The opening to a game is incredibly important; the initial things you experience and see can have a lasting effect. In extreme cases it can either make you walk away from the game right there or hook you in such a way that the next 12 hours of your life belong solely to the playing of the game.
With that in mind let’s look at some of the best cinematic openings to games in recent years, there will of course be titles here that you disagree with and there are some differences to the entries. Some will feature only cutscenes and flashy CGI sequences whereas others handle their cinematic experience with the use of gameplay and immersion. Anyway, let’s get started.
Lost Planet 2
Lost Planet 2 released to rather mixed opinions and whether you love it or hate it, the title is a good example of a CGI sequence to get the action rolling. Disregarding the narrative driven Lost Planet and focusing much more on bringing down huge creatures with friends in the same vein as Monster Hunter, this game jumps right in with a group of snow pirates taking down a huge Akrid.
Left 4 Dead
Continuing the theme of an all action affair beginning is a good way to prepare us for gameplay is Left 4 Dead. From the beta before release we knew what to expect from Valve’s four player co-op zombie survival title in terms of gameplay. What we weren’t expecting however was the introduction we received that placed the games quartet of heroes outrunning the undead masses while taking them down with various weapons. It may not be a game that has a whole lot of story, but the intro delivers as much as it needs really.
Now for a game that took a more gameplay based approach to the opening sequence of a game and that is The Darkness. There’s no doubt that this game was a great little package that offered a terrific narrative following Jackie’s dark tale about mafia ties and the supernatural element of ‘The Darkness’ itself. The opening scenes see Jackie riding in a car with two mafia buddies that leads into an action packed car chase. It was a fun way to start the game and paved the way for a pleasant title (although those WW1 sections were rough).
JRPGs have long gone by the tradition of implementing a gorgeous CGI opening to wow players before handing them gameplay and Lost Odyssey was no different. The beginning sees a war between two nations and our immortal hero Kaim fighting his way through the middle of it. The difference here was that the player handled some of the battles to keep you involved, even taking down a sort of mini-boss. Nearing the end of the action filled opening however is where things kick into high gear as we see a meteor come down and cause a torrent of lava and destruction to spread out taking the lives of many.
Devil May Cry 4
It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that this title found its way onto the list, Capcom knows how to handle over the top cinematic sequences with previous entries like the original Devil May Cry and the third installment was also packed with fantastic corny scenes. DMC4 was another game that was viewed with mixed opinions due to the introduction of Nero whom some loved and some hated, whatever your take on the new guy you can’t deny that the developers didn’t hold back with their chance to wow us in the opening stages. Plus, watching Dante and Nero brawl it out was just awesome.
Bungie’s swan song to Halo was a tale that everyone already knew the end to so they had to make sure the entertainment value was strong in order to tell the story in a way that appeased fans. They definitely didn’t do too much wrong with the campaign, plunging players into the role of Noble Six was a nice take and being introduced to the team in the opening sequence made us feel like we were ‘inducted’ to the clan. It should also be noted that the musical score deserves some kind of shout out; Martin O’Donnell outdid himself again with this game.
When you pop in Borderlands you get subjected to the history of Pandora through a creative art style by screen telling and once that’s over we then get introduced to the characters. Showing us the characters on a bus of all things and giving each one a stylish freeze frame you immediately choose your favourite from Mordecai, Rolan, Lilith and Brick. Right from seeing the skag get splattered on the bus to the music playing in the background Borderlands does a whole lot right.
Mass Effect 2
With the hype train in full swing for Bioware’s Mass Effect 2 last year it came with no surprise that the game kicked off with a bang. Listening to the conversation between Miranda and the Illusive Man, which involves describing Shepard as the only hope and that he’s an icon to behold was one thing, but seeing the Normandy crew get blasted to high heaven was another. Within the first hour there’s a lot to take in, mainly the death of yourself, Commander Shepard. An explosive start like that only paved the way for what was my game of the year and we can only hope that Mass Effect 3 can be even better.
Dead Space is a good example of an immersive opening sequence, everything in the game is handled by the in game engine and there are no menus to speak of unless paused, so for all intents and purposes you really are stuck in Isaac’s shoes throughout your time playing. What made Dead Space so good however is the change in mood and atmosphere you experience firsthand as you initially see the message left by Isaac’s girlfriend Nicole and the incredible graphics on display as you see the broken and destroyed planet with the sun in the distance. Add into this the appearance of the Ishimura ship and the chaos that follows and you have yourself one fine immersive cinematic opening to a game.
While Dead Space achieved a fantastic beginning via the use of immersion, there’s only one real winner and it’s Bioshock. After pressing start and jumping into the game the initial thing that happens is a plane crash. No explanation, no why, no how, just a plane crash. Control is then handed to us the player and we choose to swim toward to the stone steps, nothing really makes you do it but after looking around you see there’s nothing else and opt for the santum of the structure rather than the emptiness and nothingness of the sea.
Who knew that after descending the stairs and entering the strange transportation unit that the world of Rapture awaited us? The horror of the first encounter with a splicer, trapped alone under the sea with nothing to defend yourself with but the exterior of the unknown device you just travelled in. Bioshock did so much right in keeping players hooked and questioning and it’s a shame the sequel couldn’t deliver a similar feeling, hope is alive though with Bioshock Infinite and maybe we’ll be treated to another opening cinematic experience that leaves us wanting more.
So that’s ten of the best from me and there are of course more so how about you guys and gals? What are your favourites?