Top 5 Video Game Openings of the Modern Generation
Do you ever just not know — and I’m operating under the chauvinist and probably fair assumption that most of our readership is male — what to say to a girl? The answer is definitely yes. I think we’ve all been tongue-tied, brain-dead, and found ourselves verbally useless in the company of a pretty girl at some point in our otherwise serviceable lives; it’s because finding the right opening is the hardest part.
Never fear! Video games used to be the same way. Remember the perfunctory introductions of early NES games? (“The Princess has been kidnapped!”) They, however, in their infinite nerdiness, have improved themselves. Developers have built from this humble, duct taped launch pad veritable ion propulsion rockets that would immediately enthrall even the most jaded game hater.
Video games, movies, novels, poems, music. theater — virtually every work of art attempts to immerse you as quickly as possible with a memorable opening. So I thought I’d share my thoughts on a few personal favorites of the last 4-5 years. I’m not too concerned about the exact beginning point of the game, but how this transitions and introduces the player to the world of the game.
5. Mass Effect 2
Shepard. Hero of Eden Prime. The first human Spectre. Savior of the Citadel. Vanquisher (well, sorta) of the Geth. His character — regardless of whether he was a “he” at all — became beloved and instantly recognizable after the groundbreaking-but-awkward first installment. Anticipation for the second installment reached a fever pitch, and BioWare knew just how to start it: kill him (her) off in an epic space battle against an unknown and supremely powerful enemy. The scene — which begins upon the deck of the Normandy with Sheperd’s familiar crew and ends with Sheperd floating pathetically, dead of asphyxiation, in cold space — then flashes forward two years: the villains are your allies; your old allies are in your way; and the Geth are remobilizing in grand fashion. The bar is high, BioWare. The bar is high.
Jack, a totally undeveloped character, is strapped into the barren fuselage of a plane. The plane goes down. There are flames. And screams. And then there’s water. From there he makes his way to a nearby lighthouse, and down… to Rapture. This foreboding introduction to the immaculate architecture of the underwater city is stunning, and when you the see the words “No Gods or Kings, only Man,” emblazoning the setting’s fiery Objectivist philosophy, you just know you’re in for something special.
3. Heavy Rain
Many a gamer complained bitterly about the “slow” beginning of Quantic Dream’s anomalous success. I found it riveting. Ethan Mars, successful architect, wakes up on a day like any other day. He spends the start of the day doing what he might have done any other day: going to his home office and doing a bit of drafting; grabbing a drink or a bite to eat; going to the bathroom; having a shower; and numerous other seemingly mundane actions, none more profound than just spending time with his kids. It does a remarkable job subverting the slam-bang openers found in most video games while cleverly introducing you to the unorthodox QTE/prompt mechanics you’ll be using throughout. Most importantly, however, it develops Ethan’s character with extraordinary pathos; once the opening reaches its tragic conclusion, players will question precisely none of Ethan’s actions.
2. Fallout 3
From Wikipedia: “A role-playing game (RPG and sometimes roleplaying game) is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting.” I imagine Bethesda’s development meetings, discussing how best to involve players with the character, going something like this:
“What if it starts with a Vault Dweller who needs to get something for Vault?” “Been there.”
“What if the character has amnesia and needs to find out what happened to him?” “Cliche.”
“What about an in medias res action sequence!” “Even more cliche.”
“What if it begins with the character being born? Then we’ll drop in on a few key formative experiences of his or her life, eventually reaching a point at which circumstance dictates he must leave the vault.” “Stunned silence. And you, plucky young developer, get a raise and a promotion.”
With this excellent opening, Bethesda took Wikipedia’s dry and general definition to a literal and brilliant extreme.
Special mention: the abrupt and violent opening of Fallout: New Vegas, which takes a page from the book of Mass Effect 2.
1. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Naughty Dog has made a career of cashing dropped-jaws in at the bank, and they haven’t done it better than Uncharted 2. The game opens on protagonist Nathan Drake looking bloodied and haggard. (That the sequence is in medias res is quickly apparent.) He’s belted into a seat on a train. Before long, the camera fixes itself to the proper orientation, Nate attempts to unbuckle himself, and, you guessed, it we’re hanging over the edge of cliff. But it goes further: it’s time guide Nate down, outside, up, around, and through the precariously dangling vehicle. Uncharted 2′s opening is the best example of creative, immersive, pulse-kindling platforming.