, it brought the D-Day storming of the Normandy beaches to home consoles. Immortalized in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, it did a commendable job of moving the shocking events of the Omaha beach landings from big to small screen. Although it’s a little sparse on combatants, and the gore has been significantly toned down, it captures many of the sights and sounds of its silver screen counterpart and set a standard which the rest of the game could never hope to match.