A few weeks ago, Rich was raving madly about the opening moments of his "game of the generation," Far Cry 5. It got us thinking about other games that start especially strong, so we planned to devise a list celebrating the best opening scenes ever seen in games. As it turns out, games frequently deliver stunning introductions. Their designers know the importance of a strong first impression. We considered things such as the first several missions of Assassin's Creed III before the initial twist. We also thought about the entire first level of the original Halo, but ultimately it was difficult to pare down what would've been a massive list without some stricter guidelines. With that in mind, we've defined "opening scene" as the first 20 or so minutes. And with that in mind, here's what we came up with. Undoubtedly, there are still some more readers will feel we've overlooked, so take to the comments and let us know which video game introductions reeled you in most effectively.
Note: Spoilers should be assumed present for all games mentioned here.
As we wrote above, Far Cry 5 is the inspiration for this list. The series has a long-standing tradition of baptism-by-fire openers, but Far Cry 5's is especially memorable. You're an unnamed deputy officer sent with local cops and a US Marshal to issue an arrest warrant to Joseph Seed, the megalomaniacal cult leader in Hope County, Montana.
He surprisingly gives himself up willingly even as he followers all look on with itchy trigger fingers. He assures you "God will not let you" take him, and as you escort him into the helicopter, and tempers on both sides begin to flare, his followers leap onto the outside of the helicopter wherever there's room, tampering with its intentions for liftoff, and ultimately send you all crashing back down to earth. Running into the forest, hunted by the Project at Eden's Gate followers (Peggies, as they're called by some in the story), you realize you're in way over your head with violent gun nuts and religious zealots. Welcome to America.
If you haven't played last year's Prey just yet, don't forget you can access a demo on the digital store. In this reimagined science fiction story, you play Morgan Yu as you awake on the day of some tests at Talos-1, a research center left deliberately mysterious at the onset of the game. As you complete your tests, which double somewhat as a tutorial for players, things eventually go horribly wrong, as a slime-like alien tears apart some of the researchers watching you behind glass. Shortly after, you awaken again, as though it's the same day as before.
This sense of Groundhog Day soon gives way to something much more like The Truman Show as you discover your entire experience before was a lie. Your helicopter trip, the sunlight hitting a cityscape outside your windows, even parts of Talos-1, they were all illusory, akin to a movie set, and the "why" is so tempting to discover. This stunning opening scene is such an effective pull that you can't help but continue down the path to see what other secrets Prey has in store.
The only indie game on this list, SOMA is criminally underplayed on TA with just 551 players tracked currently. That means this will be a spoiler for most of you reading, but maybe it's also a great pitch if you do decide to play it. In SOMA, you play Simon Jarrett who is slowly dying from brain hemorrhaging as result of a car accident that also took the life of his partner. With an expiration date on his life approaching, Simon agrees to an experimental procedure that may just save his life. He arrives at the disheveled doctor's office and sits in a complicated chair with all sorts of classic sci-fi implications.
The procedure begins and in an instant he awakens in somewhere totally new. How did he get there? Where is everybody? And why are there violent AI machines running amok? These questions lead players and Simon to discover a terrifying and thoughtful exercise on the nature of consciousness.
As the highly anticipated follow-up to the series debut, Mass Effect 2 had as much hype around it as any game of its time. Players were eager to return to the role of Commander Shepard and continue his player-driven story, so it was shocking when, in the opening moments, he and his crew are bombarded by an attacking force. The Normandy is destroyed and Shepard is dead. Wait, what?
From there, the story goes that he is revived through the costly and complex Lazarus Project funded by a questionable player in the intergalactic chess match that is the series. Forging new alliances with shadowy organizations in the wake of this life-saving procedure is not the opening people expected for the hero, and that's why it works so well.
When Arkham Asylum released, plenty were rightfully skeptical of its prospects. Batman had notoriously had either very few good games or none at all depending on who you asked. For the project to be under Rocksteady Studios, a relative unknown, that didn't help either, but by the end of the opening scene things became much more optimistic. In classic comic book fashion, Batman has accompanied Gotham police to escort Joker into his Arkham cell. He's given up much too easily, however, and Batman is suspicious.
His hunch proves justified when Joker springs his trap, locks down the asylum and begins to enact the next phase of his plan which involves a host of hulking monstrosities and the best rogues gallery in superhero fiction. Batman will have a long night ahead of him. This served not just as a great introduction to a game, but the entire Batman Arkham universe.
Horror games are maybe the most consistent genre to start especially strong, and few among them do it as well as the original Dead Space. As engineer Isaac Clarke, you're sent with a team to investigate (that's always a bad phrase, isn't it?) the blackout on the Ishimura, a "planet cracking" facility in the future where humans mine other planets for their natural resources.
Upon arriving on the station, Isaac and his small crew are quickly swarmed by . . . what the hell are those things anyway? Necromorphs is the name they're eventually given and they're some twisted hybrid of zombie aliens. Creeping around the dark halls with the game smartly playing audiovisual tricks on you becomes a hallmark of the game and series, and that first sighting of the wretched creatures and their ensuing chase is an unforgettable one for horror fans.
Dark Souls does something totally different than every other game on this list. Rather than lead in with a scripted sequence that's meant to deliver cinematic flair, Dark Souls does what it always does best: drops you into the world to figure it out on your own. Just minutes after you escape a prison cell, you're met with several enemies, weapons, and eventually an iconic bonfire. Not ten minutes after the start, you're met with your first boss, the intimidating Asylum Demon. Trying to fight it then is futile for almost all playstyles, but the game doesn't help you figure that out.
Instead, you're meant to divert down a hallway, completely dodging the demon for the time being, and return to topple it sometime later only when you're equipped and strengthened. But the way the game illustrates none of this outwardly is what makes the series so special, and it was all on display in the first few minutes of the debut title.
BioShock is praised for pretty much every reason (okay, excluding the final boss) but one of its attributes that gets unfortunately bumped down beneath its sociopolitical commentary and awesome dual-wielding combat system is its opening scene.
BioShock is quite happy to deliver details that aren't meant to make any sense at the time being and then quickly drops you into the middle of the ocean, surrounded by a plane wreck you survived. Your only solace is to retreat to a nearby lighthouse, which miraculously comes with an elevator that plummets you to the ocean floor where you finally come upon one of the most memorable settings in all of gaming, Rapture. The libertarian dreamscape turned nightmare introduces itself as a horror story at first. With splicers hunting you from the shadows and an unknown voice directing you to kindly do as it says, BioShock is one of the most revered games for a reason, and it's all on display in the first 20 minutes.
Double-dipping on this list is the eventual Ken Levine-led follow-up to BioShock and its numbered sequel. Like the original, a lighthouse plays host to the intro, only this time it exists not as a descending elevator but more like a rocket to the clouds to the city of Columbia.
Whereas Rapture was blatantly unnerving, Columbia is propped up as an idyllic utopia, at least for a short while. As the game's ugly underbelly comes to light in a display of institutional racism, things erupt in an instant. This all comes after several interesting sci-fi nods too, like a barbershop quartet playing songs that shouldn't yet exist and a pair of confounding twins who comment on you like a lab experiment as if you're not there listening right along beside them. So many questions and they're all answered in time after the intoxicating introduction.
Bethesda's RPG pillars, Fallout and The Elder Scrolls make a point to start differently and intriguingly every time, and the first scene of Skyrim is perhaps the best one of them. As a prisoner, you're in a carriage to your beheading with several other prisoners, one of them a high ranking political prisoner. You watch as those ahead of you are beheaded. Intermittently, distant roars are heard and no one seems quite sure what the noises were.
Just as you're about to lose your head, the game's big selling point comes clearly into view: dragons are back. Thought of as distant myth in the land, the presence of one of these firebreathers takes the whole area by surprise and sends them all into a frenzy. As you fight your way out of the area, doing battle with enemies and steering clear of the dragon, eventually you come to find some brief safety. It's there the world of Skyrim opens up to you and for many players, it's there where they're finally given the keys to the best RPG they've ever played. The introduction sets the stage for what it considered an instant classic.
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