The Vault: Top Ten Openings

by on April 13, 2012

The opening of any entertainment medium, be that book, film, or indeed videogame, is an integral part of the entire experience. The opening has the responsibility of drawing it’s viewer or reader in and grasping their attention to the point where their interest is sufficiently piqued that they want to continue on the journey that the medium is offering.

In some ways, the opening of a videogame has a harder task in comparison to something like the beginning of a film. A film may have a running time of only 90 minutes, whilst a videogame may last upwards of 25 hours (and in some cases even longer). If a game is asking me to invest such a considerable amount of time then it’s opening scenes need to have more of an impact on me than those of the 90 minute film. Of course by “impact” I’m not referring to a multitude of explosions and outbursts of action. The start of a game can have a significant impact if it successfuly entices me to want to see more of what the game has to offer, be that through an interesting gameplay mechanic, story, or visual style.

The videos below are not intended to be a definitive list of the greatest ever videogame openings, nor do they consist solely of cutscenes. An opening can include a mixture of gameplay and pre-rendered footage, or even just gameplay. What is important is that each of these drew me in to their respective games, and enamoured me to continue playing.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ten openings, and also which videogame openings you think are the best. Leave a message in the comments below, or send me a message on Twitter or on the GodisaGeek Facebook page.

Grand Theft Auto III
Grand Theft Auto III starts with a bang, literally. Within the first minute of the opening cutscene the player character has been shot point blank in the head and left for dead. Quite a sobering beginning, but one that perfectly sets up the tale of revenge that drives the main bulk of the story.

The cinematic quality of this opening, evocative of films such as Michael Mann’s Heat or Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, set a benchmark for future games, and the fact that it was rendered using the in-game engine provided a link between the gameplay and story telling that was often disparate in earlier videogames.

Included in the video below is the stylish opening credits, which are reminiscent of the James Bond movies and help enforce the feeling that the player is taking an active role in what appears to be a Hollywood blockbuster.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, from developer Westwood Studios, continued along the alternate timeline set forth in the first game, in which Albert Einstein removed Adolf Hitler before he rose to power and thus allowed the Soviet Union to expand it’s borders. This alternate view of World history allowed Westwood various liberties in portraying both the Allied and Soviet forces in the sequel, which this opening movie shows.

Mind control, attack squids, and giant amoured airships. All these, and more, are portrayed within those opening four minutes and give a clear indication of the type of game that awaits. The main reason I enjoy this introduction so much is because it is fun, helped enormously by the slight OTT acting which betrays any idea that this is a serious game.

Not to mention the fact that it has giant red telephones with the names of various countries on them. Always a winner in my book.

God of War II
This opening is a combination of cinematics and gameplay, and is quite simply stunning. The original God of War was renowed for it’s high octane start where you faced off against a Hydra in the midst of a raging storm, but this sequel raised the bar somewhat significantly.

In this installment you face off against the Colossus of Rhodes, who has been imbued with the godly powers of the protagonist Kratos. Your battle against this malevolent foe spans the entire city of Rhodes, and sees you catapulting yourself directly towards the Colossus in a vain attempt to quell it’s rage. I spoke earlier of how a videogame opening need not resort to outbursts of action in order to have an impact upon the player. In this example however, those outbursts most certainly do have an impact and by the end of your battle with the Colossus you are left with a longing to repeat those actions, and hope that by continuing Kratos’ story you may find yourself experiencing those lofty heights once more.

World of Warcraft
Sometimes a videogame opening grabs your imagination with such ferocity that the only way you can quench the flame is to go out, buy the game, and experience what it has to offer firsthand. This certainly was the case when I first set eyes upon the opening movie for Blizzard’s World of Warcraft.

Whilst I was a fan of the RTS roots of World of Warcraft, what particularly intrigued me was the lore that encompassed the entire series. With the opening to World of Warcraft, it seemed as though I was to be given the chance to fully explore the world of Azeroth freely and without the inhibitions of needing resources such as lumber.

Not only that, but the opening is quite frankly cool, for want of a better word. It emits this aura of confidence, despite the fact that the game is a significant depature from it’s much revered predecessors, and it was through this confidence and stylish depection of various warriors of Azeroth that instantly sold the idea of the game to me.

However judging by the opening to the latest World of Warcraft expansion pack, some of that initial vigour found in the original cinematic seems to have been lost.

Super Mario Galaxy
The premise behind the majority of Mario games is rather simple, yet timeless: Princess Peach is kidnapped by the nefarious Bowser, taken to one of his many castles (the King of the Koopas appears to have several pieces of real estate), and Mario has to rescue her. Whilst the story telling may not be regarded as stellar, it is the gameplay of the Mario series that brings the most praise and is most fondly remembered.

However, the opening of Super Mario Galaxy takes the standard Mario formula and adds a little something extra. That something extra being the fact that Bowser not only steals Princess Peach, but her entire castle and entourage and whisks them into the cold vacuum of space. You would of thought that by this point in time (I’m assuming the Mario games do follow a timeline of sorts) that Princess Peach would have invested in some sort of security, or at least an early warning system, to prevent things like this from occurring. Alas she hasn’t, and perhaps it’s for the best as it paves the way clear for Bowser to make quite the entrance and facilitate Mario’s latest quest.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
I mentioned in the opening of this article that the beginning of a videogame should arouse your interest to a point where you want to continue playing the game past it’s opening gambit. The first ten minutes of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a prime example of this philosophy.

The disorientation you feel when you first lay eyes on Nathan Drake and struggle to comprehend just why he is battered and bruised with a rather large wound in his abdomen is compounded further once you realise the precarious situation Nathan is actually in. Questions such as ‘why’ and ‘how’ immediately spring to mind, and are the driving force behind the first half of the game.

Naughty Dog are one of the masters of cinematic gaming, the seemless transition between cutscene and gameplay found in this opening revealing a developer at the pinnacle of their artistic talent. Coupled together with a strong vocal performance by Nolan North, this opening for me is one of the most memorable to have graced the medium.

Valve’s Half-Life caused quite a stir when it was first released back in 1998, with the level of immersion that was presented by the title being cited as one of the reasons the game is now considered to be revolutionary.

The foundations for this revolution are strongly placed in the game’s opening. For the first five or so minutes your movement is restricted to a small cable car as it traverses through the Black Mesa facility on a pre-determined route. There are no large explosions, no frantic firefights, or a lengthy exposition as to how things are the way they are. Instead this opening immerses you in the world of Black Mesa; the announcements you hear over the tannoy system reinforce the idea you are inhabiting a working scientific facility in which you are but a small cog. By replacing the standard cutscene with this interactive beginning, Half-Life was able to stand tall amongst the wealth of first-person shooters in the market and take it’s place in the annals of videogame history.

Mass Effect 2
“Status: > Killed In Action”

This simple phrase adorned the very first trailer for BioWare’s Mass Effect 2, and instantly sent gamer’s hearts and minds racing. Surely BioWare weren’t actually going to kill off Commander Shepard?

As it turns out they did just that, as can be seen below in the explosive opening to the game. The power of this first scene lies in the fact that due to Shepard’s death the rules have now changed. Shepard was the main character of the series, the focus of most of the game’s promotional material, and by ending his life so dramatically in the opening few minutes it meant that no-one was safe. You are compelled to play through the entirety of game just to see who survives and who doesn’t, and whether or not Shepard’s death will have serious ramifications.

Max Payne
Whilst it can be said that the true test of a game comes from how well it plays, a strong art style can keep you engaged and encourage to continue playing simply to see more of it at work. It is with this in mind that the opening to the original Max Payne makes this list.

A neo-noir graphic book style is used to illustrate the various cutscenes that drive the story forward throughout the game, and it is this choice of art that makes Max Payne stand out. In addition to this, at various points throughout the opening control of Max falls to you and it is through your own actions that Max discovers the tragedy that becomes a driving force in the game. The interspersion of this control with the static cutscenes supports the neo-noir style, as you almost feel a sense of responsibility for Max’s actions, which in turn allows you to emphasise with Max more successfully.

Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening
With some videogame protagonists you want to feel their struggle against the world they inhabit. With others you want to be the epitome of power, and believe that you are untouchable. The opening cinematic of Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening imbues the feeling of the latter rather than the former.

Dante effortlessly cuts his way through the numerous foes that descend upon his newly opened shop with a grace and elegance that almost defies logic. His wisecracking nature doesn’t hide any weakness, rather it reveals a depth of strength and character that you instantly wish you can control. Plus the fact that he inhales a pizza whilst fending off his would be attackers shows he is a man who has his priorities right: never fight on an empty stomach.

The choreography of this first fight gives you a taste of what you can expect when control of Dante finally falls to you. Everything you see Dante do with regards to combat can be replicated in the game itself, which means that expectations are met and you are not left feeling disappointed you couldn’t truly embody the power of a demon.