As with any other form of entertainment, video games have to grab their audience right from the start. A great introduction must be so outstanding that switching the console off is absolutely out of the question, whether this is a simple cut-scene, the first few minutes of gameplay itself, or a combination of both.
Some games start with a blood-soaked bang, grabbing players by the throat and hitting them with non-stop action, while others pull us into their world gradually, building an immersive atmosphere and strong characterisation.
The best openings are unforgettable, and powerful enough to make you want to play through them again and again (which sometimes has the handy side-effect of encouraging you to play the rest of it, too).
As technology has evolved, so too have games’ openings, allowing developers to be more experimental and gripping right from the get go …
Batman: Arkham Asylum
The first of two Batman titles to make this list (neither can be denied a spot), Arkham Asylum’s opening continues to impress even today, around six years since it was actually released.
For long-time fans of the character, the first delve into Batman’s world with then-cutting-edge graphics was stunning enough, but the slow-burn brilliance of its opening few minutes was a real master-stroke.
Beginning with a cut-scene of Batman pulling up to the infamous asylum, the game starts with a scenario fans know so well: the Dark Knight bringing the Joker back to Arkham – yet again. Obviously, things soon go awry, but the game gives us the chance to play as Batman himself during what appears to be a standard day in the life (if there is such a thing for him).
As Batman accompanies guards taking the Joker back to his cell, we’re given a clear glimpse of the asylum, and are introduced to the mechanics in an almost effortless way. This is a dark, brooding, brilliant opening that sets up what is one of the best Batman games ever made.
Mass Effect 3
While Mass Effect 3 may have divided fans (mainly because of its original ending), nobody can argue with the genius of its opening.
With the series’ hero Commander Shepard in trouble for having worked with Cerberus, the game starts on Earth, in a far-future Vancouver. However, within mere moments, a Reaper invasion begins, with monstrous enemies laying waste to the city. Alongside Admiral Anderson, players have to fight their way to escape with only meagre weapons.
It’s a thrilling start to a great game, and shows off the stunning graphics beautifully while introducing players to the more streamlined, action-oriented style.
Medal of Honor: Frontline
The Normandy landings were given their definitive representation in Saving Private Ryan, but Medal of Honor: Frontline took a stab at it too.
Without the blood and guts of Spielberg’s film, Frontline’s opening is nowhere near as powerful, but it still packs one hell of a punch. Beginning with the player’s soldier aboard a transport en route to Omaha Beach, the game throws you into a nail-biting assault on the enemy with only seconds to acclimatise.
Players have to take cover wherever possible, keep their head down, and choose the right moment to move on up the beach, towards the enemy’s stronghold. It’s not easy, and while some would argue it’s in somewhat bad taste, it’s a gripping opener that was hugely replayable.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
After the majesty of Oblivion, fans may have wondered how Skyrim could be better. Well, the game more than delivered, and the opening itself improved on the predecessor’s significantly.
Not only did it show off the cleaner, sharper, then-mind-blowing graphics to great effect, but it also showcased one of the game’s main draws: dragons.
During the run-up to Skyrim’s release, the presence of dragons was heavily pushed, and that first encounter is unforgettable. Starting with the player’s character being escorted to an execution, the game provides some world-building exposition before the dragon (Alduin) arrives to rain fiery death. Your character (be he a man, a dark elf, or any other of the many species available) is given a chance to escape, and takes it.
This certainly beats running around grey sewers (we’re looking at you, Oblivion).
Batman: Arkham City
We promised you more Batman, and here he is.
Arkham City took a slightly different approach to Arkham Asylum, and to pretty much every other Batman game ever, in fact. Players start the game as Bruce Wayne, but for those who actually downloaded the Catwoman DLC first, the game opens with the feline thief herself.
Both intros are outstanding.
In the Catwoman opening, players get to enjoy a brief scene in which she takes on a group of Two-Face’s thugs, before being kidnapped by the man/men himself. This is a fun little way to start, and sets up Catwoman’s later appearance before Batman saves her.
The set-up for Arkham City is economically handled, with a brief cut-scene detailing how part of Gotham City has been walled-off to make an open-air institution for the criminally insane. Bruce Wayne is on the scene, publicly protesting against the move, when he’s attacked and taken inside.
We then find Bruce tied to a chair, facing a mirror, with his hands bound. In true Batman style, escape is the first order of the day – but rather than just watching a cut-scene, we’re actually led through the prison area before being able to break free ourselves.
This is done brilliantly, and – as with the entire game itself – really makes you feel as if you’re Batman. It’s hard to imagine any player not feeling hooked after just a few minutes, and the game never lets up until the credits roll hours later.
Final Fantasy VII
Back in 1997, when Final Fantasy VII was first released, the opening cut-scene was mind-bending. Today, while it looks dated, it’s no less impressive from a narrative perspective.
The sequence begins with Aerith in what appears to be a city street, before gradually pulling out further and further to show us Midgar in all its industrial glory. The camera then moves in again, hard and fast, just as a train pulls up to a platform.
This is when the game starts proper, with Cloud and friends climbing off the train to start their bombing mission. This is a fast-paced, exciting start, taking Cloud on a series of battles as he and his team work their way down into the Mako reactor’s core.
Not only did this intro show how visually stunning FFVII was, but it also established the setting and introduced Aerith before any other character (as it should have, considering how important she’s later revealed to be).
Hopefully, the forthcoming FFVII Remake will feature an opening as beautiful as this – there’s a lot to live up to, after all.
While Fallout 4’s opening gave players a chance to experience the world before the bombs fell, Fallout 3’s intro is still preferred by many. After a brief cut-scene that sets up the basic concept, the game takes us to the hero’s entrance into the world (and life itself).
How many games start with the protagonist’s birth? How many disguise the gender- and name-selection options as parents learning about their newly-born child? This is all followed by multiple moments from the character’s early life, including first steps and a birthday party. This is a genius way to not only introduce the character and world, but to ease players into the gameplay mechanics.
We may all have been itching to get out into the wasteland and get our hands on some weaponry, but this opening was a genius move.
Regarded as one of the best games on the Xbox 360 and PS3, BioShock is a dark, atmospheric experience that takes place in a secret underwater world.
The opening is amazing, putting players right into the middle of an extreme life-or-death situation that not only shows off the impressive visuals, but also sets up the immersive experience set to come. Players start on a plane during a night flight, in the 1960s, but the plane suddenly crashes into water, leaving the player stranded in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by burning wreckage.
You swim around the sinking plane, only to encounter a mysterious lighthouse, standing ominously in the darkness. As players reach it, they’re taking their first steps into a mysterious world filled with bizarre creations, drill-armed hulks, and freaky children with horrific glowing eyes. The first sight of Rapture, a unique neon-soaked metropolis under the sea, is a real wonder to behold, and still looks incredible even today.
BioShock’s opening establishes a sinister tone early on, and the scares only keep on coming until the game’s grand finale.
What are your favourite video game openings, and why? Let us know!