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Nothing says “play me” like the opening moments of a game. They have to be gripping, punchy and enjoyable, providing a snapshot of what you can look forward to playing.
Not every game manages to do this well though. Some start off far too slowly, relying heavily upon your own interest and drive to push on forward to the juicy meat that the game offers further in.
Others reveal their goods prematurely, tempting you in with their alluring visuals and – what could be – interesting plot lines. Only to leave you bitterly disappointed just a few minutes later, just like a drunken kebab.
When you do find that perfect balance though, it’s unforgettable and undeniably brilliant.
While there are numerous games out there that we could have included in our list, some of which I’m sure I’ve not even had the pleasure of playing, here are six games – in no particular order – that we believe have some of the most fantastic opening moments.
*THERE MAY BE SOME SPOILERS AHEAD*
Final Fantasy VII
It’s probably a somewhat obvious inclusion, but it’s one that’s totally justified.
For some, Final Fantasy VII is the best entry into Square Enix’s 25 year old series. Whether you agree or not isn’t up for debate, it’s utterly undeniable that this has one of the strongest starts out of any of the Final Fantasy titles.
Not only is the transition from cutscene to gameplay absolutely seamless – a mean feat for a PlayStation One game – but as the speeding train gracefully pulls into the station along with a sweeping camera pan, you’re thrust right into the action.
Its only a short walk and you’re thrust into your first battle. After that you begin your decent into the bowels of a Mako reactor, fight your first boss and escape from a ticking bomb. And that’s all well within the first 20 minutes or so of gameplay.
Perhaps I have a penchant for starting games on a train, but Valve’s Half-Life 2 manages to create an unforgettable introduction through brilliant simplicity.
Moments after seeing the robotic G-Man and his eerie broken voice, you’re treated to another huge face looming over new visitors to the Combine occupied city – Dr. Breen. Before you’ve even stepped foot outside the station into the oppressed environment, you instantly feel that there is an air of Orwellian influence in the 1984-esque rule of the Combine.
It may not be fast-paced, action-packed or overly complex, but the first few moments inside City 17 bring it to life. The small and scripted moments of citizens being rounded up and terrorised by those in charge of protecting them rings out some crushing parallels to how humans can – and have – treaded each other in the past.
It’s powerful in ways that other games try, but can’t quite muster. Valve are certainly masters at enveloping players into their dystopian world – setting you up perfectly for the horrors that are soon to follow.
Far Cry 3
Sitting on the other end of the spectrum from Half-Life 2‘s opening moments, Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3 goes for the gritty home video meets snuff film approach. It’s gritty, somewhat shocking, but an entirely insane way to start a story that revolves completely around mental instability.
Starting off as a holiday for these middle-class Americans who probably use the word ‘party’ as a verb. The fun unfolding before you comes to an abrupt end when it appears that it’s all video recorder footage and you and your brother are now bound and caged by an insane island inhabitant – Vaas.
His incoherent prophetic babbles are some of the first experiences of the island that you’re greeted with and they set the precedent for what’s to come – culminating in your brothers death and a mad dash to the coast while being chased by dogs and men with guns.
If it doesn’t get your blood pumping, then who knows what will.
Shadow of the Colossus
Another slightly different take on how to introduce a game; Team Ico’s spectacular follow up to Ico with Shadow of the Colossus continually changed your perception of the world Wander was placed in. By helping him on his journey were you actually doing good, or just furthering his selfish desires?
Opening in much the same way as Ico does, Shadow of the Colossus‘s opening video plods along as Wander rides his jet black horse Agro with Mono, the girl he loves, slumped over Agro’s back.
While this slow start of Wander’s journey to the Forbidden Land may not sound like a very strong opening, it manages to capture your attention and pique your curiosity in similar ways to Valve’s Half-Life 2. It’s not until you cross the vast bridge that connects the mystical landscape to the outside world that you realise just how huge and barren the gameworld is. Peppered with things to find and do, but with nothing demanding your attention.
Your first steps out of the temple and into the never ending landscape are both daunting and exhilarating. Few games have offered you such freedom without placing some responsibility upon your shoulders. And yet Shadow of the Colossus manages to do this all within mere moments of giving you control over Wander and his horse.
Few RPGs in this elongated generation of consoles have managed to create the brilliance of the traditional turn-based JRPG that previous generations managed to muster. Instead of replicating what came before, many decided to head down the all action route. However, Mistwalker managed to innovate the genre without sullying its core, thus resulting in one of this generations finest – and under appreciated - JRPGs.
It helped that Mistwalker managed to open Lost Odyssey with a bang, placing you in the shoes of Kaim Argonar as he goes up against hoards of soldiers in a truly 360 degree battle with attackers on all sides. And it manages to do all this without breaking away from turn based battle. Moments later you go up against the first boss-like challenge you could face – a humongous battering ram complete with powerful cannons. Luckily you emerge feeling like one absolute badass on the battlefield.
If this sounds startlingly similar to the punchy opening of Final Fantasy VII mentioned earlier, it’s because it is. It takes that brilliance and liquifies it into the first five minutes instead of the first 20, and once again it transitions perfectly from a beautiful cutscene into gameplay. You won’t find a much finer opening to an Xbox 360 RPG.
God of War III
While previous entries into the God of War franchise may have been bloody affairs – something that God of War: Ascension doesn’t seem to be remedying either – no entry has ever been as scarlet soaked as God of War III.
Its opening moments may be utterly over the top: you start by seeing Kratos climb his way up the side of Mount Olympus with the Titan Gaia in tow, only to be stopped by Poseidon. But the ensuing, and surprisingly tough, boss battle right at the start sets the tone for the challenge to come. What’s more, the bloody execution of Poseidon – which sees you pumelling the bearded water god in the face (from his perspective, may I add) until his vision turns blood red.
You don’t even have to stop there, you can – if so inclined – keep mashing the punch button to your hearts content. Which, in my eyes at least, provides some sort of social commentary on how video games perceive their audience.
It may be violence for violence sake, but God of War III, most certainly starts as it means to go on – never letting up the brutality on show, nor dulling down its difficulty. It’s absurd, but it knows it is.
What are your thoughts on our six brilliant opening moments of a game?
What are your favourite opening moments of a game?
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