Starting with a Bang: Gaming’s Best Openings
In the modern day, with its abundance of distractions, I feel that a game needs something to draw me in. It needs a hook that will force me to invest my time into the adventures ahead. Not having a great opening scene isn’t the death of a game but it does make it just that bit harder to be drawn in by what the developers are selling. So I thought I would list some of my favourite openings from games and what made them so special in my eyes. Please bear in mind this is in no way a definitive list, so I am sure to miss some of your favourites. They are simply introductions that have stuck in my memory, leaving a lasting impression.
I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing – Saints Row 4
To say the Saints Row series is insane is somewhat of an understatement, but it is that insanity that keeps drawing back players for each entry. The last full game in the series IV went into full crazy mode making the player the President of the USA, giving them super powers and facing the Third Street Saints off against an invading alien horde. However, the first moments of the game are simply unforgettable. Players face off against a madman intent on nuking the planet. That madman, in his death throes, launches a missile aimed at Washington. To stop the missile, the player scrambles up its side while it is jetting towards its destination, looking to sabotage the guidance chip. While this is happening all of the familiar characters from the Saints Row franchise begin to say their goodbyes to the player, with Aerosmith’s very cheesy “I don’t want to miss a thing” playing in the background. Saving the day at the last second, the player leaps off the rocket and crashes through the roof of the Whitehouse, landing in the President’s chair. It is corny, stupid and perfectly lampoons big budget Hollywood fare, wonderfully setting the tone for the ridiculousness that follows.
Welcome to City 17 – Half Life 2
The original Half Life’s opening was something of a revelation in the world of FPSs but for mine, the second game eclipsed that feat. Arriving at a station after a mysterious message from the G-man, Gordon Freemen is thrust into the downtrodden City 17 without warning. It is clear that life here is tough, with the government actively oppressing its citizens and signs of poverty are everywhere. Just as players are soaking this all in they are forced to run, escape from state police intent on capturing the famous Gordon Freeman. What follows in a chase through the city, climbing onto roofs and finally escaping into the safe house of a fellow Black Mesa survivor. It is a tense scene that, despite having no combat, sets up the story for Half Life 2 in a masterful manner. As the Player, I experienced a range of emotion ranging from fear to relief all within the first 10 minutes of the game. As far as memorable experiences go, your first journey to City 17 is one you will never forget.
Returning from the Dead – Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect, while flawed, left players with a long-standing love for the title character Commander Shepherd. So when it was announced that players would be able to bring their saves into Mass Effect 2 there was almost a fever pitch amount of hype for the game pre-release. This however caused a conundrum. How would Bioware allow players to rebuild, respec and upgrade Shepherd if they had already done so in the first game? Their solution was a stroke of genius. They simply killed Shepherd off. Players then took control of a rebuilt, reanimated Shepherd thanks to the work of human terrorist group Cerberus. This allowed players to keep their stories and love for Shepherd while maintaining the core RPG gameplay device of levelling up the player. At the same time it serves to introduce the players to the new adversaries and give the player a solid grounding in how things stand in the galaxy at that time. A masterstroke of both storytelling and game design, Bioware should be congratulated on how they handled Mass Effect 2’s open minutes.
Liberty Island – Deus Ex
When Ion Storm gave players the first full mission from Deus Ex as a demo it was a stroke of marketing genius. One of the most well-remembered opening levels, Liberty Island was a postcard of everything that is great about Deus Ex. It featured multiple ways to tackle the level, varying objectives and engaging gameplay that still holds up today. Describing the gameplay of Deus Ex at the time would have been much more difficult than actually giving the players a taste of what was on offer and while Liberty Island didn’t hold a huge amount of story, it did contain tantalising hints of what was to come. The fact that Deus Ex is remembered by many as one of the best games ever made only enhances the reputation of this opening mission. Liberty Island is perhaps my most played gaming level ever and will always hold a special place in my heart.
So there you have it, four games that I think created special, memorable openings that have stayed with me for years. There are of course some honourable mentions like God of War 3, Shadow Warrior and Uncharted 2, but these are the games that have stayed firmly planted in my mind.
But I would like to hear about your favourite game openings. Let me know in the comments or on Twitter because I am sure there are many classic opening missions that I have forgotten.